The Best Names In Braves Franchise History, Part 4

How can you not like a guy named Oddibe? via jeffscards.net

This post focuses on the best names on the Atlanta Braves of the "dark years"--the time period from the first year in Atlanta in 1966 to the final last-place season in 1990. Here are links to the first 3 posts in this series: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3.

It's funny; most of the great names you see in baseball come from the first 60 or so years of major-league history. This is partly because nicknames back then had a greater tendency to stick as players' "official" first names in the record books. And the nicknames from that era were glorious.

Yet, I'd have to say that, despite the limitations of having fewer fun nicknames, I'd have to say that the Braves of this era had many of my favorite names in franchise history. Braves fans of this era may have been cursed with mostly lousy teams, but they were blessed with some of the greatest non-nickname baseball names of all time. Here's my list:

Zoilo Versalles, 1971: I'm not sure any name out there can top "Zoilo," and having it paired with a last name that's apparently inspired by the home of French royalty is just a bonus. Zoilo won an MVP and a couple gold gloves earlier in his career with the Twins, but by the time he got to Atlanta, he was shot. He hit an abysmal .191 / .233 / .325 in 210 PAs and then retired. Oh, and his middle name was Casanova, which brings us to...

Paul Casanova, 1972-4: If this Casanova was an expert with the ladies, I have no idea. But if ladies really cared about hitting, they would have stayed away from this light-hitting catcher. In 3 years as Atlanta's backup, he hit .210 / .242 / .288. That's almost enough to make you remember Corky Miller fondly.

Rowland Office: 1972, 1974-9: I always hear this name as part of a work-related gripe: "Yeah, they're fumigating our building now, so I'm going to have to work out of the Rowland Office this week." Office was a mediocre-hitting center fielder (.260 / .314 / .346 in 7 years with the Braves). I wasn't alive to see his defense, but Total Zone (the defensive metric Baseball-Reference uses) just hates Office. According to TZ, he was 38 runs below average during his Atlanta years; to give you a reference point, Nate McLouth is -37 runs in his career by TZ's reckoning.

Dick Dietz, 1973: "Dick" names are easy fodder for a list like this, but honestly, Dietz makes it on the strength of his surname (plus the alliteration). He'd make the list even if his first name were "Don" or some other D-name. Dietz was a good offensive catcher (he hit .295 / .474* / .432 in 191 PAs in Atlanta) but apparently a disaster defensively. In his 8-year career, Total Zone has him at -56 runs defensively. This helps explain why he played more at 1st base in his year with the Braves.

* That OBP isn't a misprint. Dietz's .474 mark that year is the highest in Atlanta Braves history (minimum 15 PAs). And 191 PAs isn't insignificant, either.

Jim Panther, 1973: Nothing says "fierce" like having a big-cat-related name. Too bad Panther couldn't convert that ferocity into pitching ability. He had a 7.63 ERA in 30 innings with the Braves.

Wenty Ford, 1973: Born in the Bahamas, Percival Edmund Wentworth "Wenty" Ford spent his entire 4-game career with the Braves. Relying on guile rather than speed, Ford once said that his pitches had 3 speeds: "slow, slower, and stop." He gave up 10 runs in 16 innings, but he is still well-loved in his home country, even now, more than 3 decades after his death in a car accident.

Chuck Goggin, 1973: This sounds like a NASCAR driver's name, doesn't it? Goggin was a utility guy who didn't even spend a whole season with the Braves. He hit .289 / .350 / .344 with the franchise.

Biff Pocoroba, 1975-84: Pocoroba! That is just such a fun name to say; I also like that "Biff" is his real name, not a nickname. Biff was another catcher (what is it with catchers and fun names?). He spent his entire 10-year career in Atlanta, hitting .257 / .339 / .351 and making an All-Star Team (though it must have just been as a last-minute injury replacement, since his OPS+ that year was 74).

Blue Moon Odom, 1975: Odom had the good fortune of coming up with the A's at a time when owner Charlie Finley forced some of his players to adopt colorful nicknames (hence "Catfish" Hunter). After many good years with the A's, Odom made 10 disastrous starts with the Braves in '75. He retired a year later.

Pat Rockett, 1976-8: Here's another last name that is also a colorful noun. Rockett was a shortstop who couldn't hit a lick: his career line was .214 / .288 / .251, all with the Braves. That .251 slugging is particularly egregious. For reference, Rafael Belliard slugged .263 in Atlanta.

Craig Skok, 1978-9: Skok was a reliever who had 2 not-terrible years in Atlanta. He had a 4.18 ERA in 116 innings with the franchise.

Pepe Frias, 1979: Another awful-hitter, Frias was the Braves' regular shortstop in '79, his only year with regular playing time. He hit .259 / .290 / .320 with the Braves.

Gaylord Perry, 1981: Perry, the Hall of Famer with the awkward first name, spent one year with the Braves late in his career. He did OK, posting a 3.94 ERA in 150 innings.

Rufino Linares, 1981-2, 1984: Another poetic-sounding Latin-American name. Linares was a left fielder who hit .271 / .301 / .369 in parts of 3 seasons with Atlanta.

Trench Davis, 1987: This is not a nickname. His birth name was actually Trench. He got all of 3 PAs with the Braves, all as a pinch-hitter, and didn't reach base.

Paul Assenmacher, 1986-89: No, the first syllable of his last name isn't pronounced like the synonym for a donkey. (It's "OSS-en-mock-er," or at least that's how I've usually heard it.) But it's still spelled the same way, so he makes the list. Assenmacher was a reliever for the Braves for 3.5 seasons, 2.5 of which were pretty darn good. Overall, he had a 3.46 ERA in 260 innings with the team.

Juan Eichelberger, 1988: Eichelberger's middle name is Tyrone, which gives him probably the most disparate set of names in MLB history. Good luck guessing the ancestry of a guy named Juan Tyrone Eichelberger, everyone. He had a 3.86 ERA for the Braves in 37 innings.

Oddibe McDowell, 1989-90: Okay, Zoilo is out. This is the best first name ever. I will accept no other arguments. Oddibe spent a year and a half with the Braves, the first half-year of which was great (136 OPS+). The last year, though, was awful (76 OPS+).

Rusty Richards, 1989-90: I'll admit that I have a fondness for guys named "Rusty," so when you combine that with an alliterative last name, I'm sold. Richards pitched in 3 games in his career, all for the Braves. He allowed 8 runs in 10 and a third innings.

Here are some athletic footwear honorable mentions: Clete Boyer (1967-71) and Charlie Spikes (1979-80).

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