Thursday, August 18, 2016

That's not my name

Yesterday, I was reminded again that Melvin Upton Jr. is a Blue Jay.

It's difficult to keep track these days as players seem to be change scenery more and more often. And in this very "life goes too fast" year of 2016, I'm in a perpetual state of catch-up.

It doesn't help that players like Melvin Upton Jr. are on a new team each year. It doesn't help that players like Melvin Upton Jr. didn't even have the same name he did less than two years ago!

Yes, Melvin Upton Jr. started out on very different terms not so long ago. He played for a team formerly known as the Devil Rays. And Upton was formerly known as "B.J."

That transition was marked by Topps in 2015, with a card in flagship and a card in Update:

And a very helpful notation of the name change on the back of the Update card:

That got me thinking about other name changes. I'm not referring to wholesale name changes, like David Arias transforming into David Ortiz, making his 1997 Fleer card hot property. I'm thinking strictly of first-name changes, like "B.J." to "Melvin".

There have been a few in my time as a card collector. How did card companies handle those?

The Upton way is one version, helped out because Upton changed teams between sets. So Topps issued a new card with a note on the name change.

But heading into the 2012 season, the Marlins' Mike Stanton was suddenly known as "Giancarlo". And with talent like that, not even the Marlins were going to trade him away. So how did Topps recognize that name change?

Well, it issued an entirely new card of Stanton in Update, even though he didn't change teams. But he did change names! Look at how happy everyone is about it!

That, however, was the only recognition that Topps gave the switch. The back mentions nothing about Stanton moving from "Mike" to "Giancarlo".

It's not on his Chrome card, either, which uses the flagship image, but switches the name to Giancarlo.

No, it wasn't until 2013 that Topps officially announced the switch:

No big deal, really. There are so many places to get your information on baseball player name changes these days. I don't think anyone is relying on Topps to break the news anymore.

But how about in earlier cases?

In 1990, Albert Belle was known as "Joey". But then he had, shall we say, some "incidents". He checked himself into a clinic for alcoholism and when he emerged, he featured a new name.

All of his 1991 cards suddenly called him "Albert Belle," the name by which we came to know and love him. But even though the card companies got his name right, none of them explained the switch on the back.

You knew something was up if you owned the Stadium Club Belle card and flipped it to the back:

Header says "Albert Belle" but the card inset is of someone named Joey.

Most card sets at the time were very short on words on the back -- gotta squeeze in that extra image to keep up with Upper Deck! And even brands like Fleer and Leaf that wrote a lot of words on their '91 backs didn't bother. It was if that Joey guy never existed.

This was somewhat different from even a couple years prior when another name change occurred.

Somewhere before the 1988 season, longtime reliever and 1984 MVP and Cy Young Award winner Willie Hernandez said he wanted to be known by his Spanish given name "Guillermo".

Hernandez was an established player, someone who had been the majors for over a dozen years and played on the biggest stage, so this took quite a bit of adjusting.

After all, I had known about "Willie Hernandez" since I pulled his first card, in 1978.

But the card companies were quite good about the switch. All five major card companies in 1989 listed Hernandez as "Guillermo" on the front of his card. And two of the five made mention of the name change on the back.

Topps made it short-and-not-so sweet. Show a little more attitude, bio writer. It's as if Topps fully anticipated complaint calls.

Score was much more detailed. Because Score write-ups from the late 1980s are the best. Click on the image to read the tiny type if you must, but I have to repeat it here just because it's so helpful: "Yes, Guillermo is the former Willie Hernandez, once the toast of the Tigers bullpen. He simply preferred to be called by his given name in 1988."

"Once the toast of the Tigers bullpen ..." Hmm, maybe not so helpful to Guillermo.

A little more than a decade earlier, another pitcher changed his name. I didn't know it at the time, mostly because in both 1976 and 1977, years in which he had a card in a Topps set, I didn't pull his cards.

In 1976, Harry Rasmussen made his Topps' debut. In 1977, he was now Eric Rasmussen, and that's how he would remain for the rest of his cards.

His name change is well-documented, and I believe he simply didn't want to be "Harry" anymore. But I didn't know it for a long time and Topps didn't mention it either.

Just something about Chris Chambliss writing a sports column while playing in the World Series. Which is an awesome factoid.

A more famous name change happened a few years earlier, with nary a mention from Topps. Perhaps it was a '70s thing.

In 1972, Allen was "Rich" (or "Richie" on earlier cards).

In 1973, he was "Dick". And he would be for the final few years of his career.

Topps brushed it off as no big deal. Not nearly as big a deal as Dick enjoying playing in the "Windy City".

There have been other name changes in big-league history, although some of them happened so early in the player's career that there is no card of the player's earlier name.

And then there's the case of Fausto Carmona, who has plenty of cards under his "assumed name" of Fausto Carmona. But there are few cards of him by his new, actual name "Roberto Hernandez" (He is in the 2013 Heritage High Numbers set). His career wasn't nearly as successful as when he was not who he said he was.

As for card companies, sometimes they recognize the name change, sometimes they don't.

I understand. I know how difficult it is to keep up.


  1. I hadn't been aware of a couple of these. The Rasmussen one was completely unknown to me.
    It is interesting to see though.

  2. The whole Upton brother/name change/team change thing through me for a loop for awhile. I needed a card of 'Melvin' not realizing that the two I had of 'B.J.' would have fit right into my fantasy baseball binder just fine.

    Oh, and there is a teacher I work with whose real name is 'Harry' but he goes by 'Eric'. Odd coincidence.

  3. I still don't understand why Upton the lesser didn't just go with Bossman Jr.

  4. You forgot 1980s favorite Rock Raines - A topps specialty.

    1. I most certainly did not forget:

      I consider "Rock" a nickname, and not a first-name overhaul like these.

  5. I met BJ once in Tampa. He gave my son a ball even though we were there to see the Red Sox, who the Rays were playing against at the time, and we're appropriately attired and he still took time for my kids. He was much nicer than his brother who always ignored every kid he ever saw. Maybe Melvin did it because we called him Mr Upton rather than BJ.

    I never realized that Wille and Guillermo were the sane guy. I'll blame it on the glasses Guillermo is wearing as a disguise on all his cards.

  6. the rasmussen change is news to me tonight - i didn't have his '76 card until just a few years ago and didn't even notice. i'm glad you didn't include bob/roberto clemente here, as the bob thing was not very cool. and the other one that i was thinking of while reading this was orestes/minnie minoso, which is more along the tim/rock raines or dwight/doc gooden nickname line. i used to have a basketball card of lloyd free when he was with the clippers, and would have liked to have had a card of him after he changed his name to world b. free that explained the name change. i believe there is a card of kareem-abdul jabbar that mentions his name change on the back, as well as one for ron artest/metta world peace, but not for world b. free.

    1. I always thought the "Doc" Gooden and "Rock" Raines thing felt a little forced by Topps.

      Also interesting is the George/Jorge Bell thing. This time Topps was actually on the side of player's heritage, while other companies (and the league as a whole, probably) were not for whatever reason. I'm sure there's more info out there.

  7. But now that Upton is in Toronto, B.J. could stand for "Blue Jay". Such a missed opportunity.

    They call me "Mel"... They call me "Harry"... They call me "Him"... They call me "Mike"...

  8. Dick Allen hated being called Richie. Still does. He has always been known to friends and family as Dick.

  9. When Chico Cardenas of the 1960s became Leo Cardenas in the 1970s, was that a case of ditching the nickname for the real name?

  10. He'll always be BJ to me. To me, he'll also always be bad at math.

  11. Great post. I knew the newer guys... and Belle and Allen. Can't believe I missed Willie changing his name. As for Rasmussen, I'll give myself a pass since I was only five years old.