Skip to content

What’s In a Name?

March 5, 2015
James Atkins, II

James Atkins, II

For those of you who are really observant when you visit my site, I’m sure you noticed the name under my picture has changed. I thought I would try to change my luck and go with my first name. I got the idea from Melvin Upton, Jr., the outfielder formerly known as B.J. Like B.J. Upton, my parents named me after my dad, so I am James Hugh Atkins, II, hence the James Atkins, II under my photo.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

I think Melvin is a good solid name, especially considering that “B.J.” was short for “Bossman, Junior.” Melvin Upton, Sr. is known as “Bossman,” so when Melvin Upton, Jr. came along, he became “Bossman, Jr.,” which someone shortened to “B.J,” giving him a nickname for a nickname. Even if Upton had hit .350 in each of his first two seasons in Atlanta, who could blame him for wanting to change his name to something–anything–else?

Upton isn’t the first baseball player to decide he wanted to go by a different handle. The Miami Marlins, the team formerly known as the Florida Marlins, once had an outfielder named Mike Stanton. After a couple of years in the big leagues, Stanton decided to go by his first name, Giancarlo. Again, I think it’s a good choice. Mike is a fine name, but there are lots of guys answering to that name. Giancarlo Stanton on the other hand sounds exotic and sophisticated.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

When I was growing up, the Philadelphia Phillies had a slugging third baseman named Richie Allen. Allen decided that Richie sounded like a child’s name, so he began to go by Rich Allen. Apparently, asking people to start calling him Rich instead of Richie just would not catch on, so he decided to go by Dick Allen instead. I must confess that to me, he is still Richie Allen. I just can’t seem to think of him as anything else. And no matter what name he chose, he still hit the baseball harder than just about any other player in the big leagues.

If Melvin Upton, Jr. wanted to change his luck, it hasn’t worked out so well thus far. Last week he experienced pain in his left foot, which, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, turned out to be sesamoiditis. That’s a fancy name for inflammation in a bone behind the ball of his foot. Upton will miss the remainder of Spring Training as well as the first month of the season.

I hope my name change works out better for me than Melvin’s did for him.

 

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Return of Zoilo

With Upton out for at least the first month of the season, his position in center field is up for grabs and several candidates will battle for the job during Spring Training. Among those trying to win the job will be Zoilo Almonte, a free agent the Braves picked up from the New York Yankees during the off-season.

Almonte, 25, has but 47 big league games under his belt. In parts of two seasons with the Yankees, he hit .211 with two home runs. But if Almonte wins a job with the Braves this season, he will be the second player named Zoilo to wear an Atlanta uniform.

Zoilo Versalles was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1965. He led the Minnesota Twins to the American League pennant with his glove, bat, and speed. The native of Havana, Cuba led the league in doubles with 45, triples with 12, finished third in stolen bases with 27, and belted 19 home runs. He batted lead-off and was the catalyst of a powerful Twins lineup that featured Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew.

Versalles was also a flashy fielder at shortstop and was awarded his second Gold Glove at the end of the 1965 season. He was the first Latin-born player to win an MVP Award, out-polling teammate Tony Oliva for the award.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

Versalles was not a prototypical MVP. He wasn’t very big–5’ 9” and about 150 pounds. He wore thick, shiny-framed glasses that made him look like he’d be more at home in a chemistry lab than on a baseball field. Versalles won the MVP despite the fact that he led the league in strikeouts with 122 and hit only .273. Before Versalles, you had to be a Yankee to have an average that low and still win the MVP award. Yogi Berra hit just .272 in 1955 when he won the award and Roger Maris hit .269 in 1961 when he won the MVP on the strength of his 61 home runs.

Versalles didn’t follow up his MVP season with a stellar campaign in 1966, as he slumped to .249 with only seven home runs. Things got worse in 1967 when his average fell to .200. After the season, one sports writer deprived Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski of a unanimous selection as MVP by casting a vote for Versalles.

The Twins shipped Versalles west to the Los Angeles Dodgers for the 1968 season and he hit a paltry .196. The San Diego Padres selected him in the expansion draft, but they traded him to the Cleveland Indians before the 1969 season began; later that summer the Indians sold Versalles to the Washington Senators. He hit .267 with the Senators, but finished the season at .236 with a single home run. Versalles played in the Mexican League in 1970.

As a young Braves fan, I was excited when Versalles joined the team on June 1, 1971. He started slowly, going 0-9 before getting his first hit as a Brave. He then went on an 11-25 tear and raised his average to .294, but his average steadily decreased over the course of the season and he finished the year with five home runs, 22 runs batted in, and a .191 batting average in 66 games.

Versalles had some dramatic moments during the 1971 season. On July 29, he hit two home runs against the San Francisco Giants as Candlestick Park to lead the Braves to a 4-2 win. He hit a three-run homer off Nolan Ryan on August 7 even though the Braves lost to the New York Mets 20-6. I was listening to the game on August 17 when Versalles led off the bottom of the ninth with a pinch-hit home run to give the Braves a 5-4 win over the Chicago Cubs.

Even though Versalles wasn’t a vital part of the team, I hated it when the Braves released him during the off-season. As it turned out, his major league career was over at the age of 31. He finished his 12-year career with an average of .242, 95 home runs, two All-Star Game appearances, two Gold Glove Awards, and the 1965 MVP Award.

Versalles played in Japan in 1972 and then, according to an article in The New York Times, moved back to the Minneapolis area where he held a series of menial jobs before losing his house to foreclosure. He wound up selling his MVP trophy, his All-Star rings, and his Gold Glove Awards.

Versalles had lingering back pain from an old baseball injury and he suffered two heart attacks and underwent stomach surgery. He passed away on June 9, 1995 at the age of 55.

I hope Zoilo Almonte has a good spring and wins a spot on the Braves’ roster. If he does, his first name should have announcers everywhere remembering Zoilo Versalles. And I’d like that.

Remembering Alex Johnson

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

It saddened me to see that former major league outfielder Alex Johnson passed away this past Saturday in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Johnson played 13 seasons in the big leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, California Angels, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, and New York Yankees.

Johnson, a hard-hitting left fielder, became a regular with the Reds in 1968 and hit .312 with two home runs and 58 runs batted in and in 1969 he hit .315 with 17 homers and 88 RBIs. Johnson won the American League batting title with the Angels in 1970 with a .329 average, edging out Carl  Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox by 0.0003 percentage points.

While playing for the Cardinals on May 25, 1967, Johnson singled in the bottom of the second inning in a game against the Atlanta Braves. It was the first hit I ever witnessed in person at a big league ballpark.

According to the Associated Press, Alex Johnson died of complications from prostate cancer. He was 72.

(all statistics are from Baseball-Reference.com; all game details are from Retrosheet.org)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Dale McCarver permalink
    March 5, 2015 6:08 pm

    Really sad that so many sports stars have such sad later years. Thanks for doing all this research. Always interesting.
    PS. I prefer Hugh over James.

    Like

    • March 5, 2015 8:27 pm

      Thanks. Seems like I used to get several Alex Johnson cards every year–and he was always on a different team. James is making a one-post appearance.

      Like

  2. March 5, 2015 8:42 pm

    I too remember Zoilo Versalles and his short stint with the Braves. I was aware of his 1965 season as is the way of baseball one always dreams of a player recapturing those numbers and leading his team to the playoffs. When I think of 1971 I think of APBA Baseball (the board game) and the homerun race between Hank Aaron and Willie Stargell. Stargell won that 48 to 47 and his Pirates won the World Series 4 to 3 over Baltimore. It was Aaron’s best single season total.
    I remember Game 7 of that World Series because the day before Bear Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide beat my Tennessee Vols 32-15 in Birmingham behind a runningback named Johnny Musso. It was the first ever college football game I had attended as a fan of the visiting team. We were somewhere between Ft. Payne, AL and Chattanooga, TN on I-59 when the Series ended and the Pirates were crowned World Champs. It was also the first series final that I remember listening to on the radio instead of watching on television.
    Thanks Hugh ..James, I always love your articles because it brings back memories for me. I alsdo remember Richie, call me “Dick” Allen. He was a star and a character. I remember him best with the Phillies. He could hit for power and average.

    Like

    • March 5, 2015 8:58 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Mark. I remembering hoping that Denny McLain would regain his magic when the Braves got him from Oakland in 1972. That didn’t work out much better than the Versalles signing. Baseball memories are some of the best.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: