Casey Stengel Had a Funny Way of Being a Smart Guy

Watching the New York Mets on a bulky console black-and-white TV and hearing a curious old guy make men thrusting microphones into his face laugh by the way he mangled our language is one of my earliest and fondest little-kid memories.

The sly-as-a-fox bumpkin was one Charles Dillon Stengel. Announcers Ralph Kiner, Lindsay Nelson and Bob Murphy just called him Casey, and with great reverence. Because I was born in the cold December of 1957 and those Mets who had made a 71-year-old man their first-ever manager were christened in the cool spring breezes of 1962, that moniker was a funny name to me, bringing to mind train engineers and poetic ball-swatting players at the bat, with waxed mustaches of yesteryear. Yes, I was an imaginative little kid. What can I say? Besides letting me watch baseball past my bedtime on that shotgun apartment living room TV in Brooklyn, N.Y., my young parents read to their first child a lot, too.

Charles Dillon "Casey" Stengel (From Wikipedia)

Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel (From Wikipedia)

Did somebody mention trains? One of Casey’s catchers on those Mets was named Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman.

Catchers chugging out from behind the plate are nothing without pitchers. Yet the Mets’ mound staff was filled with men who were not very good.

One of the starting five was a fellow with the extremely appropriate name of Jay Hook. Hook was credited with earning the first victory ever in the history of the New York Mets. Unfortunately, it came after nine straight losses to start the team’s season. Hook started 34 games. Even though he led the team with 13 complete games, that means old Casey marched to the mound to give Jay the namesake Hook 21 times on the way to his season’s mark of 8-19. The Mets traded for Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell in mid-season, and after winning 90 and losing 86 over nine seasons combined with the Pirates and Cardinals, he concluded his career for the Mets with two starts, 17 relief appearances — and two losses without a win. The Mets had two pitchers that year by the name of Bob Miller. Fortunately, one was a lefty and one was a righty. Bob L. Miller was a right-handed starter whose record was 1-12. Bob G. Miller was a left-handed reliever whose recorde was 2-2 with one save. Not bad, you say? Not so fast. His ERA was 7.08, which means he gave up almost a run for every inning he appeared.

On the field, the best Met was center fielder Richie Ashburn, a two-time National League batting champion with the Phillies in, 1955 and 1958, but drafted from the Cubs, from which he had drifted thereafter. Ashburn, who hit .301 with seven homers and 28 RBI, by that time had accumulated three nicknames: “Putt-Putt,” “The Tilden Flash,” and “Whitey.” They could have added “Too Good for the Mets.” He was their all-star in 1962. He retired after the season. Ashburn was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1995.

But most of the Mets in 1962 were more along the lines of Gus Bell, Ed Bouchee, Sammy Drake and Harry Chiti. Even though they all got to the plate at least 40 times, none of them were able to hit two bucks. Yup, four so-called big-leaguers, all with a batting average under .200. And there was Don Zimmer. Yes, that Don Zimmer, later the gerbil-faced coach who found fame with the Yankees and Red Sox. Zim, playing 14 games for Casey with the 1962 Mets, had four hits in 52 at bats for a batting average of .077. The Zim failed to hit a buck.

Of course, they also had first baseman Marv Throneberry, a man with a reputation for a slugger who indeed cracked 16 round-trippers and drove in 49 runs in his 116 games for the Mets that season. But his most notorious moment came when he hit a triple against the Cubs in June but was called out as he stood on third, on an appeal play for failing to touch second base. When Casey came out to argue the decision, the first-base umpire came over and told him not to bother, because Throneberry had failed to touch that base on his way to third, too. Casey? He just went on to add to the Mets’ fans adoption of Throneberry’s nickname that earned Marv a Miller Lite beer commercials long after he retired. Yup, Marvelous Marv Throneberry was the name thereafter for their at best average ballplayer.

The Mets finished their first season with a record of 40 wins and 120 losses, a mere 60 1/2 games behind the pennant-winning San Francisco Giants. The Mets had a twin brother come into the league with them that year, the Houston Colt .45s. The Texan expansion squad was 64-96, which looks perfectly awful until you consider they finished 24 games better than the Mets. And also beat out the ninth-place Chicago Cubs, by the way, who went 59-103. Sorry, long-suffering Windy City Wrigleyites.

Casey Stengel as he managed the New York Mets. (From theguycornernyc.com)

Casey Stengel as he managed the New York Mets. (From theguycornernyc.com)

So what did loquacious Casey have to say about his Mets to writers and announcers?

“Come see my “Amazin’ Mets,” Stengel said, according to Wikipedia. “I’ve been in this game a hundred years, but I see new ways to lose I never knew existed before.” Of his three catchers, he said, “I got one that can throw but can’t catch, one that can catch but can’t throw, and one who can hit but can’t do either.”

And why not? Casey’ other nickname was “The Old Perfesser.”

Casey Stengel playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1919. (From Wikipedia)

Casey Stengel playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1919. (From Wikipedia)

But as a player, he became known for his antics. His bio on the site caseystengel.com reports: “In a game with Montgomery of the Southern league, Stengel lowered himself in an outfield manhole when no one was looking. As a fly ball sailed in his direction, he magically appeared out of the ground to shag it. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, and “Ol’ Case” had pulled off another one.”

And from Wikipedia: “In 1919, Stengel of the Pittsburgh Pirates was being taunted mercilessly by fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers, his old team. Somehow Casey got hold of a sparrow and used it to turn the crowd in his favor. With the bird tucked gently beneath his cap, Casey strutted to the plate amidst a chorus of boos and catcalls. He turned to the crowd, tipped his hat and out flew the sparrow. The jeers turned to cheers, and Stengel became an instant favorite.”

The way Casey talked was termed “Stengelese.” It was music to a young Mets fan’s ears.

Casey managed the Mets until he retired on Aug. 30, 1965, a month after he broke his hip … falling off a bar stool.

That gave me almost three more seasons to soak in the funny stuff.

When one of my favorite Mets of all time, first baseman Ed Kranepool, was coming up along with another young player, catcher Greg Goossen, Casey said: “See that fellow over there? He’s 20 years old. In 10 years he has a chance to be a star. Now, that fellow over there, he’s 20, too. In 10 years he has a chance to be 30.”

Kranepool played for the Mets 18 years and became their all-time hits leader (before being passed by David Wright). Goossen turned 30 in 1975. He was already five years out of the big leagues.

(From Wikipedia)

(From Wikipedia)

Casey Stengel, born on July 30, 1890, Hall of Fame inductee in 1966 by the Veterans Committee, died on Sept. 29, 1975, is also a legend for saying:

• “Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.”

• “Don’t drink in the hotel bar, that’s where I do my drinking.”

• “The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided.”

• “They say Yogi Berra is funny. Well, he has a lovely wife and family, a beautiful home, money in the bank, and he plays golf with millionaires. What’s funny about that?”

• “When you are younger you get blamed for crimes you never committed and when you’re older you begin to get credit for virtues you never possessed. It evens itself out.”

• “They got a lot of kids now whose uniforms are so tight, especially the pants, that they cannot bend over to pick up ground balls. And they don’t want to bend over in television games because in that way there is no way their face can get on the camera.”

And, finally, the favor returned by funny catcher, manager and Hall-of-Famer Lawrence “Yogi Berra:

• “He could fool you. When Casey wanted to make sense he could. But he usually preferred to make you laugh.”

Quotes, biographical information and statistics were mined from Wikipedia, brainyquote.com and caseystengel.com.

Here’s the link to the Wikipedia entry for Casey Stengel.

Here’s the link for caseystengel.com.

Here’s the link to brainyquote.com.

Here’s the link to the photo of Casey Stengel as Mets manager.

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Dominique Moceanu: When Dominique “Domi” Dominated

Do you remember that amazing vault that Kerri Strug did at the 1996 Olympics? I remember it like it was yesterday, up late at night, riveted to the TV. The diminutive Dominique Moceanu had faltered in the last rotation of team optionals, falling on both vaults and forcing the chance of a USA gold medal upon Strug’s final vault. Injured and limping from her first attempt, the plucky Strug pushed forward to make Olympic history.

But Strug was just one of the amazing girls on the USA gymnastics team, called The Magnificent Seven, including double Dominiques: Dawes and Moceanu. While there are men named Dominique (basketball players Dominique Wilkins and Hawkins, chef Dominique Ansel, actor Dominique Horwitz, and football player Dominique Barber), these two were clearly female. The littlest (Moceanu) is today’s focus.

Dominique “Domi” Helena Moceanu was born in Hollywood in September 1981 to Dumitru and Camelia Moceanu. Both had been gymnasts in their native Romania and pushed Dominique to excel in the sport, starting her in classes at age 3. She strengthened her toddler arms by hanging from a clothesline. In 1987, a sister was born without legs, and subsequently abandoned at the hospital. Father Dumitru purportedly said they could not afford treatment for her, but one wonders if they didn’t want to waste their time on a child through whom they could not live vicariously. In 1989, another sister was born, Christina, with both legs in tact, so they kept her.

With money saved from not having to raise the legless daughter, her parents filled the gas tank and drove Dominique to Texas when she was 10, to try out for Béla Károlyi, the renowned Romanian coach who had trained Olympic champions Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton. Under his coaching, Dominique won the U.S. junior national all-around title in 1994 and individual silver on the balance beam at the 1995 World Championships. Next stop: the 1996 Olympics to taste the victory of gold!

By the age of 17, Dominique had had it up to here with her parents, who had evidently squandered her fortune. So she legally emancipated herself from her them, and got a restraining order against her father, who may or may not have hired a hit man to kill two of her close friends. Pardon? Oddly, they later reconciled and Dumitru walked her down the aisle at her 2006 wedding to a podiatrist and former gymnast.

Meanwhile, her first sister, given the normal name of Jennifer Bricker, was being raised by two loving adoptive parents. Despite having no legs, she excelled as an acrobat and played many sports. She grew up idolizing Dominique, whom she’d seen on TV. When she was 16, her parents revealed that Dominique was actually her sister. Oh, snap! Four years later, she wrote her a letter, and the two finally met.

Bricker has since toured the world as an aerialist with Britney Spears, and Dominique, with her days of competition behind her, got a degree in business management and coaches part-time gymnastics. She enjoys raising her two children and hopefully isn’t hanging them on clotheslines.

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Fan Bingbing – China’s Sweetheart

Fan Bingbing (or Bingbing Fan, depending on your Chinese name transcription preferences) is a super popular Chinese film and TV actress, with a delightfully airy name. Just say it, “Fan Bingbing”. Quite fun, eh?

Fan Bingbing, seen here holding a giant golden...something.

Fan Bingbing, seen here holding a giant golden…something.

Fan was ranked the number one most influential Chinese celebrity twice in a row in 2013 and 2014 by the Forbes China Celebrity 100 list, which is a thing, saying something about her popularity. She has been nominated for or won a number of well named acting awards, including the Golden Rooster, Golden Horse, Golden Bauhinia, and of course the Hundred Flowers awards. That’s a lot of golden stuff. And bauhinias, whatever that is.

Western audiences may have spied her in the recent blockbuster X-Men : Days of Future Past (A “whoa”-inducing title for stoners if I’ve ever seen one) where she played a mutant named Blink, who has the ability to teleport from place to place. This seems like a great skill, particularly in Hollywood where traffic can be murder. Come to think of it, it may be even more useful in China, where I once rode in a taxi that mounted a sidewalk at 40 miles per hour because the street was a tad too crowded for the driver’s liking.

She also appeared in the 2013 superhero film Iron Man 3, in a some-might-say cynical ploy to increase Asian box office grosses. She can only be seen in the version of the film released in China, which tells you something about how necessary the character is to the film’s story. The plot worked though – Iron Man 3 was the year’s second biggest hit in China, just behind the intriguing sounding Journey to the West : Conquering the Demonswhich I picture as a Journey concert film, and just ahead of the less intriguing sounding Personal Tailor.

She also wears super cool green head thingies at times. We like that.

She also wears super cool green head thingies at times. We like that.

We may well see more of Ms. Bingbing in the near future, since her overwhelming fame in her native land is likely to attract more international suitors (or personal tailors, even!). All hail Fan Bingbing!

 

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Funny Names in the News Vol. 96! Now with Excellence in Sound Editing!

Hello hello, and welcome to the very first Funny Names in the News of 2015!

I think it’s the first, I haven’t quite been paying attention. I’ll probably still be writing 2014 in the date fields of most forms for the next six months. Some of take a moment to adjust to these things.

On to the “news”! Our intrepid wedding reporter Dave uncovered this article from Buzzfeed describing how Shelby Swink‘s fiancee got cold feet and canceled their wedding, and she did something awesome. She decided to go ahead with the wedding photo shoot, but only with herself in the pictures trashing the wedding dress with her friends. Pretty fun looking pictures, considering the unfortunate circumstances. Thanks, Wedding Dave!

In fact, all of today’s articles are uncovered by Intrepid Dave. He tells us that little league starlet Mo’ne Ikea Davis was named AP’s female athlete of the year. Presumably the male athlete of the year was Ha-Ha Clinton Dix. One can hope.

A tip of the hat to Academy Award nominated actor Benedict Cumberbatch...uh, from himself.

A tip of the hat to Academy Award nominated actor Benedict Cumberbatch…uh, from himself.

The rapper Ludacris has married his long term girlfriend Eudoxie Mbouguiengue after a long-term two week engagement. Our congratulations to the happy couple.

Congratulations also are in order for ageless boxer Bernard “The Alien” Hopkins, who turned 50 yesterday! Well, actually I suppose that means he’s not really ageless. His age is 50. But you catch my drift.

This year’s Oscar nominations were announced today. Among all the reading of names in the announcement ceremony was the delightful mistake where Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs accidentally referred to cinematographer Dick Pope as “Dick Poop”. Mr. Pope’s response : “I’ve been called a lot worse.” And presumably in less happy circumstances, he was after all nominated for an Oscar today.

Other well named nominees include our very own Benedict Cumberbatch - yes, the Blog of Funny Names is now claiming ownership for the massively popular actor – editor Barney Pilling of the Grand Budapest Hotel, and the delightfully repetitive composer Jóhann Jóhannson.

Our favorite film in the Animated Short Film category is definitely The Dam Keeper, mostly because it is directed by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi. As usual, the popular audience is mostly tuned into the Sound Editing category, where many of the best names reside. This year, these include American Sniper‘s Bud AsmanBirdman‘s Aaron Glasscock, and The Hobbit‘s Brent Burge. Good luck to all of the above.

Happy Weekend all, that about wraps it up.

 

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Under My Thumb : The Mercy Bumpus Story

Small is beautiful“, some wonderful person once said. “Small, and funnily named is beautifuller“, they probably didn’t add.

So I will.

Mercy Bumpus is the kind of name this blog was founded to admire, and it surprises me it took us so long to finally profile her.

Born Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump, she and her younger sister Huldah Pierce Warren Bump were both born with a form of proportional dwarfism caused by a pituitary disorder that your resident (not-quite-) doctor Dave is probably more qualified to explain.

Regardless of how it happened, it did, but luckily for Mercy and a collection of other people with the same form of dwarfism at the time, the great showman P.T Barnum happened to be around. Under Barnum’s management, Mercy used her singing and dancing talents to gain some fame and eventually (booooo) changed her name to Lavinia Warren.

Mercy Bumpus AKA Lavinia Warren, standing next to an enormous chair.

Mercy Bumpus AKA Lavinia Warren, seen here next to an enormous chair.

Her romantic life was also full of funny names and good times. She was pursued by another one of Barnum’s entertainers, the amazingly monikered Commodore Nutt, but eventually Mercy’s heart belonged to Tom Thumb. She married him in an elaborate ceremony where they greeted their arriving guests from atop a grand piano. Ever the profit maker, Barnum sold tickets to the reception for $75 each for the first five thousand to apply. I humbly suggest the title “Under My Thumb” for the eventual Hollywood biopic to be adapted from this article, starring Tom Cruise and whatever lady they find in Hollywood who is shorter than Tom Cruise.

Thumb and Lavinia Warren became a performing duo gaining a huge level of fame. They even got invited to visit President Lincoln at the White House, something I could never expect for myself at this point. Unless ol’ Abe is still haunting the grounds today, that is the one loophole.

So remember kids, no matter what obstacles you may face in life, no matter what strange name they give you, you can still become amazingly successful and famous and visit a really tall president and whatnot. Don’t sell yourselves short!

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