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If Name Above Looks a Bit Unfamiliar, So Might Lynn Ryan’s

After watching Jeffrey (nee Jeff) Leonard of the San Francisco Giants on TV the other day, I got to thinking about names.

I am the sort of guy who does not adjust easily to change. To me, Nissan is still Datsun, Unocal is still Union 76, and Ron Howard is still Ronny, although I’m trying, Ron, I’m trying. Jeffrey Leonard does not want to be called Jeff anymore. OK. Fine with me. No problem. Just give me some time to adjust.

At least the guy didn’t change his name to Ahmad Abdul Muhammad, or something like that.

It has been a long time since any extremely popular sports figure has adopted a Muslim name. As I have said before, I have no argument with anyone who does. It just takes me a long time to get used to it.

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By now there must be an entire young generation unaware that a boxer called Cassius Clay ever existed, or a basketball player named Lew Alcindor. This makes me feel old, as when a child is surprised to hear that Paul McCartney had a band before Wings.

I always wondered how women adjusted to being addressed by their husbands’ last names, back in the days before independence and liberation and hyphens. It would really throw me right now if somebody started calling me by another last name.

An occasional Chris Evert Lloyd still comes along, but if every woman in America still automatically took the surname of her husband, the newspapers would be full of stories about golfer Nancy Knight, vice presidential candidate Geraldine Zaccaro and actress Meryl Gummer.

Actors change their names all the time, of course. Some of our greatest Hollywood stars--Archie Leach, Bernie Schwartz, Allen Konigsberg--have eased into their new identities comfortably over the years. I do not know, though, if their loved ones refer to them as Cary, Tony or Woody.

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A very good actor named Allen Goorwitz became Allen Garfield, then became Allen Goorwitz, then Allen Garfield, until I finally got dizzy keeping up with him. In his latest picture, I hear he is being billed as Garfield Allen.

What if Ronald Reagan’s predecessor, in mid-term, had suddenly decided to refer to himself as President Jim Carter? Come to think of it, with a brother like Billy, we’re surprised Jimmy didn’t decide to change his last name.

The University of Maryland’s basketball coach, Lefty Driesell, spoke up one day last season and said he would prefer to be addressed by his given name, Charles. Eventually he told everybody to forget it, which we appreciate. It is difficult to change, once everybody gets used to a nickname.

For example, would we really want to reminisce about the Hall of Fame pitcher, Robert Grove, or that outstanding catcher, Charles Hartnett, or that famed slugger, Edwin Snider? Do we really want to repeat some of the wonderful cockeyed quotes of Lawrence Berra?

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Thank heaven we never had to describe the long home runs John Powell hit for Baltimore, or recall the wacky postgame comments of St. Louis pitcher Jerome Dean.

So, Jeff Leonard wants to be Jeffrey, huh? OK. Fine with me. No problem.

I am just glad that after a couple of no-hitters, we did not have to change our ways and start talking about Sanford Koufax. Or start remembering the time Robert Gibson struck out 17 in the 1968 World Series. Or praise Guillermo Hernandez for winning the American League MVP award in 1984.

Imagine how strange it would sound if, every time a certain California designated hitter came to bat, the fans started chanting: “Reginald! Reginald! Reginald!”

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This Jeffrey Leonard business is not the first time this sort of thing has happened.

I was in Chicago in 1972 when White Sox first baseman Dick Allen became the American League’s most valuable player, but most of us were still calling him Richie. We didn’t mean anything by it. Just couldn’t change our ways.

The funny thing about baseball players is how many of them do not even use their real first names.

You could field a pretty fair lineup if you used George Griffey, Walter McReynolds and Bobby Moreland in the outfield; James Horner, Charles Knight, Steven Mulliniks and Carroll Chambliss in the infield; Ralph Engle behind the plate and a starting rotation of George Seaver, Lynn Ryan, Dewey Hoyt, Bill Clemens and Billy Smithson, with Howard Sutter in relief. But nobody would come to your games, because nobody has ever heard of those guys.

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Make it Ken Griffey, Kevin McReynolds, Keith Moreland, Bob Horner, Ray Knight, Rance Mulliniks, Chris Chambliss, Dave Engle, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, LaMarr Hoyt, Roger Clemens, Mike Smithson and Bruce Sutter, and you have got yourself a ballclub.

You might even want to throw in Jeffrey Leonard’s partner in the San Francisco outfield, Clinton Gladden III. Alias Dan.

I think there is something in a name, no matter what Willie Shakespeare says.

A couple of months ago, I was talking to Jim Covert, a lineman for the Chicago Bears, who also has been known as Jimbo. When I asked him which he preferred, he said he didn’t care.

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“But maybe I’ll be like Tony Dorsett and change the way I pronounce my last name,” he said. “Co-vair. How does that sound?”

Like a Chevrolet, said I.


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