August 15, 2022

The Famous Names of Not So Famous Players

August 27, 2010 by · 12 Comments 

Through the years a number of baseball players have became so well known that their fame transcended the game. Everyone knew who Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle were, even people who were not baseball fans.

Then you have the players whose names attracted attention for other, more unfortunate reasons. Johnny Grubb, John Wockenfuss, Pembroke Finlayson, Orval Overall—we’re talking about you.

Another group of baseball players attracts attention and it is a list filled with very familiar names. However, these players did not achieve their fame on the baseball diamond. In many cases they saw their careers play out without attracting any undue attention. If you ask someone if they have heard of these players, they will say “of course,” but they will be thinking of someone who cannot be found in The Baseball Encyclopedia.

I have compiled a list of mostly obscure players who have played major league baseball and who happen to share the same name as someone who achieved fame and notoriety in a completely unrelated field. Quite frankly, I was not familiar with many of them as baseball players, and some possess pretty slim career stats.

For example, Davey Crockett was not only King of the Wild Frontier, turns out he was a first baseman for the Tigers. Crockett played 28 games for Detroit in 1901 and then spent the next 12 seasons toiling in the minors and producing a .244 batting average. He never seemed to fit in with teammates, perhaps because of the coonskin cap he insisted on wearing while in the field.

Here is an all-time team of players with famous names (players’ state of birth in parentheses):

C-John Edwards (OH)

1b-George Burns (OH); Tom Jones (PA); Davey Crockett (VA)

2b-Mike Tyson (NC); Bill Murray (ME); Don Johnson (IL)

3b-Howard Johnson (FL); John E. Kennedy (IL); Bill Bradley (OH)

SS-Bill Russell (KS); John I. Kennedy (FL)

OF- George Burns (NY); Ethan Allen (OH); Tip O’Neill (Ontario); Davy Jones (WI); Albert Schweitzer (OH); Ricky Nelson (AZ); George Washington (TX); Jack Daniels (PA); Eddie Murphy (NY); Terry Bradshaw (VA); Joe Frazier (NC); Danny Thomas (AL); Robert Kennedy (IL)

Starters-Phil Collins (IL); Ted Kennedy (IL); Ted Turner (KY); Bill Graham (KY); Johnny Rutherford (Ontario)

Closer-Brian Wilson (NH)

Bullpen-Mike Wallace (NC); Don Johnson (OR); Ozzie Osborn (MO)

Manager-Joe Frazier (NC); Bill Bradley (OH)

What a team of diverse personalities. We have politicians, football and basketball stars, politicians who were once basketball stars, musicians, actors, boxers, race car drivers, journalists, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, even a preacher. I’m guessing Billy Graham and Jack Daniels wouldn’t hit it off, but Mike Tyson could learn how to bite the ear off a raccoon from Davey Crockett.

Many baseball fans have heard of Howard Johnson, the Clearwater, Fla., native who played in the majors from 1982-95, making two All-Star teams and slugging 228 home runs for the Mets and three other teams. He remains in the game as the hitting coach of the Mets. The other Howard Johnson, the more famous one, was an entrepreneur who started with a drug store in 1925, branched out into restaurants a few years later and then opened his first motor lodge in 1954. The player was known by the nickname HoJo, which undoubtedly came about due to the motel and restaurant chain’s moniker of HoJo’s.

In addition to HoJo, some of the other baseball players with famous names who had accomplished baseball careers were Ethan Allen and George Burns, both the outfielder from New York and the first baseman from Ohio with that name. Allen was a good outfielder who played in the 1920s and 1930s, compiling a lifetime average of .300. He led the league in doubles and batted .330 in 1934. An interesting fact about him is that after his career ended he served as baseball coach at Yale University, where one of his players was a first baseman named George H.W. Bush.

The other, more famous Ethan Allen was a Revolutionary War hero and patriot, who helped capture Fort Ticonderoga and had a hand in Vermont’s formation as a state. The furniture and home furnishings company that exists today was named after the Revolutionary War hero, not the baseball player.

George Burns the outfielder was a star for John McGraw and the New York Giants, compiling 2,077 career hits between 1911 and 1925. He led the NL in steals twice, walks five times and runs scored four times. The other George Burns (the baseball player) played in the American League around the same time, accumulating 2,018 hits. His best year was 1926, when he was named MVP after batting .358 and leading the league with 216 hits and 64 doubles. He finished with a .307 lifetime average.  Neither player starred in radio, film, vaudeville or television, married a woman named Gracie or lived to be 100.

Then there’s Bill Russell, who was not only a Hall of Fame basketball player who won 11 NBA titles with the Celtics, he was also a sure-handed shortstop from Kansas named to three All-Star teams while with the Dodgers.

I was familiar with Eddie Murphy, since he was born in tiny Hancock, N.Y., not far from the small town in which I grew up. Murphy was known as “Honest Eddie,” since he was one of the players on the 1919 Chicago White Sox not implicated in the Black Sox Scandal. That Eddie Murphy is white, while baseball’s Terry Bradshaw is African-American.

Two Don Johnsons had major league experience—a second baseman from Illinois nicknamed Pep who was an All-Star for the Cubs in 1944 and a pitcher from Oregon who played for five teams in seven years. They were the lucky ones—14 players named Don Johnson (or slight variations such as Donn) played in the minors but never made it to the major leagues.

Ted Turner, who hailed from Lawrenceburg, Ky., pitched one game in relief for the Cubs in 1920. He gave up two runs, didn’t get a decision and retired with a 13.50 ERA. He was decidedly not a media mogul. The other, more famous Ted Turner became the owner of the Braves in 1976 and decided to give managing a try back in 1977. He lost one game as manager before National League president Chub Feeney ruled owners could not also serve as managers, saving Turner from further embarrassing himself and the team.

If you can think of any more famous names from baseball history, send a comment.

Chris Jensen is a SABR member from Indiana. In the interests of full disclosure, he would like to point out that he has toured the Jack Daniels Distillery in Tennessee, his parents once bought a sofa from Ethan Allen, his best friend in college was named Tom Jones and he listened to more Ozzy Osbourne than Phil Collins while an undergrad and doesn’t know what SuSuSudio means any more than you do. He is not an expert on baseball names but he once stayed at a Howard Johnson’s.


12 Responses to “The Famous Names of Not So Famous Players”
  1. vinnie says:

    How could you have left out Bud Weiser?

  2. Chris Jensen says:

    @vinnie – That’s definitely a good one! If I were him, I would have stuck with my real first name, which was Harry.

  3. vinnie says:

    Hi Chris,
    In this case, “You’ve said it all.”


  4. AMusingFool says:

    Well, there were eight each of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, although Franklin and Jefferson were their middle names. Hmm… only two Abraham Lincolns by that measure. And I never noticed that Ted Lilly and Jackie Robinson shared the middle name of Roosevelt.

    The 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenies featured a left fielder name Michael Jordan, better known as Mitty.

  5. AMusingFool says:

    I also just (completely coincidentally) ran across the tidbit that Tip O’Neill hit for the cycle twice in 1887.

  6. AMusingFool says:

    Hmm… thought I’d already posted this comment…

    Anyway, just ran into this earlier today… It appears Tip O’Neill managed to hit for the cycle twice in 1887. Wouldn’t’ve imagined that the House would let him away from the Hill often enough for that.

  7. Chris Jensen says:

    I neglected to mention in the article that Tip O’Neill the politician picked up the nickname “Tip” during his youth in honor of the baseball player.


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