(Pictured: the man himself, 2008.)
There’s a thing that’s gained popularity lately, thanks mostly to the writers at Defector, who started doing it on slow days at their former website, Deadspin: “let’s remember some guys.” It’s pretty simple: you come up with the name of an athlete from out of the past and discuss your memories of him. They didn’t invent it, however. “Remembering some guys” has been going on for as long as men have had time to talk about sports. (Somebody on Twitter, I forget who, suggested that men talk about guys as a way to have deep and involved conversations without having to discuss emotions, hopes, dreams, and the sort of stuff men are often not comfortable sharing with one another. I think that’s probably true.)
A related activity involves the collection of unusual names. To do this in the modern world, you walk a line that didn’t exist years ago. You gotta ask whether it’s racist to note the unusual-ness of certain Black athletes’ names that include nonstandard capitalization and punctuation marks. Although it’s worth noting that some of the strangest names you can find right now are among pro golfers and lacrosse players, two of the whitest sports in America.
So anyway: this piece appeared in its original form at my first blog, The Daily Aneurysm, on May 21, 2006. A slightly revised and edited version has been sitting in my Drafts file for nearly 10 years, going back to when I first had the idea of repeating old Aneurysm posts here. I looked at it the other day after a brief Twitter exchange about great baseball names, and added the link in the first paragraph.
Over the years, I have collected odd names. It’s easier now than it used to be. Some of the names parents hang on kids today seem so strange, and sometimes so flatly cruel, that you can’t help but notice them. I am thinking here of the parents who wanted to name their son Tim, but for whom Tim was simply too pedestrian, so they named him Tymme, or the parents who created future strippers by naming their daughters Wytnee or Lynzi.
I was collecting athlete names first, however. It started way back in the 60s and 70s, with names like Pedro Borbon and Cephus Weatherspoon. But despite my experience with odd names, nothing prepared me for the latest one I found: Boof Bonser. Boof is a pitcher who will make his major-league debut for the Minnesota Twins today [5/21/06] against the Milwaukee Brewers.
In defense of his parents, Boof’s name is self-inflicted. His parents named him John Paul. (John Paul Bonser isn’t a bad rock-star name, actually—a chainsaw lead guitarist in a heavy-metal band, maybe.) Somebody nicknamed him Boof at some point, and he legally changed his name to Boof a few years ago.
When I first heard the jokes about Boof, I laughed along with them. But that was before I realized his name has magical powers. When you speak the name “Boof Bonser” aloud, something happens. You have to smile. Endorphins are released.…All the trouble in the world seems mitigated by the fact that there’s a guy named Boof walking around and sharing it with us.…
It’s particularly fun to say if you do it like a ballpark announcer.
Boof Bonser started 60 games for the Twins in three years, including a start in the 2006 ALDS. In 2009, he appeared in only one minor-league game, so I suspect he was injured that year. After the 2009 season, the Twins traded him to the Red Sox, but he appeared in only two games for them in 2010 and was released in June. The A’s picked him up, and he appeared in 13 games, the last one in October 2010, at the butt-end of the season. After that, he was signed by the Mets, Giants, and Cleveland organizations, and pitched in the minors without making it back to the Show. In 2013 he pitched in China and in the independent Atlantic League. Lifetime major league record: 19 wins, 25 losses, earned-run average 5.12, and WHIP 1.459.
If you would like to remember some other guy, please do so in the comments.