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Sports is fertile ground for name game

According to my sources at Buckingham Palace, it could be several days and perhaps weeks before Prince William and Kate Middleton name their newborn son. Prince Charles and Princess Diana waited a week before naming Will. Prince Charles' parents waited nearly a month before naming him.

How does this relate to sports?

If you're looking for great names, there is no better place than sports. And there is no more natural link between Buckingham Palace and sports than Prince Fielder, who may be a prince but will never be confused with a fielder. If his parents waited a little longer, they would have named him Homer.

Homer Bush hit only 11 homers in 409 games while Reds pitcher Homer Bailey, who threw a no-hitter three weeks ago, has surrendered 88 homers in his career. And then there was pitcher Belve Bean, who plunked only five batters in six seasons in the 1930s. Billy Beane wasn't hit by a pitch in 148 games over six seasons in the 1980s.

My favorite Will in baseball was Will Clark, whose middle name was Nuschler. You know if there's a Will, there must be a Way. Bob Way played five games for the White Sox in 1927.

See where this is going?

Once you start, it's difficult to stop the Name Game. Seriously. Joe Start played minor-league ball until 1886, ending his career one year before Charles Stopps played his only season.

There are names that sound much different than they appear. We might as well start with Steve Begin, right? Let's agree the worst is Miroslav Satan. Wayne Gretzky's name sounds like greatness. Jeff Poor batted .238 over five seasons in the minors, which explained why he never played past Double A.

Grant Balfour has walked 139 batters, too many for 450 career innings. Bob Walk had 606 in 1,666 innings over 14 seasons. Adam Dunn has 24 homers this season, which suggests he's far from finished.

For years, I've been telling people that a professional athlete will someday start his name with a dollar sign, as in $haquille O'Neal or $idney Crosby.

You've heard about Winter Olympians Apolo Ohno and Picabo Street. You may remember Skeeter Barnes, who played for the Bisons. Certain players are memorable because their names were smooth and classy. Take former Bills receiver Quinn Early, for example. He had a cool name, and he was.

I always liked first and last names in sports that started with the same letter: Mickey Mantle rolls off your tongue, but there's also Boris Becker, Coco Crisp, Jimmie Johnson, Lennox Lewis, Peerless Price, Minnie Minoso and my personal favorite, of course, Bucky Brooks.

You can even play a game – shot glasses optional – with chained-link names such as Spike Owen-Owen Nolan-Nolan Ryan-Ryan Howard-Howard Johnson-Johnson Wagner-Wagner … do a shot.

Animal names: Jimmie Foxx, Rob Deer, Larry Bird, Kevin Bass, Bob Moose, Matt Fish and Tiger Woods. Let's not forget William van Winkle “Chicken” Wolf, who played three games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1890. Ron “Bear” Bay played 10 seasons in the minors after being drafted by – who else? – the Cubs in 2002.

Names that make you think about a sandwich: Jack Ham, Mia Hamm, Robert Cheeseman, Eddie Mayo and Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell. Bob and Chet Lemon lead the produce section, but there were four Apples and six Oranges who played minor-league ball.

Names that make you check the calendar: Don January, Bobby April, Lee May and Don August.

There are religious names such as Priest Holmes and God Shammgod and names from outer space such as Venus Williams and Mercury Morris and names that are somewhere out there such as Yonder Alonso. There are names of nationalities, such as Alex English, Jeff Irish, Franklyn German, Ossie France and minor leaguer Charles Russian.

Walter Most played only two seasons in the big leagues while David, Jason and Joseph Nunn played one. Bryan Little played some, but his career was far shorter than Donnie Moore's. Bill Short was a 5-foot-9 left-hander while Chris Short was a 6-4 righty, confirming the big leagues have always been short on southpaws.

You know colorful names like Jim Brown, Reggie White, Budd Black, Vida Blue and “Mean” Joe Greene. Reddy Gray played one game for the Pirates in 1903. We can't forget NBA referee Violet Palmer. If you need art and music, there was Larry Painter, Steve Sax and Frank Viola.

Soccer's most famous one-name players are Pele and Maradona. There's another currently playing for Brazil. His name: Fred.

If you're wondering, my given name is James. My father gave me the nickname for no apparent reason when I was a few months old. Some say it's a good name for a sportswriter, and some say it sounds childish. I agree with both.

I often was teased about that name as a kid. Thankfully, I always had one name at my disposal that would take off the heat: Dick Trickle.

Olympic lag

Hockey fans who will go to their graves never forgetting the gold-medal game between the United States and Canada in the 2010 Olympics should not expect anywhere near the quality of play when the Winter Games are staged in Russia.

The NHL is using the Olympics to sell the game around the world. The Olympics are a world event. It makes sense. I'm all for the NHL participating in the Winter Games, so long as they're being held in North America. It's too disruptive to break for the season and travel across six or more time zones for games most North Americans will not see.

Gary Bettman & Co., clearly forgot just how poorly NHL players performed in 2006 after being forced to travel to Italy. They were exhausted from the travel. It showed on the ice in Turin, and it continued when they returned home. It was the opposite of what the NHL was trying to sell.

In years when the Olympics are being held overseas, the NHL and the Olympics would be better off if the World Junior Championships were held in their place. It would make for better hockey during the Winter Games and a better NHL back home.

Put it all on line

Ryan Braun is the latest example of why I'm extending my Buffalo Sabres approach to the rest of the sports world. People would be better off if they stopped listening to what's being said and paid attention to what's being done.

Braun's image should be forever tarnished after he was suspended for 65 games for using performance-enhancing drugs. All this came after he stood before the microphones 17 months ago and emphatically denied charges he took substances that were banned.

“I would bet my life that this substance never entered my body at any point,” Braun said at the time.

Braun sounded much like Pete Rose saying he never bet on baseball, much like Alex Rodriguez lying to Katie Couric, much like Lance Armstrong and many others. The latest is Broncos linebacker Von Miller, who claimed he did nothing wrong while violating the NFL's drug policy. Maybe he didn't do anything wrong. I'm guessing that he did.

The other day, Braun issued an apology when he clearly made a business decision. He lost about $3 million in salary, or about $500,000 less than he would have if he lost an appeal and was banned for 65 games next season. Sadly, the issue has become so numbing that fans will be cheering him the minute he's back on the field.

Look, no professional athlete should be betting his life on anything. But how about they start betting their careers. If a player tests positive for drugs and the charges hold up, he should be suspended for life.

Phil's a thrill

More amazing than Phil Mickelson firing a final-round 66 and winning the British Open last weekend is that he's 17 shots from winning six U.S. Open titles, the only major that eludes him.

Seventeen strokes over a 22-year career is minuscule, but placed in the right moments are the difference between Mickelson having 11 major championships rather than five. People remember his meltdowns, but they forget about lipped putts or poor chips he had in earlier rounds.

Mickelson has 42 PGA tour victories, but he also has finished second 29 times and third 24 times. He has made the cut 400 times in 480 career events and earned $72.5 million in prize money. He has finished in the Top 25 in 55 percent of his tournaments. Tiger Woods has finished in the Top 25 in 80 percent and earned $107.1 million.

Woods and Mickelson are 1-2 in the world rankings. Let's hope they're in the final pairing for the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club.


“Last year, Blue Jays finished with 73-89 record, for a winning percentage of .451. So they brought in a raft of pricey stars. Now they're up to .459.” – @jacktodd46

Stats Inc.

19.64 – Earned-run average of Tim Lincecum after giving up eight earned runs in 3∏ innings against the Reds in his first start since throwing a no-hitter.

345 – Amount, in dollars, that former Penn State and NFL running back Larry Johnson was fined after he pleaded no contest to charges that he beat his former girlfriend.

7 – Goals scored in 48 games last season by Jets winger Bryan Little, who signed a five-year extension worth $23.5 million.

Quick Hits

• The Rangers made a wise move this week in acquiring pitcher Matt Garza, whom they have wanted since 2010. Garza was 5-0 with a 1.24 ERA in his last six starts with the Cubs, who are going nowhere. Keep an eye on third baseman Mike Olt, a former first-round pick who was stuck behind Adrian Beltre before getting sent to Chicago.

• If you're looking for an afternoon of golf that's free of charge and frustration, check out the Porter Cup this week at Niagara Falls Country Club. Tim Mickelson has played in the event for years. It would not be shocking if Phil Mickelson showed up to see his brother before wandering toward Pittsford for a peek at Oak Hill.

• Jaromir Jagr's contract with the Devils made sense for both sides. He'll pocket $4 million if he plays 45 games next season. It includes a $250,000 bonus for every five games he plays between the 10th and 45th game. In other words, if the 41-year-old winger gets hurt early in the season, the Devils aren't throwing money away.