By In Baseball, History

Do Geese See God?

Got a few changes coming — pretty big changes, I think. Exciting, I hope. We’ll talk about them as they come up.

In the meantime, based on a Brilliant Reader comment I saw on Facebook, I believe these are all the last-name palindromes in baseball history.

— Truck Hannah. He earned some fame as a catcher for the Yankees from 1918-20; he was generally known as the player who helped settle disputes between Babe Ruth and manager Miller Huggins. He played baseball forever; Hannah got his first at-bat when he was 20 in Tacoma, and he got his last at-bat 31 years later when he got six at-bats for the Memphis Chickasaws of the old Southern Association.

But the coolest Truck Hannah fact I can come up with is that his daughter, Helen, had one of the most remarkable lives imaginable. Someday, I have to write the Helen Hannah Campbell story. She was a high school friend of Richard Nixon (he may or may not have had a crush on her). She was a chaperone in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. And she was one of the first women to become a Marine. What a life.

— Johnny Reder got a few games in with the 1932 Boston Red Sox. The highlight of his career is probably the RBI infield single he got off of future Hall of Famer Red Faber. In the game, Reder got that single, two walks and scored twice.

— Eddie Kazak is one of the truly remarkable stories in baseball history. He, like Musial and dozens of other future Major Leaguers, grew up in a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania. He was working the mines when he got his chance to play Class D ball in Valdosta in 1940. A year later, he signed with the Cardinals and ripped up the Georgia-Florida league, hitting .378 with 118 RBIs for Albany. A year later, he cooled off while playing for Houston. And then he went to war.

Kazak became a paratrooper and was part of the D-Day invasion. He was stabbed by a bayonet and lost a lot of blood. A bit later, he was hit in the right elbow by shrapnel. He would spend 18 months in a hospital. He was done playing baseball.

Only, he wasn’t. Though he would feel searing pain in his right arm every time he threw a baseball, he kept on playing. First he went to Columbus and hit. Then he went to Omaha and hit. Then he went to Rochester and hit. When he was 27, the Cardinals called him up to play in a few games. When he was 28, he hit .304 in 92 games and made the All-Star team.

That was the highlight — he fell off in 1950 and was out of baseball by 1952. Still: What a career. He also hit .321 in 28 at-bats off fellow World War II vet Warren Spahn, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, but whose name spelled backward is Nhaps.

— Dick and Robb Nen. Dick was a first baseman for the Dodgers, Senators and Cubs in the 1960s. He homered off St. Louis’ Ron Taylor in the ninth inning of his first game to send the game into extra innings. And throughout his career, he owned Catfish Hunter. He hit .407 with three homers in 32 at-bats against the Catfish.

His son Robb had the nastiest of sliders, a pitch some called “The Terminator” for the way it would finish off hitters. He struck out 793 in 718 innings over his career, made three All-Star teams, led the league in saves once and utterly owned Todd Helton, who went 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts against forward-or-backward Nen.

— Toby Harrah. My favorite of the palindromes, Toby Harrah had a superb career. He had almost 2,000 hits, almost 200 homers, almost 1000 RBIs. It was like that. Harrah played 2,155 games — 712 of them for my beloved Cleveland Indians. He was traded straight up in 1978 for Buddy Bell, and while Buddy was the better player, Harrah was good, and anyway they were destined for the same fate. Combined they played 4,560 big league games … and not one postseason game.

Harrah was a legitimately great player in 1975. That year he hit .293 with 20 homers, he walked 98 times, he stole 23 bases and he played an excellent shortstop. He was never quite that good again, though he hit 27 homers and led the league with 109 walked in 1977, and he was an all-star in 1982 for the Tribe when he hit .304 with 25 homers, walked 84 times, stole 17 of 20 bases and scored 100 runs. I’m not sure if he’s in the Hall of Very Good but he should be …

He owned Vida Blue (.424 with a .644 slugging percentage), homered five times off Bert Blyleven and would be in the Hall of Fame if he could have just faced John Cumberland over and over. He faced Cumberland three times. Harrah hit two homers and a double.

— Mark Salas. Fernando Salas. Juan Salas. Marino Salas.

Mark was a backup catcher for six different teams in the 1980s and early 1990s. He actually had a surprisingly solid rookie season, hitting .300 and slugging .458; he had the same WAR as Ozzie Guillen, who won the Rookie of the Year award. He fell off from there, though he did hit .378 with some power for Minnesota in 1987 before the Twins dealt him to the Yankees for Joe Niekro. Salas, rather famously, did not get a World Series ring from that team for some reason. They gave him a watch instead. Salas crushed the knuckleball — he hit .433 with three homers in 35 plate appearances against Charlie Hough. Admittedly, he wasn’t quite as good against Tom Candiotti (.222 with a double).

Fernando was (and is) a substantial relief pitcher who saved 24 games for the 2011 World Series Cardinals. You might remember that the Cardinals went with Jason Motte as their closer in the postseason. One of my favorite little facts about Fernando Salas is that he was driven and inspired by one of my old childhood heroes, Sid Monge, who pushed Fernando when he was in the Mexican League. Andrew McCuthen has never gotten a hit off Fernando, though Cutch has walked four of the eight times the two have faced.

Juan pitched in 47 big league games, most of them with the 2007 Devil Rays. Remember when they were the Devil Rays? He faced Brian Roberts five times and got him out all five.

Marino Salas will forever be unbeaten — his career record is 1-0. He also will forever have an 8.47 ERA. The game he won for Pittsburgh was his first game against St. Louis. He came into the game in the bottom of the ninth with the scored tied. He walked Aaron Miles, gave up a sacrifice bunt to Adam Wainwright, intentionally walked Skip Schumaker (of course), struck out Brendan Ryan, semi-intentionally walked Albert Pujols and got Ryan Ludwick to fly out. The Pirates scored four the next inning to give him the victory.

— Dave Otto. Super-tall left-handed pitcher for four teams in the last 1980s and early 1990s. Otto grew up in Chicago and went to the University of Missouri — he was taken in the second round twice, first by Baltimore (didn’t sign) and then by Oakland. For such a tall pitcher, Otto hardly struck out anybody. In his last three years, when he was trying to put a relief pitching career together, he struck out just 81 in 193 innings. He did give Cal Ripken fits, though. Ripken went 0-for-8 against Otto — the only time he got on was an intentional walk.


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22 Responses to Do Geese See God?

  1. Gabe says:

    Does this mean you’re finally gonna finish the Baseball 100?

  2. John Bowman says:

    Toby Harrah was also my mother’s favorite Senator, for some reason.

    Years later, Harrah was a rover for the Tigers. My next door neighbor’s son was a baseball operations intern for them. He said Harrah was a great guy. “What does that mean?” “When he was in Lakeland, he took us out for beers and told us stories.” Sounds like a reasonable Great Guy standard.

  3. invitro says:

    I wish they were still the Devil Rays. That team is bland and needs all the color it can get.

  4. Brian says:

    Toby Harrah as just as good for the Tribe in 1982 as he was in 1975. He’s definitely in the Hall of Very Good; he had a better career than a few Hall of Famers. He managed a last hurrah for the ’85 Rangers when he didn’t have much power anymore but was still feared enough to walk 113 times, good enough for a career-high .432 OBP. One of the better players who never got to play in a playoff game.

  5. JB says:

    The Toby Harrah for Buddy Bell trade made this young Ranger fan mad. For about five minutes until I saw the magic of Bell playing 3B. He was the best I ever saw at the dive to the right, jump to his feet and throw the batter out. He was a fantastic fielder at the hot corner. He also had a good bat for the period of time as a Ranger and was the highlight of some abysmal teams. I didn’t look up his stats, but it seems Bell should have at least received some consideration for the HOF – don’t recall any serious evaluation of his career.

    • JB says:

      Okay, I checked the stats. Not HOF worthy, but he did have six straight gold gloves and 2.500 hits in his career. The middle part as a Texas Ranger were his best years – if he had played like that early in Cleveland and a bit like that after he left, he would have probably made the HOF. Not much on WAR, but the peak years in Texas are pretty salty.

  6. Rob Smith says:

    Toby Harrah was a fixture in our Strat-O-Matic leagues of the 70s. There just were not many good hitting shortstops to go around. 20 HRs and a .365 OBP was outstanding in the 70s and early 80s. He was definitely WAY above average in that regard and was also a pretty good fielder…well ok…. maybe average.

  7. John Elias says:

    If no one has pointed this out yet, Helen Harrah is a double palindrome

  8. Richard says:

    Fun factoid about Toby Harrah: On June 25, 1976, he played both games of a doubleheader – 18 innings – at shortstop for the Texas Rangers without registering a single fielding chance.

  9. BSChief says:

    Dean Anna, infielder for Yankees & Cardinals, 2014 – 2015.

    Russ Van Atta (okay, cheating a little here), pitcher for the Yankees & Browns, 1933 – 1939.

  10. bulldog72 says:

    Let’s face it, the best palindrome in the entire story is Joe’s title. Good one, Joe!

    • Hamster Huey says:

      Weird Al. Good one Weird Al. You tube it, it’s well worth it. “May a moody baby doom a yam” – it’s just one after another.

  11. NevadaMark says:

    You forgot Jim Hannah, pitcher for the Senators when I was a kid. Was involved in the Denny McClain trade. I have no pithy stories to share, regrettably.

    • John Bowman says:

      Sorry, the guy the disastrous Denny McLain (and Eliot Maddox, Don Wert, and Norm McRae) for Joe Coleman (and Ed Brinkman and Aurelio Rodriguez) trade was Jim Hannan. Very positive if you were a Tigers fan. Jim Hannah was a Royals prospect who never got above A ball.

  12. NTaylor says:

    I was at Wrigley Field when Dave Otto and Robb Nen pitched in the same game. The moment was ruined for me by an obnoxious Marlins fan and a Cubs loss.

  13. Binyamin says:

    Sounds like Eddie Kazak spent much of his early life in the miner leagues.

  14. mrh says:

    Yarac yrrah springs to mind…

  15. Marlon says:

    Harrah also wore number 11 for the majority of his career, keeping the palindrome theme on his jersey.

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