Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Panda and the Freak -- Written and Performed by The Baseball Project and Annotated by Jay Wade Edwards

The Baseball Project is a baseball-themed, rock supergroup featuring the very talented Scott McCaughey, Steve Wynn, Linda Pitmon, Peter Buck and Mike Mills. "Panda and the Freak" is on their 2011 album, Volume 2: High and Inside from YepRoc Records and was written by Mr. McCaughey.

You heard about the Mudcat,[1]

Catfish,[2] and the Georgia Peach[3]

The Kitten[4] and the Cobra,[5]

The Spaceman[6] and the Beast.[7]

Goose[8], Bird[9], Rooster[10]

… Penguin[11], Vulture.[12]

And your bird can sing

And the greatest nickname of all time

Death to Flying Things[13]

In old New York, it was Turkey Mike[14],

Muggsy[15], and the Big Six[16]

In San Francisco, Baby Bull[17],

Stretch[18], and the Say Hey Kid[19]

Then came the Count[20], the Hackman[21]

Jack the Ripper[22] and Will the Thrill[23]

Barry and Jeff Kent

But a dearth of nicknames, that is until,

The Giants got the Panda[24]

The Giants got the Freak[25]

The Panda's smoking line drives

The Freak is throwing heat

Panda and the Freak

Panda and the Freak

When it comes to kung fu fighting

He's no better than Hong Chi Quo

He's kinda like Bruce Lee
If you cross Bruce Lee with a buffalo

He barrels 'round the bases

He scrambles for ground balls

Zito named him Kung Fu Panda

That's our Pablo Sandoval


They said he wasn't built to last

They said that he's too small

The Mariners passed him right by

Now that was a bad call

Two Cy Youngs, two strike-out crowns

In his first full two years

And if Timmy takes a puff or two

Well, let's raise a toast, "Three cheers"


Panda and the Freak

Panda and the Freak

Panda and the Freak

Panda and the Freak

[1] In Jimmy “Mudcat” Grant’s first minor league try-out camp (1958), another player assumed he was from Mississippi (he’s from Lacoochee, Florida) and called him Mudcat. Cleveland coaches picked it up and it stuck. Grant won 145 games in 14 seasons, but would supplement his income in the winter by singing in a Cleveland nightclub act “Mudcat and the Kittens.” In the 1965 World Series, he pitched a complete-game six-hitter (on two days rest) and hit a three-run homer to send the Twins to a seventh game. In 2005, he published a book about the lives of twelve black major league pitchers to win 20 games called The 12 Black Aces.
[2] Jim “Catfish” Hunter was a high school pitching phenom in Hetford, North Carolina, (13-1, with five no-hitters, and a perfect game in 1964), despite having 30 shotgun pellets in his right foot from a hunting accident. After a local scout got the Kansas City Athletics to sign Hunter, team owner Charlie Finley told him, “A player’s got to have a nickname…Let’s call you Catfish…The story is, when you were six years old you ran away from home to fish and by the time your parents got to you, you’d caught two catfish and were just about to bring in a third. Got that? Now you repeat it to me.” Hunter’s Hall of Fame career lasted fourteen seasons and included eight All-Star appearance, five World Series Championships, over 2,000 strikeouts, a Cy Young (1974), a perfect game (1968), and his number (27) retired by the Oakland Athletics.
[3] Ty Cobb was dubbed “The Georgia Peach” by Atlanta Journal sports editor Grantland Rice. While playing in the Tennessee/Alabama minor league in 1904, Cobb wrote dozens of letters to Rice telling of his own talent and signed fictitious names to them to attract professional scouts’ attention. In addition to twelve batting titles, a 24-year career, a lifetime .367 batting average, and election to the inaugural Hall of Fame, the Georgia Peach spent the 1911 off-season touring as the lead actor in the stage play The College Widow and later stared in the now-lost feature film Somewhere in Georgia (1914).
[4] FĂ©lix “The Kitten” Millan played primarily second base for the Braves (1966-72), the Mets (1973-77), and the Yokohama Taiyo Whales (1978-80). Growing up in Puerto Rico, speed, hustle, and scrappy play earned him the nickname “El Gatito”, which eventually became the Kitten. He was a three-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove Award winner, and the first foreign player to win Japan’s batting title (.346 in 1979).  Harvey Haddix was also known as “The Kitten” for his resemblance to Cardinals pitcher Harry “The Cat” Brecheen.
[5] When asked by a reporter in 1983 why he wore a Star of David around his neck, Dave “The Cobra” Parker replied, “My name’s Dave and I’m a star.” The Cobra nickname was dubbed by team trainer Tony Bartirome and popularized by long-time Pirate announcer Bob Prince. Parker played from 1973 to 1991, compiling 2,712 hits, 339 home runs, seven All-Star appearances, one NL MVP (1978), three Gold Gloves, and two World Series Championships. He also gave this author a baseball during spring training in 1980.
[6] Bill “Spaceman” Lee explained his nickname on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, the NPR news quiz, in 2016 , “I pitched—Luis Tiant started in Baltimore, I think it was '71—the second time we landed on the moon. He didn’t get anybody out. I came in with the bases loaded, two runs already in. I ended up throwing eight and two-thirds innings of relief. I got a fake bunt down and scored the winning run. We went into first place, landed on the moon, and when we went back into the locker room and the press came by, we said we got our own Spaceman right here.” Lee pitched in the major leagues from 1969 to 1982, was an All-Star in 1973, has co-written four books, and is the oldest professional winning pitcher in history (age 65, for the San Rafael Pacifics of the independent Pacific Association League). Both Warren Zevon and John Flansburgh (They Might Be Giants) have written songs about Lee.
[7] Jimmy “The Beast” Foxx was a Hall of Fame slugger from Sudlersville, MD. In 1924, he was in the majors with the Philadelphia Athletics as a high school junior. The Philadelphia press dubbed him “Double X,” “The Maryland Strong Boy,” and simply “The Beast.” His 20-year career ended with a .325 batting average, 2,646 hits, and 534 home runs (second only to Babe Ruth when he retired).
[8] Rich “Goose” Gossage got his nickname from teammate Tom Bradley who said Gossage stuck his neck out when looking for the signs and looked like a goose on the mound. It stuck all the way to his Hall of Fame plaque. He pitched until he was 42-years-old (1994), finished with 1502 strike outs, nine All-Star appearances, and is one of only a handful of relief pitchers in the Hall of Fame.
[9] Mark “The Bird” Fidrych was the biggest thing to happen to Detroit in the summer of 1976. He became famous for a variety of antics, but primarily talking to the baseball on the mound. He explained, “That ball has a hit in it. I want that ball to get back in the ball bag and goof around with the other balls. I want the other balls to beat him up. Maybe that’ll smarten him up so when he comes out the next time, he’ll pop up.” After pitching to sell-out crowds at home and on the road, he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award with an MLB-best era of 2.34 and AL-best 24 complete games. His nickname came from somewhere in his year and a half in the minors (stops in Bristol, VA, Lakeland, FL, Montgomery, AL, and Evansville, IL) where his curly blonde hair and lanky stature reminded coaches of Big Bird on Sesame Street.
[10] Rick “Rooster” Burleson was a hard-nosed shortstop from 1974 to 1987, a four-time All-Star, and the 1979 Gold Glove Award winner. Bill Lee said, “Some guys don’t like to lose, but Rick got angry if the score was even tied.” Joe Garagiola said, “He’s even-tempered. He comes to the ballpark mad and he stays that way.” Don Zimmer supposedly nicknamed him saying, “with his hat off and his hair standing up, he looks like a rooster walking around.”
[11] Ron “The Penguin” Cey was nicknamed by his Washington State University coach, “Bobo” Brayton, for his waddling gait. A six-time All-Star, Ron was the World Series MVP for the Dodgers in 1981. He released a country music single in 1976 “Third Base Bag” b/w “One Game at a Time.”
[12] Phil “The Vulture” Regan got his nickname from Sandy Koufax due to his knack of earning wins in relief. In one week in 1968, Regan won both games of a doubleheader for the Dodgers, was traded to the Cubs, and earned saves in both games of another doubleheader. In April 2017, he threw batting practice for the Mets on his 80th birthday.
[13] Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson was so-named for his spectacular outfield abilities during his career (1865-84). Jack “Death to Flying Things” Chapman also claimed the nickname for his fielding (1874-76).
[14] “Turkey” Mike Donlin was a great hitter (lifetime .333 batting average) and rabble-rouser during his playing days (1899-1914). He was dubbed “Turkey” from his strutting walk and flamboyant style. He missed five months of the 1902 season while in prison for urinating in public and accosting two chorus girls. He sat out one season after a contract dispute and toured the Vaudeville circuit with his actress wife Mabel Hite. Later in life, he befriended John Barrymore and acted in 68 films, including playing a Union general in Buster Keaton’s The General (1926).
[15] John “Muggsy” McGraw never liked his nickname, which probably encouraged reporters to use it more often. He played for fifteen years (1891-1906), finishing with a .334 lifetime batting average, and managed the New York Giants for thirty years (1902-32), winning three World Series. McGraw ranks second all-time in wins by a manager with 2,763.
[16] Christy “Big Six” Mathewson claimed the nickname is short for “Big Six-Footer” (he was 6’2”), but it probably originated when sportswriter Sam Crane compared his pitching to New York’s Big Six Fire Company, as the fastest to put out a fire. The inaugural Hall of Fame inductee pitched 17 seasons for the New York Giants (1900-16), won 373 games, struck out 2,503 batters, won two World Series, and pitched two no-hitters. In 1902, he played fullback for half a season for the Pittsburgh Stars of the first National Football League.
[17] Orlando “Baby Bull” Cepeda compiled the following accolades during his Hall of Fame career: NL Rookie of the Year (1958, the Giants’ first year in San Francisco), NL MVP (1967), 11 All-Star games, one World Series championship, 2,351 hits, and 379 home runs. Orlando’s father, a professional baseball player in Puerto Rico, was known as “The Bull”, hence “Baby Bull.”
[18] Willie “Stretch” McCovey was 6’ 4” and 200 pounds. Los Angeles sports columnist Jim Murray wrote, “On ground balls hit to second, there’s no need to throw, the second baseman just hands the ball to Willie.” Willie won the San Francisco Giants a second Rookie of the Year award in a row in 1959. His Hall of Fame career spanned 22 years, included six All-Star games, an NL MVP (1969), 2,211 hits, and 521 home runs. The inlet of San Francisco Bay beyond the right field wall of AT&T Ballpark is named McCovey Cove.
[19] Willie “Say Hey Kid” Mays was an All-Star 24 times. He lead the NL in home runs and stolen bases four different times each. He hit 660 home runs, had 3,283 hits, and was a 12-time Gold Glove Award winner. And he missed almost two seasons after being drafted into the Army (1952-53). Willie had a hard time remembering teammates’ names early in his career and said, “You see a guy, you say, ‘Hey man. Say hey, man.’ Ted [Williams] was the Splinter. Joe [DiMaggio] was Joltin’ Joe. Stan [Musial] was The Man. I guess I hit a few home runs, and they said ‘There goes the Say Hey Kid.’”
[20] In John “The Count” Montefusco’s MLB debut, he pitched nine innings in relief and hit a two-run homer in his first official at-bat. He went on to win yet another Rookie of the Year Award (1975) for the San Francisco Giants. In the minors, he was dubbed the “Count of Monty Amarillo” in a El Paso newspaper headline. After his Giants debut, announcer Al Michaels called him “The Count of Montefusco.”
[21] Jeffrey “Hackman” Leonard was a two-time All-Star during his 13-year career (1977-90). Leonard tended to swing at every first pitch, so teammates dubbed him Hackman. He reportedly didn’t like the way it looked written out, so he requested it be spelled “HacMan” like PacMan. Teammate Dave Bergman took Leonard’s hefty stature and piercing stare and gave him the nickname “Penitentiary Face” which stuck for a few years, but Leonard later requested it be changed to “Correctional Facility Face.” It didn’t stick.
[22] “Jack the Ripper” Clark credits Vida Blue for giving him the nickname while playing for the Giants when he modified his already-violent swing to hit line-drives instead of fly balls that invariably died on the warning track in windy Candlestick Park. He hit 340 home runs and made four All-Star teams in his 18-year career. His post-baseball career includes co-hosting a St. Louis radio show with Kevin Slaten called “The King and the Ripper.”
[23] Will “The Thrill” Clark was an All-Star in six of his 15 seasons, hit .303 for his career, and won a Gold Glove (1991). His Jesuit High School teammates may have started his nickname or possibly it was Giants teammate Bob Brenly who gave it to him after Clark hit a homerun off Nolan Ryan in his rookie debut and said, “I’m just thrilled to be here.”
[24] Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval was named by teammate Barry Zito after Sandoval jumped over a catcher to score a run despite his 5’10”, 260-pound frame. Sandoval has been a two-time All-Star and was the 2012 World Series MVP.
[25] Tim “The Freak” Lincecum, by contrast, was so-named for his slight stature (5’11”, 170 pounds) and ability to throw a baseball 99 mph. A misdemeanor possession of marijuana charge in 2009 didn’t dispel the nickname. He pitched two no-hitters (2013, 2014), won two Cy Young Awards (2008, 2009), appeared in four All-Star games, and lead the NL in strikeouts three times.

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