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Butch Wynegar

October 7, 2009

Butch Wynegar 80

The Cardboard Gods era was a golden age in baseball for guys named Butch. Gracing my baseball cards in those years were Butch Hobson, Butch Metzger, and Butch Edge (furthermore, Butch Benton and Butch Alberts also played during that time, but I don’t think I have any cards featuring them), along with arguably the greatest baseball player to ever be saddled with the name: Butch Wynegar. You could make a case that Ken Keltner, whose nickname is listed on baseball-reference.com as Butch, deserves that honor, but in all the many times I’ve heard mention of Keltner (for his role in stopping Joe Dimaggio’s 56-game hitting streak), I’ve never heard him referred to as anything other than Ken. Conversely, I’ve never heard the player here referred to as anything other than Butch, so I think, considering that and his 13-year career and his two All-Star team berths (the first gaining him the distinction of being the youngest All-Star ever), he’s got to be considered the all-time best Butch.

Why did the number of Butches in the majors spike so much in the 1970s? I don’t really know, but as can be seen on the list on Baseball-Reference.com, no player was ever given the name Butch at birth, so each Butch must have picked the name up somewhere along the way, probably pretty early on, in childhood. And the guys who played in the 1970s pretty much all grew up in the Eisenhower era, which seems particularly fertile ground for the development of such a nickname: too late for a moniker like Babe or Rube, too early for nickname-repelling given names like Sunshine or Moon Unit. Think Leave it to Beaver. Think suburban tract housing. Think freckle-faced, crew-cutted, pug-nosed boys with slingshots sticking out of their back pockets.

So here’s to one of those All-American slingshot boys, Butch Wynegar, who I’ve elected to toss out the first pitch of the cardboard version of the 2009 playoffs. Wynegar has dual citizenship in the Twins and Yankees franchises that will face off today, less than 24 hours after the end of the Twins’ electrifying extra-inning one-game playoff win last night. Wynegar never did get into a playoff game himself, despite playing on some pretty good Twins and Yankees squads. He had some big moments as a Yankee (he caught Dave Righetti’s July 4 no-hitter), but I’ll always think of him as a Twin, and as a young Twin, part of a promising switch-hitting duo with Roy Smalley that was going to eventually lead the Twins to glory. I actually can’t believe he was ever a Yankee, or even that he is no longer in his early 20s. The idea of time’s relentless march seems ridiculous, even unfair, and particularly when applied to boys named Butch.

13 comments

  1. He played for that other team in New York…and was also a Twin…maybe good ole’ Butch Huskey could catch that ceremonial first pitch from Mr. Wynegar?


  2. Yes, Butch Huskey: not only the last Butch (and one of the more accomplished of the somewhat underwhleming lot) but also one of the very last to wear number 42. (Off the top of my head I think only Mo Vaughn outlasted him as a position player with Jackie Robinson’s number.)


  3. I think you are correct on Mo Vaugh outlasting with the number 42. I seem to remember that as well. Thinking of Mo Vaughn in his Red Sox days reminded me of another awesome 1990’s Butch….Butch Henry!


  4. Man.. it is high time you addressed this topic.

    If only we could delve deeper into the socio-economic, ethnological, gender and sexuality related issues surrounding the disappearance of this at once iconic, and archaic nickname…

    When I was a kid growing up in the ’70s, the moniker already seemed relegated to ancient-seeming Little Rascals episodes, Hanna-Barbera cartoons featuring bulldogs, and the diamonds and ice rinks of major league sports.
    (There’s a nascent sociology thesis to be found somewhere in there to be sure.)

    Alls I know is that the spirit of the soubriquet is kept alive to this very day by the dynastic “Butch-haven Bulls,” legendary, many-times-over-champions of the Provincetown, Mass. Womens’ Softball League…

    And, God willing, if the opporunity ever arises, I will heretofore name any quintuplets born to myself and my future wife: “Bruno,” “Brutus,” “Buster,” Mitch,” and “Butch.”


  5. It’s too bad there has never been an MLB player with the real name of Butch. Junior Kennedy’s real first name was Junior. More recently, Bubba Trammell went by his middle name.


  6. I loved those 1980 cards, lots of good lively pictures, like the Wynegar card above. It was the first year I was determined to own and entire set and I bought one for $15. Loved every card, but I largely missed out on the thrill of the package opening and search.

    [BTW, see that 'hook' on the Y in "Wynegar"? That's called a "Felon's Claw" in handwriting. 75% of felons have that trait (though 75% of people who have it are not felons.)]


  7. Isn’t the hook on the G?


  8. Wherever the hook is, for a Twin of that era, it should be a (Terry) Felton’s claw.


  9. I remember being amazed at his 1977 card — before that year, you’d see a fair number of players born in the early ’50s, but most were born in the 1940s (some in the ’30s, with a wealth of stats on the back). And then here comes Wynegar — 1956! And already an All-Star. To my 10-year-old mind, that meant he was going to break all the records. My first Beckett’s price guide seemed to agree, and a Wynegar card was a valuable chit among my card-trading friends for a couple of years.


  10. Josh, Wynegar was the youngest all-star ever when selected in ’76, but of course Dwight Gooden was younger when he was selected in ’84.
    The ’76 Twins had a potent lineup with Wynegar, Carew, Bostock, and Larry Hisle.


  11. Two things I remember about Butch Wynegar:

    He batted leadoff at times for the Twins, which is very unusual for a catcher.

    He was a regular on the 1984 Yankees, who went 36-46 in the first half and 51-29 in the second half. I grew up a Yankees fan, and even though they missed the playoffs that year, that second half was one of the most enjoyable half-seasons of baseball ever for me.


  12. Wynegar is now hitting coach for the Yankees’ Scranton AAA affiliate, and by all accounts is very well-regarded in the Yankee hierarchy. Following his departure from the Yankees as a player, he went through some tough times, he underwent some kind of mental exhaustion or emotional trouble that, I believe required some brief intensive therapy of some kind that was fairly well publicized in the media. Following this period, he resumed his playing career, and in 1987 or 1988 he was playing for the California Angels at Yankees Stadium, and one fan about three rows behind me in the upper deck yelled out with extreme derision, “Hey Wynegar, how about a rubber room, bay-beee!” He said “rubber room” with extreme gusto, like “rrrrubber rooommmm”. It was at this moment, that for only one of a handful of times, that I can remember feeling embarrassed at being a Yankee fan.


  13. I alway associate Butch with Kemps ice cream, a product he did radio ads for back in ’76 or ’77.



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