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.