Almanac (Baseball) Memoir: What’s in a name? You’d be surprised.

When it came time for my parents to name their first-born, they made a deal. If it was a girl, my mom got to pick the name; if it was a boy, my dad got to choose. My mom decided on Nancy (my sister’s name three years later). If it was a boy, the name had to start with the letter “G” as my paternal grandfather, Gedalya, had died most recently. My dad said he couldn’t think of any “G’s” offhand but would select one from his “vast compendium of research material.”


You need to know that my father was a huge baseball fan, particularly of his beloved New York Yankees. It didn’t hurt that when he was 11, his parents left Middle Village in Queens, NY, for an apartment building four blocks from Yankee Stadium. So his foremost reference guide was the 1954 edition of Who’s Who in Baseball, a pocket-book-sized register of every player who had competed in baseball’s major leagues the year before.


My dad kept just one Who’s Who edition at home, tossing the old one after the new one arrived. But he also subscribed to Baseball Digest, which came out monthly and combined features with statistics and rosters, and The Sporting News, which came out weekly and reprinted all of the previous week’s boxscores along with statistics from the majors and all of the minor leagues, along with all of the transactions from the previous week.


This was very important, because from when he was a boy, my father had compiled and kept an up-to-date record of every player on every major-league team. It was just one two-sided, narrow-lined sheet with the American League on one side and the National League on the other, meticulously divided eight ways vertically to accommodate each team and then with enough lines to list pitchers, catchers, infielders and outfielders. He printed the names with his mechanical pencil and carefully erased and rewrote names to match each transaction. I can’t count the number of times when I was a kid and my dad would be working on something important in the study and then reach under his desk for his satchel, unzip the top and pull out the roster sheet. It had to be updated every time he found a transaction in the newspaper (we subscribed to the New York Times and he would pick up the New York Post every day at a newsstand) or heard of one on the radio.


According to him, the Who’s Who was where he found the name Glenn. But I never knew which Glenn I was named for. It was a baseball player, I was told. Some years ago I tried to find out, but there were no Glenns on any major league roster in 1954 or 1955. Hmmm.


As Dad died almost 12 years ago, it appeared the mystery would remain unsolved. And then last Saturday we decided to visit a local vintage/craft holiday fair. Along an inside aisle, an antiques/collectibles/odds and ends dealer had set up shop. And there in a basket at the front of the stall was – unbelievably — the 1954 Who’s Who.


Oh my.


I started combing the 128 pages for any Glenn. Surely the family folklore was true. And it was. There were two: Glenn Nelson, a first baseman for the Cleveland Indians who more commonly went by the nickname Rocky (and so he appeared on rosters), and Ted Gray (Ted Glenn Gray – Who’s Who always included middle names), a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. I guess the name resonated with Dad, because he could have chosen George or Gordon or Gerald or Gregory or Grady or even Gus. Not Gil or Gilbert, because Gil Hodges was a star for Brooklyn and my dad couldn’t stand the Dodgers.


Our nephew Alex is named either for his grandpa (my sister says) or Alex Rodriguez (my brother-in-law says); another nephew, Jackson, is named for Reggie Jackson (they both say). Names come from anywhere. So I wonder: how many of you are named for a famous or notorious athlete, of national or local renown?


How cool it would have been to be named for bandleader Glenn Miller (my dad was a big-band singer for a time after leaving the military following the Second World War), or legendary distance runner Glenn Cunningham, or football star Glenn Davis, or actor Glenn Ford. (As it so happens, my wife, Deborah, was named for actress Debbie Reynolds.)


Instead I was named for Rocky or Ted, two journeyman baseball players from the 1950s. Nobody special. Until now.










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About Glenn Brownstein

I'm a red, white and blue supporter of the red, white and black who became a footy fan through ESPN telecasts in the 1980s and a buddy who founded the American version of the game. Yup, I chose the Saints, but I'd like to think they chose me, too.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    My dad wanted to name me Ross Gregory Ritchie after a well known Australian cricketer. Apparently mum rebelled and said my Christian name had to be Colin but she allowed the Gregory to remain.

  2. Yvette Wrony says

    No sports names for us lot. Just had to be French like my dad… Andre Yvette Denise. I ended up going biblical with mine, inspired by each pregnancy… Rachel, Daniel ( of the Lions den kind during amniocentesis and me wanting to make sure he stayed put despite the risk [of lions or loss] and Miriam (Mimi). My only sports name was my snake neck turtle Stephen Rae cos the bum wobble was the same. Thanks Glen

  3. I’m named after Lord Snowdon.

  4. My son is named after Liam Brady, the Ireland and Arsenal midfielder of the 70s/early 80s. He was such a cool, elegant stylist. His skill and vision created the last minute winner for the Gunners in the 1979 FA Cup Final against Manchester United.

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    Great piece Glenn!

    Named my first born Gavin after the great Collingwood footballer Gavin Brown.While my wife took on the name Debbie (Debra) Reynolds after marrying me!

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Glenn, as many readers of these pages would know, my best mate as a kid was cricketer Glenn Bishop. Unfortunately, there is also a vintage “body builder” with that name, so my google results can be alarming at times.

    I love the story about your dad and the baseball stats, which would have been a huge task given the length and frequency of the season.

  7. My mother apparently found my name on a railway bridge advertising a painter.

  8. Mark, for my dad it was a pleasant obsession, and he could print neatly and legibly very small. That became important when the major leagues expanded to 10 then 12 then 14 then 15 teams. I know he kept it going at 14. That was a masterwork to behold!

  9. Nearly named Red Hugh after a famous Chieftain of the O’Donnell clan of Donegal in the late 1500s. My mother would have none of it.

    I love stories about names. And I find it funny that most people grow up and somehow fit into their name.

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