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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What is in a Name

What is in a Name

Yesterday I re-ran a post called “Profiling”  where I admitted to prejudging people based on various factors.  It was all tongue-in-cheek with an element of truth.  One of the statements I made in that post was:

With no other information to go by, I am choosing LaQuando Mustaffa over Herb Jacobs for my fantasy basketball team.

When I re-read this post, I was reminded of a similar real-life situation.

Some years ago, I was a Little League coach for my son’s 8 yo baseball team.  Part of the process in this league was choosing your players from the list of kids who had signed up.

Each coach took a turn choosing a player, one at a time.  I knew a lot of the kids from other sports that my son participated in, but by around the tenth pick I did not know the ability of any of the remaining kids.

How do you make a pick when you do not know any of the remaining players?  None of the other coaches seemed to know the last players in the pool, so they were no help.

I had nothing to go on but the child’s name.

Mark Schwartz, Brian O’Neil, Sam Shapiro, Allen Brown, DeVonte Washington…

Wait, DeVonte Washington?  Must be a black kid, probably a good athlete and if nothing else a fast runner, I mean more than any of those other names.


I picked DeVonte, who it turned out was in fact black. (Actually more brown than black; hell, are Caucasians actually white? OK PC-people, he was African-American…geeze.) 

I later also ended up with Sam Shapiro, the biggest pain in the ass with the biggest pain in the ass parents to ever step foot on a Little League field, but that is another story.

DeVonte showed up for the first day of practice with his dad.  His dad, Vern, was about 6’3” and my assistant coach knew him right away.  Seems he played basketball against Vern in high school and he was damn good.  I figured I scored with DeVonte; athletics was in the genes. 

Turns out Devonte was a below-average athlete, and not even a particularly fast runner.  He was a bit precocious and a handful to coach.  He had about a thousand questions about everything, some even about baseball.

DeVonte had his father’s genes alright, just not the athletic genes.  His dad was CEO of a computer software company, and his mom was a high-power lawyer.  He got the smart genes; DeVonte was about as smart as any 8 yo I have ever met.  Unfortunately, he was a bit reticent about catching a fly ball and he had trouble making contact with a round ball using a round bat.

Still, DeVonte turned out to be an excellent pick.  His dad was a great guy, very helpful with the team, and DeVonte for all his questions and chatter, most of which were over my head (he once asked me how to throw a curve ball and then went on to explain the physics of why spin will make a ball curve*), was fun to coach.

On our final game, DeVonte smacked a long drive to right field for a triple. 

It would have been an easy home run if the kid had any speed.

*Swiss Mathematician Bernoulli explained how air passing over a curved surface creates lift...I had to look it up.


  1. My husband coached many sports when our kids were young. Some hilarious stories about WACK job parents, but I don't think he was ever allowed to pick names like that! Would have been interesting.

  2. I was never a couch, but once I was asked to umpire our son's baseball game. I was a disaster.

  3. Yikes, can't imagine picking a team based on name alone. Brave man to try and enjoyed your encounter with DeVonte. He may someday be a manager.

  4. You can't judge a book by its title lol.

  5. Funny; I had a somewhat similar experience. . .

    I went to a very lily-white high school, way up north in Michigan. I mean, there are just no black folks that far north. But, lo and behold, I think it was my sophomore year, a black family moved to town (Dad was at the Air National Guard base), and the two sons (Calvin and Oliver Robinson; not exactly 'screaming out black' names. . .) came to our school. So naturally, we figured that our school was on the verge of a serious athletic breakout. Turns out the one kid was a decent, not spectacular athlete who ended up sharing time as a running back for the football team, and the other one just wasn't very athletic at all (and not as bright as DaVonte, either). So we were seriously bummed. . .

    On a different, but somewhat related note, it was always amusing, when we played one of the black schools from downstate, to listen to their announcers try to pronounce the Polish and German names of our players. One school just had me (the student manager) say the names into the PA for them. . .

    1. I was at a tennis match in Palm Springs. The announcer (even after several tries) just could not say the name, Martina Navratilova!!

  6. I would be between a rock and a hard place trying to pick a child's abilities just by his/her name. Sounds like you did okay.

  7. I've found that nicknames are a better indicator of athletic ability. If you have two guys to choose from, and their nicknames are "Speedy" and "Itchy", I'm going with "Speedy".

  8. My youngest brother, the children's Uncle J, signed up to be a baseball coach at a local park when he was in college. He was the newest coach, so he got stuck with all the kids the other coaches didn't want. He won the championship with them, kept them together and won a few more championships, always taking the kids no one else wanted. He did the same for the basketball teams. It's not always about the raw talent, it's camraderie and great coaching and wanting it more.

  9. Well it looks like DeVonte was a good pick after all...even better if he was fast.

  10. Bernoulli's Principle? DeVonte was a real student of the game!

  11. I always found when my son was playing LittlevLeague there often were a few parents who took the whole game a bit too seriously spoiling the kids fun. Maybe it would be better if coaches had to pick their teams without knowing anything about any of the players. I doubt if my husband would have supported that idea. I like baseball -- really, i do. I used to get tickets from my employer so we could go to one of the major league team's farm teams.

  12. Its terrible but when I was typing on an account for a children's hospital, by name only before anything was said in the report I could tell the ethnicity of the child. 10/10 times I was right. My DIL is a person of color. Love her dearly, but I did have a concern about the name they would choose for the grandson, based on the name she/the dad chose for her daughter (not my son's). Thankfully they picked a "normal" name. That has nothing to do with your post other than names other than to say some names can be deceiving as we may or may not profile them.


  13. Too bad "eenie-meenie-minie-moe" went out of style for making choices! :-)