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What it takes to be "Mr. Baseball"

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Christian Petersen

When last we met, we explored baseball players with Mr. [insert team name here] nicking-names. I learned a lot in the comments -- people in Detroit call Al Kaline "Mr. Tiger", and I'm an idiot -- and was also spurred to think about a related subject. Or rather, I was re-spurred. A couple of weeks ago on my way to Albuquerque, I happened upon a magazine cover that featured Robinson Canó as ... Mr. Baseball.

Of course, that was just some magazine editor or art director's idea of a hook; nobody has ever, or will ever, seriously use that nickname for Canó. Well, probably not. But there have been a few Messrs. Baseball over the years, even outside of Hollywood make-believe.

According to the latest Dickson Baseball Dictionary, Mr. Baseball is (or was) "a title given to one who has devoted his life to baseball." Dickson:

"We will always believe, even though Judge [Kenesaw Mountain Landis resented it ... that the title belonged properly and without question to [The Sporting News publisher] J.G. Taylor Spink" (Robert L. Burnes, The Sporting News, Dec. 22, 1962). It was the long-time nickname for Connie Mack, manager of the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901 to 1950. In recent years the name has been used in a self-deprecating manner by broadcaster Bob Uecker.

Ah, Bob Uecker. For a whole generation of Americans, Mr. Baseball was Bob Uecker, thanks to a long-running series of commercials for a very popular swill ...

According to Wikipedia, Uecker actually was given the "Mr. Baseball" nickname by Johnny Carson, somewhere in the course of Uecker's hundred-odd appearances on The Tonight Show. While younger fans know Uecker, if they know him at all, as the longtime Brewers broadcaster, for quite a while Uecker was actually a huge star, constantly on national television calling baseball games, hawking weak beer, making Johnny Carson laugh, and even co-starring in a network sitcom for six years.

Anyway, back to Landis and Spink ... I don't have any doubt that Landis was occasionally referred to as "Mr. Baseball" (although his more usual nickname was "the Squire"). I'm a little skeptical about Spink; it's quite possible that nobody called him "Mr. Baseball" except for the people who worked for him. What makes this more interesting is the occasional feuding between Landis and Spink.

When Bobby Bragan died a few years ago, the headline on his obituary called him "Mr. Baseball".*

* In Bragan's memoir, published in 1992, he said, "Every stadium should have synthetic grass... Games must be played as scheduled for the convenience of fans, and artificial turf is one way to do that."

According to the people who hand out the Branch Rickey Award, Rickey was "known to millions of fans as 'Mr. Baseball' " ... but there's no reference to that nickname in the best Rickey biography (which does mention a few other nicknames).

Historically, then, the "Mr. Baseball" moniker hasn't gone to great players, even those who (like Babe Ruth) might have typified an era. Rather, they've gone to men who have played roles, for many years, with larger scopes.

So today's best candidate for "Mr. Baseball" is probably Roland Hemond, and I'm a little surprised that Googling Roland Hemond Mr. Baseball doesn't come up with any relevant hits. I suppose you could also make an argument for Commissioner Bud Selig, but I won't. What I would really like to know, though, is who's next. Candidates, anyone?