Posted March 15, 2013

The Ides of March All-Stars

Julio Franco
Julio Franco

Julio Cesar Franco gave pitchers plenty of reasons to be wary during his professional career that spanned three decades. (AP)

By Jay Jaffe

For some arcane reason — maybe to prove that I read Shakespeare in high school like everyone else — “Beware the Ides of March” is a phrase I wait all year long to drop on friends. After all, it’s worth paying mind to the calendar to check if you’re about to fall victim to a political assassination, as Roman emperor Julius Caesar did in 44 BCE. Generally, it’s not the case, but I have to wonder if ballplayers named Julius or Caesar — or their Latin equivalents, Julio and Cesar — feel a bit of added concern.

And with that standing as perhaps the worst lede in Hit and Run history, we turn to Baseball-Reference.com. In the annals of major league history, there have been just nine major league ballplayers with the given name of Julius, only two of whom used it as their first name during their careers: Julius Willgrod, who played 10 games in the National League way back in 1882, and Julius Matos, a futility infielder who hit .244/.278/.310 in 104 games for the Padres and Royals in 2002-2003. By the time they reached the majors, others had opted for derivatives such as Jule (Mallonee, a White Sox outfielder in 1925), Julie (Freeman, another 1880s player), and June (Greene, a pitcher/pinch-hitter from 1928-1929).

Some took an even more novel approach. Icicle Reeder had one of the coolest nicknames around, though perhaps his name referred to his 4-for-26 showing in his six-game career in the 1880s. Moose Solters stuck around the AL for nine seasons (1934-1941, 1943) as a decent outfielder who drove in 100 or more runs four times. Julius Henry Fournier, a pitcher for the Reds in 1894, and Julius Neal Watlington, briefly a Philadelphia A’s catcher in 1947, used their middle names rather than their first ones. Et tu, Watlington?

Several other players have had Julius as a middle name, including current Diamondbacks shortstop Didi Gregorius, a native of the Netherlands whose real name is Mariekson Julius Gregorius. The most famous of these is perhaps the ultimate Ides of March player: Cal McLish. A pitcher who spent 15 years in the big leagues between 1944 and 1964, with time out for the military and the open-classification Pacific Coast League, McLish’s short first name is a comical contrast to the mouthful that is his given full name: Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish. A few months ago, blogger Diane Firstman pieced together the story behind that name:

He has stated that the origin of his lengthy name is that his father was given permission to name the newborn, and he took full advantage of the opportunity.  McLish said. “There were eight kids in the family, and I was No. 7 and my dad didn’t get to name one of them before me. So he evidently tried to catch up.” His father was three-quarters Choctaw Indian. McLish once related, “I don’t know why he named me Calvin Coolidge. He never voted Republican in his life, in fact, he was a Democrat. Just like the name, I guess. And I suppose that’s why he slipped Julius Caesar in there, too.”  Tuskahoma means “red warrior” in the Choctaw language and is a community in Oklahoma.

Of course, there has been no shortage of players named Julio — too many to list, in fact. Among active ones, the Rangers’ Julio Borbon, the Astros’ J.D. (Julio Daniel) Martinez and the Braves’ Julio Teheran are carrying on the tradition. The best of them in baseball history is clearly Julio Franco — Julio Cesar Franco, at that. A three-time All-Star who played for eight different major league teams, Franco spent an astounding 31 years in professional baseball, from his signing out of the Dominican Republic by the Phillies in 1978 to his retirement from the Mexican League in 2008, when he was 49 years old. He made stops in Japan and Korea along the way, racked up well over 3,000 total hits (2,586 at the major league level, data is incomplete for his years abroad), and is still the oldest major leaguer to hit a home run.

Also deserving of mention among the Julius-derived first names are the Julians. The only one of the four to earn All-Star honors is Julian Javier, the starting second baseman for three Cardinals pennant winners and two champions from 1960-1972. The most recent is pitcher Julian Tavarez, who pitched from 1993-2009 and was often mistaken for Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Julian Valentine Wera, a third baseman for the Yankees in the late 1920s, went by Julie, while Julian Jawonn Redman was better known as Tike during his eight-year career (2000-2007) as an outfielder.

There haven’t been any players with the first name of Caesar, though McLish isn’t the only one with that as a middle name; knuckleballer Tom Candiotti, who spent 16 years in the majors between 1983 and 1999 and compiled a 151-164 record, was born Thomas Caesar Candiotti. A dozen different players named Cesar have reached the majors, including All-Stars Cesar Cedeno and Cesar Izturis. Cedeno spent 17 years in the majors, the first 12 of which came with the Astros from 1970-1981; he reached the majors at 19 and was a four-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner by the end of his age 25 season, but injuries and off-field troubles derailed his route to Cooperstown. Izturis, who has been knocking around the majors since 2001 is currently in the Reds camp; they would be his ninth major league team.

Among retired Cesars, the most prominent ones besides Cedeno are Cesar Geronimo and Cesar Tovar. Geronimo was a four-time Gold Glove winner in a career that ran from 1969 through 1983. He was briefly Cedeno’s teammate in Houston, though my attempts to determine whether those ‘Stros produced the first “double Cesar” lineup have been met with blank stares. He gained more prominence when he was traded to Cincinnati and became the centerfielder on the Big Red Machine that won three pennants and two World Series from 1972-1976. Tovar was an infielder with five teams from 1965-1974 who holds a couple of interesting distinctions. In 1968, while playing for the Twins, he became the second player ever to appear at all nine positions in a single game; he even struck out Reggie Jackson with a screwball. He’s also in a three-way tie with Eddie Milner and Hall of Famer Billy Williams for breaking up the most-no-hitters, with five — meaning that five times, he collected his team’s only hit of the game. Two of those came in the ninth inning, both against the Orioles (Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar) in 1969. Also worth mention in terms of distinctive footnotes in the record book is Cesar Gutierrez, who went 7-for-7 for the Tigers on June 21, 1970, setting an AL record (and tying the major league record) for hits in a game.

Among the other active Cesars are Cesar Ramos, a lefty reliever for the Rays, and Cesar Carillo, briefly a pitcher for the Padres in 2009 and now a Tigers farmhand; the latter has been linked to the Biogenesis scandal*. Eric Chavez is among the many major leaguers with Cesar as his middle name; in his case, it’s in honor of Mexican-American labor leader Cesar Chavez. Seven other players stand with Franco as Julio Cesars: DePaula (a Twins pitcher in 2007), Gonzalez (an infielder from 1977-1983), Lugo (an infielder for seven teams from 2000-2011), Mateo (a Mariners reliever from 2002-2007), Peguero (a Phillies outfieder in 1992), Ramirez (an outfielder for four teams from 1999-2005) and Solano (a reliever for the Astros and Mariners from 1983-1989).

*Update: No sooner had this entry been published than MLB handed down a 100-game suspension to Carillo for a non-analytic positive, something it can do unilaterally because he’s currently a minor leaguer. “Beware…” indeed.

On another note, 43 current or former major leaguers have been born on the Ides of March, including Harold Baines, Bobby Bonds, Mickey Hatcher and Kevin Youkilis. Sadly, not a Julius, Caesar, or Julio Cesar in the bunch. There haven’t been any Brutuses at the major league level, either.

Even skipping the birthday boys, we can still put together a complete starting lineup:

C: Julius Neal Watlington
1B: Cesar Cedeno
2B: Julian Javier
3B: Cesar Tovar
SS: Julio Franco
LF: Julio Borbon
CF: Cesar Geronimo
RF: Julius “Moose” Solters
SP: Tom Caesar Candiotti
RP: Calvin Coolidge Julius Casear Tuskahoma McLish

If not exactly a true All-Star caliber team, I have to think that lineup could at least hold its own in the World Baseball Classic, a team that could cause opponents to say — wait for it — “Beware the Ides of March!”

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