In 1982, I unwrapped a wax pack of cards to find the name of a certain American League All-Star first baseman. Unfortunately, it was a pack of football cards, and the player in question was placekicker Eddie Murray, not switch-hitting Orioles great Eddie Murray. I got Eddie “Money” Murray (shown as “Ed” on the card but Eddie everywhere else, and, hey, I was seven years old), not “Steady Eddie” Murray. Don’t get me wrong, Eddie Murray was pretty good: two Pro Bowls and 17th all-time in field goals. But Eddie Murray was no Eddie Murray.
MLB Hall of Famer Eddie Murray is now eligible for the Hall of Miller and Eric, and when I saw his name pop up, I remembered this odd sports-card collecting moment. It got me wondering: How MLB players with a substantial, high-performance career shared a name with a player from one of the other three major pro leagues who also had a substantial playing career? Were the Eddies Murray the best of these same-namers?
The first thing to do was find the players. I decided that a guy’s playing name had to match another guy’s playing name. No fuzzy matches. Thankfully, in critical moments such as these, we can breathe easily because the Sean Forman Sports-Reference family of websites stretches well beyond baseball to cover the other majors (and more!). So I did what I always do. I turned to [Enter Your Sport Here]-Reference.com.
Hey, That’s Your Name, Dude
After flipping through leaderboards on the various sports reference sites, 23 names seemed to fit the bill. I came up with a quick-’n-dirty method out of the Bill James playbook to sort through them, assigning a number to a player’s career between one and five, like this:
1: Roughly average regular
2: Above average regular, occasional All-Star/All-Pro
3: Multiple All-Star/All-Pro
4: Hall of Famer
5: Top-5 at his position all-time (or top-15 pitcher)
Bold indicates Hall of Fame membership, and italics means a player is in the Hall of Miller and Eric if currently eligible.
MLB NFL NHL NBA ====================================== Al Smith 1 2 1 1 John Anderson 1 1 1 Bill Bradley 3 3 2 Dave Brown 3 2 1 Charles Johnson 2 1 1 Ray Brown 4 1 Eric Davis 2 2 Tommy Davis 1 2 Willie Davis 4 4 Tony Gonzalez 2 4 Danny Green 1 1 Harry Howell 2 4 Reggie Jackson 4 1 Bob Johnson 4 1 Walter Johnson 5 3 Adam Jones 2 1 Sam Jones 2 4 Eddie Murray 4 2 Bill Russell 1 5 Mike Smith 3 1 George Stone 3 1 Jimmy Williams 2 1 Marvin Williams 2 1
If Dave Brown, Ray Brown, and Marvin Williams aren’t familiar, they were Negro League greats.
Next, I narrowed down to any duos with 5 or more points and took a closer look.
I want names!
Before I make a complete fool of myself, I want to point out that I know very little about the history of the NHL and the NBA and only a little more than that about the NFL. My thoughts about those fellows are the result of a few minutes of internet research. Take with a grain of salt and correct me where I’m wrong.
The Bills Bradley I
The baseball Bill Bradley rivaled Jimmy Collins as the AL’s best third baseman in the 1900s. I’ve got him with three near-MVP seasons and a fourth All-Star year in addition to a couple of years of average play. The NFL’s Bill Bradley played with the Eagles for much of the 1970s as a free safety, kick returner, and even a punter when guys still played two-way. He mad three Pro Bowls in eight seasons and led the NFL in interceptions in 1971 and in 1972.
The Bills Bradley II
You’ve probably heard of the NBA’s Bill Bradley, a hero at Princeton, a Basketball Hall of Famer, a Senator from New Jersey, and a former presidential candidate. Despite getting the NBA’s highest honor, Bradley wasn’t an especially great player at the pro level. He made one All-Star team and the statistical record suggests he was more an above-average guy than a game-changer. Given his obvious aptitude for leadership and his intelligence, it’s possible his on-court abilities went beyond the numbers.
The Daves Brown
The original Dave Brown starred in the Negro Leagues of the late teens and early 1920s. There’s perhaps a Johan Santanaesque quality to him as a lefty with great stuff who dominated for a short time. But while both their careers were cut short by injuries, the injury ending Brown’s career was to someone he’d knifed in a bar fight. The NFL’s Dave Brown, on the other hand, lasted fourteen years as a cornerback in the late 1970s and the 1980s, mostly with the Seahawks. He made one Pro Bowl, finished his career with the fifth most interceptions in history and even now is ninth on that list.
The Rays Brown
Baseball Hall of Famer Ray Brown pitched in the Negro Leagues, the Mexican League, and in independent leagues in the 1930s and 1940s. He’s one of black baseball’s greatest pitchers. You may remember the football Ray Brown, a nineteen-year offensive lineman with the Cards, Skins, Niners, and Lions. It’s hard to judge offensive linemen, but in all that time, he made just one Pro Bowl, so I’d peg him as average in absence of a better working knowledge of the pigskin game.
The Willies Davis
Miller and I elected centerfielder Willie Davis to our Hall. He’s the kind of player who rarely posted a knockout season, but he consistently put up good year after good year with a strong enough peak to tie it all together. The other Willie Davis made five Pro Bowls and the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a dominant lineman on the great Packer defenses of the 1960s. Sacks were not officially recorded in his time, but some researchers suggest that Davis might have had more than 100 of them. He was a monster.
The Tonys Gonzalez
An above-average centerfielder for the 1960s Phillies, Gonzalez was a near All-Star player. Tony Gonzalez the tight end has not yet gained eligibility for the football Hall of Fame, but as a fourteen-time Pro Bowl selection, number 88 seems like an awfully likely honoree in the very near future. He led the NFL in receptions in 2004, gained 1,000 receiving yards four different times, and caught more passes than anyone in NFL history not named Jerry Rice. He’s fifth all-time in receiving yards, and he’s sixth in receiving touchdowns. Too bad he played for the Chiefs and Falcons.
The Harrys Howell
Harry Howell pitched in the early deadball era. He won 131 games with an ERA+ of 109, fashioning a couple All-Star level seasons along the way. He mostly pitched with bad teams, thus his .473 winning percentage. Hockey’s Harry Howell, however, had a Hall of Fame career as a defenseman mostly for the New York Rangers. His 24 years included seven All-Star Games and a Norris Trophy (given to the top defenseman)—the last one before Bobby Orr won eight of them in a row.
The Reggies Jackson
You know about Mr. October. In the NBA, Reggie Jackson is a young point guard with Oklahoma City in his fourth year out of Boston College. He’s yet to make an All-Star Game, and hasn’t started very often for the Thunder thanks to Russell Westbrook. But he’s just been dealt to the Pistons where he will start. Stay tuned here in case Jackson breaks out.
The Bobs Johnson
“Indian Bob” Johnson received our vote for the Hall of Miller and Eric. The unassuming leftfielder of the 1930s and 1940s never had a bad season, though his career was shortened on either end, disguising how good he was. The Cincinnati Bengals’ Bob Johnson started for them at center for a decade, earning one Pro Bowl selection. See Ray Brown above.
The Walters Johnson
The Big Train is one of baseball’s five best hurlers ever. Where you put him among the five depends on how you approach questions about the quality of play over time. The Cleveland Browns had their own Walter Johnson from 1965 to 1976. This left defensive tackle made three Pro Bowls. Sack numbers don’t exist during his era, so we can’t compare him easily to later players, but he seems to have been very effective.
The Sams Jones
“Toothpick Sam” Jones came out of the Negro Leagues in the 1950s to become a solid, occasionally excellent, pitcher. He walked a lot of guys, but he struck out a lot too, leading the league in the former four times and the second three times. He also led the league in K/9 four times. Over in the NBA, Hall of Famer and five-time All-Star Sam Jones won 10 championships in his twelve seasons in Boston. He was an outside threat that spread the defense, which helped Bill Russell dominate the paint.
The Eddies Murray
The impetus for all this. “Steady Eddie” hit 500 homers. “Eddie Money” hit 500 extra points.
The Bills Russell
The Dodgers’ Bill Russell played a nice shortstop for a long time but was more an average kind of player. Well, more accurately, he had no pop, didn’t walk, ran the bases well, and had a really good glove. So it added up. The Celtics’ Bill Russell, on the other hand, is merely one of the NBA’s all-time greatest players.
The Name Game
You may feel differently, and this may be more an aesthetic issue. But if I am picking the best of these duos, when I look at Bill Russell and Bill Russell, I see some guy in a Dodgers uniform paired with a towering NBA talent. There’s kind of a mismatch there. Similarly, I’m not thrilled by the Reggies Jackson, the Tonys Gonzalez, the Rays Brown, or the Bobs Johnson.
And while Eddie Murray and Eddie Murray are closer in talent, I’m not seeing a combo like theirs as especially compelling either. Same for the Sams Jones, the Harrys Howell, the Daves Brown, or the second Bills Bradley.
That leaves me with just the first Bills Bradley, the Willies Davis, and the Walters Johnson, among whom it’s easy to toss the Bradleys by comparison. As for the Davises and the Johnsons, the choice is between two Hall-level talents, or an inner-circle talent plus a very good player. I guess I’ll go for the double-Hall guys, but I can’t blame anyone who wanted to choose The Big Train team.
Thanks Eddies Murray for the memories and for a fun little diversion on a snowy Sunday.