SPRING FEVER HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS OF SPRING 2005
Not just anyone can be an idiot.
But pretty much everyone should want to be An Idiot.
Well, everyone in baseball, anyway.
Clearly, we'd all underestimated the power of idiocy before last year. But not anymore not after the Boston Red Sox rode the goofiest sports nickname of all time to a curse-busting, universe-altering victory in the World Series.
Yeah, it was only a nickname The Idiots. But a whole lot of stuff sure changed in the cosmos after the Red Sox finally realized what they were and immersed themselves in the pursuit of the idiotic. So naturally, here we are now, five months later, and it's never been so cool to be an idiot.
"The Idiot thing kind of took on a life of its own," the king of the Red Sox Idiots, Johnny Damon, told Spring Fever. "Idiots have a whole different image now. Being the village idiot doesn't seem so bad anymore. Green Day even has that song, 'American Idiot.' The whole idiot concept has just taken off."
Ah, but now as they prepare to launch The Year After those Red Sox are facing a major, heavily under-reported crisis:
Do they need to come up with a whole new nickname? Has the statute of limitations on Idiots run out? Or can they just make up their own statute, in kind of the same way they make up their own hair styles?
"I don't know," said Kevin Millar. "Every team's different. Same nucleus, but we've got some different guys: [David] Wells. [Matt] Clement. [Edgar] Renteria. [Matt] Mantei. [Jay] Payton. Oh, we know who the idiots are in that group. I'm just not saying their names" pause for a long, pointed look across the trainer's room at Wells "but one of them is over there, getting a massage.
"In 2003," Millar went on, "we had 'Cowboy Up.' Then last year, The Idiots came along. So it takes time. The nucleus of The Idiots is still here. But it's a new year. So we don't want to jump to any conclusions and assume that name will take hold."
Wells then offered several helpful nickname suggestions of his own. Unfortunately, we can't print any of them. But they were extremely inspired.
"You need to talk to Damon," Millar decided, finally. "He's the guy who came up with Idiots. I'm the Cowboy Up dumb-[butt]."
OK, we'll resume our talk with Damon in a minute. But first, we need to point out the massive ramifications of this Idiot development for the rest of society.
If anyone had been paying attention here, we wouldn't need to point this out, because everybody would have caught on by now. But a long investigation by the Spring Fever staff last month makes it frighteningly obvious that no one has. So here goes:
It's not about The Idiots, folks. It's about The Nickname.
See, here's the deal: In a world where teams are always copying the formula of the last team to win, how come nobody is copying this team's secret?
Shouldn't all 30 teams have taken time this spring to work on their nicknames?
The heck with those baserunning drills. They should have run nickname drills.
Yet nobody did. So in our travels, Spring Fever tried to jump-start that all-important nickname activity nearly everywhere we roamed. Here's how it went:
"They call themselves The Idiots. We might have to go with The Suspects," said Lenny Harris, a key Marlins clubhouse instigator, "because a suspect really doesn't care much. And that's us. I don't know what it takes to wake this group up. Jack [McKeon] comes in screaming sometimes, and guys look up and say, 'Aw, whatever.'
"We could wear shirts that say: 'Just Here,'" Harris went on, "because these guys don't care about anything. They're just here. You know those signs 'Just Do it'? Well, we're just here."
"How about The Tiny Tims?" laughed Twins quip king Torii Hunter. "That's us. We don't have much money. We can't eat at Christmas. But you know what? We keep living. We have to limp here and there. But we keep living. We keep rolling."
The Tiny Tims? Hmmm. Could that name possibly work for a team playing The Summer Game?
"Hey," Hunter retorted, sunnily, "Every day is Christmas for the Twins."
Mike Piazza thought about this. Scratched his head. Thought some more. And then he had it The Executives.
"How cool would it be if we went to the World Series, and we're all dressed up in our Valentinos?" Piazza said, tossing in a key fashion allusion. "They're the Idiots. We're the Executives. Everywhere we'd go, we'd be all dressed up, carrying our briefcases. But we could only do it on the road. I don't have enough clothes to do it home and away."
You knew a nickname for this team couldn't possibly be as endearing as The Idiots. So after mulling it for almost an hour, shortstop-rapper Jimmy Rollins finally hit on one The Outcasts.
"I'm going with The Outcasts, because everybody has cast us out," Rollins said. "We're just like the city of Philadelphia, where everybody in the city is dejected because they haven't won a championship. And we're part of that. We're The Outcasts. We're like that outcast city between D.C. and New York.
"The Idiots just described their team," Rollins said. "The Outcasts describes our whole city the whole sports scene of Philadelphia."
Very civic-minded. We have to admit.
They're the anti-Red Sox, the anti-Idiots. So what kind of goofy, irreverent nickname could possibly work for the Yankees? None, said reliever Paul Quantrill. It would have to be something like The Professionals.
"I know that doesn't come off like The Idiots," Quantrill conceded. "But the reason they've won 26 world championships here is, it's in the culture. You're a Yankee. Act like one."
Fairly sensible argument. But it would never fit on the back pages. So we see zero chance of that name catching on. None.
"Of course, we could also call it The Carnival," Quantrill quipped, "because no matter how much we focus on other stuff, it is a carnival. We could have our own circus tent. Every day you don't know what's next when you come in the door. You just watch the whole media circus and see where they go. You say, 'What did we do now? You know it's not baseball. So what did we do?' "
The Carnival. Not bad. But we couldn't resist asking Spring Fever's go-to quotester, Doug Glanville, who spent the spring with the Yankees as a nonroster guy, if he had any better ideas.
No Yankees nickname could ignore history, Glanville concluded. So how about all those single-digit numbers nobody is allowed to wear anymore, because they've all been retired to honor those Yankee legends of yesteryear?
Yes, Glanville wondered, how about The Dead Digits?
Besides commemorating history, this nickname would also serve as a futuristic alert for the Yankees to begin considering what they're going to do about the lurking number crisis that some day could threaten their very existence.
"What's going to happen at the end of the next millennium," Glanville mused, "when they've retired every number? Will they go to letters? Maybe Roman numerals? I'd be wearing XXVI. So I'm going to suggest they go to that in 500 years maybe leave it in a time capsule buried under home plate."
Well, we're all for time capsules. But in 500 years, it will be too late for these Yankees to get their revenge on these Red Sox. It's all about now. This year. This rivalry. And somehow, given the Yankees' whole ambiance, it's hard to envision them ever riding a lovable nickname to glory.
Which means the key to this entire season could hang on the nickname that will be adopted by this Red Sox team. Sounds like a lot of pressure on Johnny Damon.
"I think we're trying to come up with a different identity," Damon said. "But the way we approach the game is just idiot-like: See the ball. Hit the ball. This team comes out for batting practice and plays home-run derby. You're not supposed to do that. But the fans are excited, because they're going to get seven or eight dozen baseballs out of it."
So given the fact that the Red Sox are still acting like Idiots, Damon knows they can't venture too far in their search for a new nickname.
"I don't know what we'll go with," he said. "Hooligans maybe. I need to get a thesaurus, so I can see what some of those other terms are. But I left all my books behind, in Orlando. So I guess I'm going to have to go to a bookstore."
Try to imagine that, friends. You wander into a Barnes & Noble some day. And there is Johnny Damon, thumbing through a thesaurus, looking for a cool synonym for idiot. Tremendous. Maybe ESPN can televise that live.
This is a definite indication that even the Red Sox didn't work on their spring-training nickname drills. But that's only, Damon alibied, because "we haven't had time. Too many interviews."
Nevertheless, what's also becoming clear is that the reason no other teams can seem to come up with a nickname as perfect as The Idiots is that no other team has anyone around quite like Johnny Damon. Of course, it's possible no other planet has anyone around quite like Johnny Damon.
"Well, maybe my son," Damon said of young Jackson Damon, age 5. "I'm creating a monster."
If that's true, then the Red Sox had better sign his son in a hurry before some other team employs him to devise its cool nickname. But Damon isn't worried.
"If it was up to him, he'd call us the Pooh-Pooh Heads," Damon said. "That's his favorite word: Pooh-Pooh Head. Like, 'Dad, stop being such a Pooh-Pooh Head.' "
Hmmm. Pooh-Pooh Heads. Kind of has a ring to it. Could a team known as the Pooh-Pooh Heads really win a World Series? It's absurd. It's crazy. It's nuts. But judging by the look in Johnny Damon's eye, why do we have this feeling we just might find out?
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.