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Friday, October 24, 2008

What happens when a team has two players with the same name?

When Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck decided to have his players wear their names on their road jerseys in 1960, it probably didn't occur to him that a football player named Roy Williams would one day be traded from the Detroit Lions to the Dallas Cowboys, or that Dallas would already have a player named Roy Williams on its roster, or that this would result in a blizzard of activity in the Uni Watch inbox as readers clamored to know how the Cowboys would handle this unusual state of affairs on the players' jerseys.

But that's exactly what happened. And contrary to what many fans think, the NFL has no rules for this sort of situation. True, every player is required to wear his last name (well, usually), but the rules requiring same-surnamed teammates to wear first initials, and same-surnamed and -initialed players to wear their full names, were scrapped prior to the start of last season. There was never any official explanation, but Uni Watch's understanding is that the move was prompted by the Patriots' signing of Kyle Brady back in March of 2007: If a "T." had suddenly been added to Tom Brady's nameplate, fans with Brady jerseys would have been left with a choice of either wearing an inaccurate "Brady" nameplate (clearly unacceptable to most Pats fanatics) or having to drop a few hundred bucks on the new version. The NFL honchos are greedy, but they're not that greedy (or at least they don't want to be perceived that way), so they changed the rule. Tom and Kyle have both worn "Brady" with no initial, and teams now have the option to handle these situations however they like.

Which brings us back to the Cowboys and their two Roy Williamses. Speculation was rampant during the first 24 hours after the trade. Would they wear their full names with middle initials (as is now listing them on the Cowboys' roster page)? Would they go with "DEF Williams" and "OFF Williams" to indicate which side of the ball they play on? Or maybe "Williams OU" and "Williams UT," as a shout-out to their colleges?

No, no, and no. "They're both just going to wear 'Williams' on their jerseys," says Cowboys spokesperson Jancy Briles. "They play on opposite sides of the ball and have different uniform numbers, so that should be enough to tell them apart."

Well, that's no fun. Unfortunately, this cop-out approach appears to be standard procedure for same-named teammates. Here's a timeline of such instances, and how the players' names appeared on their jerseys:

1962: Two different pitchers named Bob Miller -- this one and this one -- play for the Mets, appearing in the same game five times. But the Mets, like almost every other MLB team, aren't yet putting player names on jerseys, so it's a non-issue from a uniform standpoint.

1973: One of the Bob Millers returns to play for the Mets. Fans have a hard time keeping track of which Bob Miller he is, and finally give up after someone points out, "Y'know, they both kinda sucked, so what's the difference?"

1976-78: Two players named Johnny Jones play for the Texas Longhorns (wearing uni numbers 25 and 26, just to make things extra-confusing). They become known as Ham Jones and Lam Jones, nicknames that refer to their Texas hometowns of Hamlin and Lampasas, but the Texas jerseys don't include player names during this period, so it's a moot point uni-wise. (A third Jones, nicknamed Jam, is added to the mix in 1978, but his first name is A.J., not Johnny.)

1990: Ken Griffey Sr. is released by the Reds and signs with the Mariners, where Ken Griffey Jr. is in the middle of his second big-league season. Father and son both end up wearing "Griffey" -- no "Jr." or "Sr."

2000: The Mets corner the market on Bobby Joneses by adding this Bobby Jones to a roster that already includes this Bobby Jones. Despite a flood of speculation (well, at least in Uni Watch's house) about both players possibly wearing their first names and middle initials, they both simply wear "Jones." (Fortunately, the Mets fail to acquire this Bobby Jones, thereby averting a space-time fissure that would have surely swallowed the entire solar system.)

2001: The Expos grant Tim Raines Sr.'s request to be traded to Baltimore for the last game of the season so he can play in front of more than 17 people alongside recent Orioles call-up Tim Raines Jr. Following the Griffeys' example, the Raineses simply wear "Raines."

2002: In a fairly amazing coincidence that threatens to warp the fabric of reality, the two Bobby Joneses end up on the same team again -- this time the Padres. Once again, they take the boring approach and both wear "Jones." Sick of all the "keeping up with the Joneses" jokes, they instruct their agents to make sure they never ever end up on the same team again.

2006: Pitcher Javier Lopez joins the Red Sox, who already have catcher Javy (short for Javier) Lopez on their roster. In a tragic managerial misstep, Boston skipper Terry Francona never has them appear in the same game, thereby wasting a golden opportunity for an all-Javier Lopez battery. Even worse, the Sox don't wear player names on their home jerseys, and both players just wear "Lopez" on the road.

Realistically, same-named teammates don't really leave a team with many options. Same-surnamed teammates, however, offer a wealth of possibilities, from the relatively tame first initial (a phenomenon explored in greater detail here) to somewhat more exotic approaches like the first two letters of the first name, roman numerals, "Jr." and "Sr." designations, and the somewhat bizarre first initial after the surname. (Hey, shouldn't there be a comma between the name and the initial?)

But the most interesting nameplate variation is the FNOB -- short for "full name on back" -- which is usually employed when teammates have the same surname and first initial, like Bracy and Brian Walker a few years back. It's not clear when this format debuted, but over the years it's appeared in the NFL, the NBA, MLB (Mr. October simply wore "Jackson"), the NHL, college football, high school football, soccer, and probably every other sport where players wear their names on their backs. Fringe presidential candidate Ron Paul even went FNOB for a Congressional baseball game back in the 1980s.

FNOBs can present a challenge for equipment managers, who have to figure out how to fit all those letters on the jersey without having them spill over the sides. The coolest solution to this problem is the stacked or double-decker FNOB, a style pioneered by Jim and Jack Youngblood in the 1970s (additional examples here and here). Other approaches include tight kerning, tiny lettering, small caps for the first name, shortening the first name, a straight first name with an arched surname, and even splitting the first and last names around the uniform number.

Can't get enough of this stuff? Here's some bonus material:

• The NFL's rules about initials and full names routinely caused havoc during training camp. With so many extra players suiting up before the final roster cuts, players who normally just wore their last name during the regular season sometimes found themselves forced to go FNOB for preseason games.

• When the Alberta Oilers (forerunners of today's Edmonton Oilers) debuted in 1972, they spent part of their inaugural season with the entire team wearing FNOB (with a round-edged nameplate and a goofy font to boot!).

• Another WHA team, the Cincinnati Stingers, took a similar approach in the 1977-78 season, when they had the entire team wear first initials (additional pics here).

Finally, here's a thorny question: What if your first name is just a pair of initials? Does that qualify as FNOB, or is it a separate category (maybe TIOB, for "two initials on back")? If you'd care to weigh in on this critical issue, or if you have any additional examples of nameplate shenanigans involving similarly monikered teammates, you know what to do.

Down on the Farm, Continued
Our ongoing list of ballparks with tomato patches -- which had previously included Shea Stadium, Fenway Park, and Memorial Stadium -- has a new addition: Tiger Stadium. A couple more ballpark tomato patches and we should be able to feed an entire famine-stricken village (or at least David Wells). Special thanks to reader Steve Migala for the tip, and to Don Sherman for tracking down the photo.

Paul Lukas has never been on a team with anyone else named Lukas. His Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here. Want to learn about his Uni Watch membership program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.