The Oakland Athletics have announced that the diamond at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum will henceforth be known as Rickey Henderson Field. That's a fitting tribute to one of the game's greatest players who, though he played for many teams in his long career, is best associated with the A's. it's also a fitting tribute in that Henderson was perhaps baseball's pre-eminent base runner.
It's not uncommon for playing fields/courts to be named for people. The Texas Longhorns, after all, play on Joe Jamail Field at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The Houston Cougars play basketball on Guy V. Lewis Court. But it's not very common for Major League Baseball to do something like this, especially as clubs think of just how much money they can make by selling the naming nights of the field to a major corporation.
The Houston Astros have not named the field at Minute Maid Park after any player. That's kind of strange seeing as how former owner Drayton McLane was always looking for some way to attract huge crowds by honoring a former player — why else do you think so many player numbers have been retired? But what if the Astros and current owner Jim Crane were to decide to do this? Who would they choose to name the playing field after?
There is one obvious answer out of three serious choices. That answer being Craig Biggio, a Hall of Fame inductee who belongs to the 3,000 hit club, two rather exclusive baseball fraternities. The other two names would be Jeff Bagwell, newly selected for the Hall of Fame and holder of most of the team's offensive records, and Nolan Ryan, a Hall of Fame member who broke the all-time strike out record while with the Astros and whose son is a team executive.
Now let's say the Astros end up playing games on Craig Biggio Field at Minute Maid Park. Then what? The team can't ignore Bagwell or Ryan, can they? What about Roy Oswalt, or Jose Cruz or Cesar Cedeño or Joe Niekro or Larry Dierker?
So here's a suggestion: Who says the field is the only thing that can bear a player's name?The press box is now named after Milo Hamilton, for instance. That leaves lots of other things that can be named after various Astros.
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One suggestion would be renaming the Crawford Boxes as the Jeff Bagwell Porch at Minute Maid Park. And maybe name the mound Nolan Ryan Mound at Minute Maid Park, with pitchers throwing off the Roy Oswalt rubber. And perhaps they pitch to a guy squatting in the Brad Ausmus Catcher's Box, which is then run down down and caught by George Springer out in the Cesar Cedeño Left-Center Field Gap of Minute Maid Park for the out.
That's an exaggeration, to be sure. But it kind of points to the issue of naming things in the ballpark after a player. How does that one player get chosen? What about the other players? The San Francisco Giants have Willie Mays Plaza and McCovey Cove (for former great Willie McCovey), and the gates to the park are named for Giants greats. But neither the field or any part of the stadium is named for a player. Imagine the chaos and controversy that would result if the Yankees were to name the playing surface after a former Yankee great? Would it be Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig or Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle or Reggie Jackson or Don Mattingly or Derek Jeter? And what about the Texas Rangers? Would that team decide to once again claim Nolan Ryan as its own or maybe Pudge Rodriguez since he’s now in the Hall of Fame?
Fans love promotions like this, and there's nothing wrong with what Oakland is doing — it's not like they're naming anything after Jose Canseco, after all. But if the Astros or any other team should decide to do something like this, then the team just needs to make absolutely sure to get the right guy because probably very few people would want to play football on O.J. Simpson Field in Buffalo.
Oh, and Jim Crane? If you guys end up doing something like this for the Astros, might I suggest honoring Drayton McLane by naming the left field train Uncle Drayton's Choo-Choo?