Mickey Mouse. Ted Williams. Amanda Hugginkiss. For traveling ballplayers, it’s all about the alias.
Back in the old days — and by old, I mean 12 years ago — hotel phones were a vital part of doing our jobs when on the road with the Astros. It seems unbelievably antiquated now, considering today you can be in the middle of pretty much nowhere and still be able to answer emails, call your mom and tweet your constituents needing nothing more than a hand-held device.
But in the late 1990s and earlier, the media relations rep on the road with the team relied heavily on the hotel phone — it was how local reporters called to set up interviews with players and how we could call back to the offices in Houston. Basically, if you wanted to be found, you were bound to your hotel room.
Most of the dealings with players took place at the ballpark, but there were always emergencies and exceptions when a player needed to be called in his room. Enter the rooming list — a one-sheet rundown detailing every member of the traveling party, and what room he was occupying.
Seems simple enough, sure, if not for one small hitch — typically, half the team used aliases on the road. This was common practice back then and continues to this day. Understandable, given the overzealous nature of a portion of every fan base.
So during my PR years, upon arriving to my hotel room in a new city, the first thing I’d do was sit down with the rooming list and piece together who was who.
Some players selected the names they wanted to use. Others left it up to the traveling secretary to pick one for him. One player used his first name and his wife’s last name. Another opted to go under the name of his favorite race car driver. One went by the name of a part-time custodial worker at the Astros’ spring complex in Kissimmee.
Usually, players used the same alias year after year, but some changed with every season, mainly because of — what else? — superstition. Jeff Bagwell was a notorious name-changer, citing “not a good enough year” the previous season as reason for switching things up.
Carl Everett used the name Rod Stewart during his tenure with the Astros. This worked well for him, with the exception of one trip to Pittsburgh when the actual Rod Stewart was headlining in town the same time the Astros were there. Wouldn’t you know, Stewart was also staying at the same hotel as the Astros — under an alias, of course. So when adoring fans called the hotel looking for Rod Stewart, guess where the calls were directed?
Sometimes, the rooming sheet identified the players by last name and then first initial. I once asked Roy Oswalt, “what’s the ‘T’ stand for?” “The,” he grunted. Other times, the list would include the full last name and full first name: Doo, Scooby; Fudd, Elmer; Kangaroo, Captain.
(A writer friend who covered another team once told me one player used different characters from the Brady Bunch, but he’d often forgot to tell his wife when he’d switch. Many times, she’d be on the phone with the hotel operator asking for “Greg Brady? Carol Brady? Marcia Brady? Tiger?”)
Billy Wagner was the last of the Astros’ superstar players of yesteryear to start going under an alias (Moises Alou, also a huge star at the time, always opted to use his real name). Wags only had a few years in the big leagues and although he had established himself as one of the league’s top closers, he didn’t think it was necessary to go under an assumed name on the road. That all ended when a local radio station in Florida called him at 8 a.m. to ask him to go on their morning show. The next day, Wags took an alias.
Nowadays, I rarely look at the rooming list. There’s no reason to, really. If I need a player, I’ll text him. Life on the road today is better and easier. And it offers a lot more freedom, because you can get out a little during the day and, thanks to the smart phone, still be locked in to what’s going on and available for whomever wants to find you.
There’s very little to miss about the old days, when cell phones were a novelty and you needed a phone line to access the Internet. But there’s something sweetly innocent about the old days, when calling Minnie Mouse and Ronald Reagan wasn’t a prank — it was simply a normal part of life on the road in the big leagues.
Times are tough for the Astros these days, but there are always a few notables and photos:
* Jose Altuve has hit safely in all five games he’s played in for the Astros. He logged his first multi-hit game against the Cardinals on Monday, going 3-for-4 with two doubles.
* Humberto Quintero hits well at Busch Stadium. He has 14 career hits here, good for a .341 batting average.
* Michael Bourn extended his hitting streak to 10 games, two shy of his season-high.
* Carlos Lee has faced P.J. Walters twice in his career, and twice, he’s hit grand slams.
Some images from batting practice in “the Loo”…
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