Kurkjian's baseball fix: Can you please spell 'Zastryzny' again, please?
You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1992, Rob Zastryzny was born.
This is an appropriate beginning because my last name has been mangled my entire life. And the daily editor on this project is Nick Pietruszkiewicz, whose last name is so impenetrable, people have nearly choked trying to navigate through it.
Rob Zastryzny pronounces his name Za-Striz-Knee. He pitched for the Chicago Cubs from 2016 to 2018, and he began spring training this season as a non-roster invitee for the Baltimore Orioles. He and Marc Rzepczynski, also a left-handed reliever, have the most unpronounceable and unspellable baseball names in recent history, but Zep-Chin-Ski doesn’t have two Z’s and two Y’s in his last name.
“When the guy at the front desk of the hotel first looks at my name, his first reaction is of suppressed shock,” Zastryzny said. “Then he tries not to look surprised even when I say it out loud for him. The most common mispronunciation is Stris-ski — that happens twice every day. My all-time favorite, though, is Smith. In a high school game, the public address guy got it so wrong my first two at-bats, parents were going to the press box to tell him how to say it correctly. The third time at bat, he said, ‘Now batting, at first base, No. 10, Rob Smith.’
“No one, not on the first try, has ever spelled my name correctly, even when they are looking right at it. And when I was a kid, I had a lisp, so I couldn’t say my own name correctly until I was in the third grade. My teammates now just call me Rob Z. Or Z. Or if you’re (Orioles manager) Brandon Hyde and you have to write it out every day, I’m Z-Man.”
My wish would have been for Zastryzny to have pitched in a game to catcher Doug Gwosdz, who played briefly for the San Diego Padres, from 1981 to 1984. His name is pronounced Gooosh. His nickname, the best in baseball history, was Eye Chart. “Look at his name, and cover one eye with your hand,” said former Texas Rangers manager Doug Rader. “It looks like an eye chart.”
Zastryzny and Gwosdz. What a battery. If only Ed or Nelson Figueroa could have loaned a vowel.
In 2016, the Cubs proved then-rookie reliever Rob Zastryzny’s name was absolutely baffling to all of his teammates and manager.
Other baseball notes from March 26
In 1940, Ty Cobb advised Joe DiMaggio to use a 36-ounce bat, not a 40-ounce bat; Tony Gwynn, at the end of his great career, used a 30½-ounce bat.
In 1947, Indians manager Lou Boudreau threw infielder Jackie Price off the team train after Price let loose two, 5-foot-long snakes. Price is the strangest player in baseball history. He taught himself to catch and throw a baseball while standing on his head. He could throw a fastball with one hand and a curveball with the other — at the same time. Price also taught himself how to hit while hanging upside down from a trapeze. When the conductor caught Price with the snakes and asked for his name, Price said, “I’m Lou Boudreau.”
In 1973, George Sisler died; his 257 hits in 1920 were the most in a season until Ichiro broke his record with 262 in 2004. Also in 1973, the Red Sox released Rico Petrocelli; he is one of six players to hit 40 homers in a season with at least 10 letters in his last name: Roy Campanella, Ted Kluszewski, Carl Yastrzemski, Curtis Granderson and Edwin Encarnacion.
In 2000, the Kingdome was detonated; it took 16 seconds to collapse.
In 1936, Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas was born. The 1993 Phillies would not begin their celebration for winning the National League pennant until Kalas arrived in the clubhouse to sing their clinching song — “High Hopes.” He was that great of a singer, and that beloved.