Saturday, January 19, 2008

Former Player still having name troubles

Detriot - MI (AP) With a last name many people feel is only an alternate spelling of the vulgar term used for a woman’s vagina, or, the “c” word, Pittsburgh Pirates roving instructor Rusty Kuntz continues to grind out a meager existence in professional baseball. Kuntz, whose last name is pronounced with an "oo" sound, has taken a more than generous share of abuse over the years from friends, in-laws, teammates, opponents, coaches, and fans.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much everybody,” said the one-time eleventh round draft pick from 1977. “I get my balls busted like my last name was “pussy” “snatch” or “cooter” but it’s not, it’s Kuntz. PA announcers in the minors flubbed it up constantly. I’d see parents holding their hands over their kids ears when I walked up to the plate. You think I wanted this?”

Kuntz, who is of German heritage, continually corrects people who mistakenly mispronounce his name. “My real first name is Russell, but early on Rusty stuck for some reason - Rusty Kuntz,” Kuntz groaned. “Go ahead, make up your own jokes. I’ve heard ’em all. ‘Rusty Kuntz? Sounds like a group of old hookers who never get laid.’ I’ve heard that one a thousand times.”

Former major league journeyman outfielder from the 1930s Johnny Dickshot, who was born and died in Waukegan, Illinois understood first hand how difficult having an unfortunate moniker could be. “Nobody who had a goofy name never did nothin’,” Dickshot said in a 1997 interview shortly before his death. “You take this Kuntz fella. The second I saw him come up I said to myself, ‘that boy’s in for a whole heap of shit. He’s on the bench for sure.’” In 1985, Hustler magazine offered Kuntz and Dickshot $50,000 each to pose side by side in their uniforms looking back over their shoulders with their names visible. Both men declined the offer.

Kuntz still hears incorrect pronunciations of his name from time to time. “I see him at spring training once in a while,” said former Pirates outfielder Al Martin who still has friends within the organization. “Or every now and then some drunken forty-two year old slob will come down to fantasy camp and scream ‘Hey bro, how do you pronounce your name?’”

The question begs to asked – why didn’t Kuntz change his name once it became evident he was going to make the majors? “It’s just never dawned on me I guess,” Kuntz said. “I figured the severe beatings and abuse I took growing up from guys in the neighborhood as well as certain family members and the clergy would just suddenly stop when I became an adult. I guess that same level of reasoning had me swinging 3-0 on pitches low and away when we were down by four runs with the bases loaded with nobody out in the eighth inning.”

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