As the baseball world stands by, awaiting news from Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, B.J. Upton threw his name into the mix to shake up the Hot Stove.
The biggest newsmaker of the baseball day answers on the second ring. He laughs as he takes the call. Yes, this is a good time. And yes, I am referring to him correctly: The former athlete formerly known as Melvin Emmanuel Upton Jr., then as Bossman Junior, then as B.J., then as Melvin has decided to return to the name under which he became an MLB star, B.J. Upton.
A month after the Mariners announced that Safeco Field would now be known as T-Mobile Park and five days after the Giants redubbed AT&T Park Oracle Park, Upton announced his own transfer of naming rights. The news broke at 10:56 a.m. ET, when USA Today digital editor Scott Boeck tweeted it. Upton then spent the day at MLB Network studios in Secaucus, N.J., preparing for his afternoon appearance on MLB Now. The change came up in the 11 a.m. production meeting. It came up when the show went live at 2 p.m. It came up at 5 p.m., when Sports Illustrated called. In between, friends and family called and texted to let him know that “Melvin Upton will now go by B.J.” fell somewhere between “Kyler Murray declares for NFL draft” and “Rays sign Avisail García” as a popular baseball Twitter topic. (None of these, of course, could touch the hot sports keyword of the day, “hamberders.”)
“I didn’t think it was that serious!” says Upton of his decision. “But what do I know?”
Not much about branding, he admits. The rechristening was actually suggested by his wife, Stefanie, this summer. Upton, who says he is retired and would not even take the call if agent Larry Reynolds came to him with a playing opportunity, is testing out a career in media. Stefanie watched her husband’s first appearance on MLB Network, in August, and offered some feedback: Melvin Upton Jr. takes forever to say.
He ignored the advice. He had switched from B.J., the name under which he was drafted No. 1 and played his first 10 big league seasons, after the 2014 season. He wanted to honor his father, who had cared enough to pass on his name to his elder son. (B.J. is also an homage, albeit a less formal one: Melvin Sr.’s nickname is Bossman, so naturally his young son became Bossman Jr.) Besides, the outfielder said at the time, most people in his life called him Melvin. He filed the paperwork with MLB and donned his new jersey that spring.
But as Stefanie caught his radio and TV appearances, she became more convinced that Melvin lacked a certain mellifluousness. Plus, the most illustrious part of his career, back when he was hitting 20 home runs and stealing 40 bases a year for the Rays, came as B.J. Melvin hit .244 over parts of two disappointing seasons. If he wants to make it as a broadcaster, it’s B.J.’s career he should highlight. Eventually she sold her husband on the change—although he still thinks his birth name is just fine. “It’s not really hard to say,” he insists. “It’s just long.”
He oversold the no-one-calls-me-B.J. explanation four years ago, he says now. When his friends and family are being serious, they tend to go for Melvin; in lighter moments they stick with B.J.
The only remaining question became the rollout. Reynolds’s younger brother Harold, an All-Star second baseman for the Mariners in the 1980s, is an analyst with MLB Network, and it was he who suggested debuting the old-new moniker on Tuesday. Upton said yes, then sat back and laughed at the response.
The first change—when he was an active player, still a star centerfielder for the Braves—did not inspire this strong a reaction, he says. He blames the attention on the frigid stove. No one is paying stars or making trades, he says, so reporters and fans need something to discuss. (Despite the buzz, he says, I am his first call on the matter; he congratulates me on my exclusive.)
“In the middle of free agency, in the offseason, me changing my name back is more—” he sighs. “I don’t know what’s going on. It’s just a name!”
So count B.J. Upton among the many people hoping Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sign somewhere soon.