Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

Where did all the Bobs in baseball go?

In Game 2 of the 1971 World Series, the Pittsburgh Pirates sent right-hander Bob Johnson to the mound for the start against the Baltimore Orioles. Johnson struggled, allowing four runs in 3 1/3 innings before manager Danny Murtaugh called to the bullpen for reliever Bruce Kison. After Kison walked the first two batters he faced, Murtaugh went back to the bullpen -- for right-hander Bob Moose. An inning later, Murtaugh made another pitching change, and in came southpaw Bob Veale. Five batters later, it was Bob Miller's turn to pitch for the Pirates. And who was playing first base for Pittsburgh? Bob Robertson, of course.  
Yes, there were five Bobs playing for the same team in the same World Series game.
That specific World Series game in 1971 wasn't the only significant moment in baseball history to feature Bobs. Three of the greatest pitchers in the game's history -- Feller, Lemon and Gibson -- were all named Bob. There's three-time Manager of the Year (and former player) Bob Melvin. And let's not forget one of the most legendary broadcasters in the game's history, Bob Uecker. 

For much of baseball history, Bobs were everywhere. However, that is no longer the case.
Over the last 20 years, there have only been five Bobs to debut in the big leagues -- and none since 2008. Where did all the Bobs go? When did one of the most popular first names in America's history effectively go extinct among the players of America's Pastime?

Of the 19,429 players in MLB history, 561 (about 2.9%) have had the given first name Robert. More than half of those Roberts -- 312 of them -- have officially gone by Bob during their careers. Twenty-seven other players in big league history with different first names have also gone by Bob. But over time, fewer and fewer Roberts have wanted to go by Bob. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this trend also falls in line with the general decline in popularity of the name Robert over the last century. For a hundred years, Robert was always one of the 10 most popular baby names for boys born in the United States. In the 1920s and 1930s, Robert was the most popular baby name. This decade, it has fallen all the way down to No. 64 among boys' names. 
The inflection point seemed to occur at some point in the 1970s, when the first Robs began to appear in the big leagues. Suddenly, after nearly an entire century of every single big leaguer named Robert going by Bob or Bobby, players started going by Rob. Weirdly enough, the first Major Leaguer to go by Rob was Rob Gardner, a left-handed pitcher who debuted in 1965 -- and whose given name was actually Richard Frank Gardner. 
By the turn of the century, the Bob-to-Rob transition had been essentially complete. No Major Leaguer has gone by Bob since journeyman reliever Bob Howry retired in 2010. There are dozens of Robs, Robbys and Bobbys currently in the Minors working their way up the ladder, but no Bobs to be found. 

History has shown as that names can gain and lose popularity, and they can evolve with the times in ways that are difficult to predict. But no one could have seen the disappearance of Bob from the baseball lexicon coming, and it should make us increasingly wary of which names we may lose next. (We're looking at you, Johns who go by Jack.)
Baseball Bobs are dead. Long live baseball Bobs!