For those of us who spend too much time online, most jokes are ephemeral. Amazing commentary on a current event is rendered obscure just days later; as the years pass, even hilarious memes that seemed to have staying power grow stale. Just a handful of things I’ve seen online over the years have really stuck with me and made me laugh every time. Some are funny because of their specificity—for instance, this miserable dog dressed like Leeloo Dallas Multipass from The Fifth Element—and, as a result, remain obscure. But others require minimal explanation and have enduring appeal. Case in point: this roster of baseball players from a 1990s video game.
The list came from 1994’s Fighting Baseball, the Japanese version of MLBPA Baseball, a baseball game released in North America for Super Nintendo. (The console was called Super Famicon in Japan.) While MLBPA had licensing rights to actual MLB players’ names and stats, Fighting Baseball did not. Internet legend has it that a Japanese developer had to go through and create fake baseball player names. (I reached out to EA Sports, the game’s publisher, in hopes that it would be able to point me toward that engineer, but a representative told me there was no one left at the company who’d have that knowledge, and the Japanese game developer, Coconuts Japan, is now defunct.)
It’s a whole trope in pop culture that names made up under duress verge on the ridiculous—see Rufus T. Barleysheath from Liz Lemon in 30 Rock, or Chareth Cutestory from Michael Bluth on Arrested Development—so I’ve always imagined Bobson Dugnutt and Sleve McDichael as the creations of some underpaid intern, asked to come up with plausible baseball player names off the cuff. The names are tantalizingly close to real ones: Dwight without the H, Sernandez instead of Hernandez or Fernandez. It’s like naming your fictional character Schmarack Schmobama; it’s not Barack Obama, except it clearly is.
It’s unclear exactly when this roster made its comeback online, but it’s been making the rounds since at least 2017. At first glance, I thought the list might be one of the many A.I.-generated memes that populated the late-2010s internet. After the popularity of work from Janelle Shane, who trains algorithms to generate slightly (or very) off versions of recipe names and candy heart messages, others began creating fake A.I.-generated content, saying they “forced a bot” to learn a dataset when the jokes were, in fact, human-written. The joy of the Fighting Baseball list is that the names have a distinct A.I. feel to them, but were likely actually written by humans—and not even as a joke. The absurdity feels accidental, which makes the humor that much more genuine.
Without tracking down the original developers, it’s hard to know for sure how the names were generated. Back in 1994, it would’ve taken some additional work to write code to generate fake names, but it would’ve taken a substantial amount of time by hand, too. A friend recently pointed me to a Google Doc with Fighting Baseball’s alleged full roster, which includes an astounding 700 made-up names. Some deserve Hall of Fame slots alongside Bobson and Sleve: There’s Ted Balloon, Tony Ban Slyke, Gaetan Bamphous, Mario Straherry, Ronnis Pawgood. But there are also a handful of actual North American male names: Scott O’Brian, Keith Power, Jeff Norris.
Either way, it appears the developers likely used a simple algorithm: Most names on the roster use actual athletes’ last names with one letter changed, paired with a different athlete’s first name. A list compiled on the wiki site for the podcast Dragon Friends matches the popular meme’s roster names to real players: fan favorite Bobson Dugnutt appears to be the made-up version of hockey goalie Ron Tugnutt, whereas Todd Bonzalez might be Luis Gonzalez, who was, at the time, a left fielder for the Houston Astros. I’d guess many of the names on the longer roster follow this format as well; Mario Straherry seems like a possible mash-up between Mario Diaz and Darryl Strawberry.
If any code-savvy readers are itching for a project, I’d love to see a modern rendition of current MLB players’ Fighting Baseball names. Just download current teams’ rosters and ask your A.I. to randomly tweak a letter or two from each last name and pair it with a randomly generated first name. Or if you’re not code-savvy, you can do it the way Japanese developers likely did: just do it manually. I call Mookie Bumdarger.