With more than 800 players participating in major league baseball every year, name duplications are inevitable. Normally, it's no big deal. You can distinguish same-named players by using middle initials -- like pitchers Greg A. Harris and Greg H. Harris did for years.

But in 1989, the Baltimore Orioles wound up with two minor league players named Michael Anthony Smith, both of whom went by “Mike." Both were pitchers -- both right-handed pitchers, in fact -- and both were slated to be on Baltimore's Triple A ballclub (in Rochester, NY) at the same time.

OK, so you have to be a bit of a baseball geek to find amusement in this, but here's the dilemma: Two guys with the same name playing the same position for the same team -- how do you distinguish them so the fans reading each day's box score can tell them apart? Luckily, the solution was simple and even sounded cool: They nicknamed the guys after their home states.

Over the next couple of years, Texas Mike Smith went on to pitch 15 games in the majors, compiling a 2-0 record and a hideous 8.22 ERA; he was out of the majors by 1992. Mississsippi Mike Smith was the more seasoned of the two, having debuted in majors in 1984. He pitched in a total of 33 major league games, going 1-1 with a 4.71 ERA, before leaving baseball in 1991.

The situation lasted for only a couple of months, as Mississippi Mike was traded to Buffalo, NY (a minor-league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates) in June 1989. The whole affair didn't get any media coverage that I saw, other than one time when Bob Costas reported, without explanation, that Texas Mike Smith had been demoted to the minors.

It takes a particular brand of geek to appreciate the coolness here, but Costas is exactly that kind of geek. Thanks, Bob.

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