MLB.com Columnist

Terence Moore

What's in a name? For Upton Jr., perhaps a renaissance

Shedding B.J. moniker may hold key to success for Braves outfielder

What's in a name? For Upton Jr., perhaps a renaissance

On the one hand, let's take Melvin Upton Jr. -- formerly B.J. -- at his word. He said his decision to switch from his nickname to his given name after 10 seasons in the Major Leagues has nothing to do with trying to change the vibes in his baseball world after struggling at the plate for two straight years.

"It's not a big deal," Upton told reporters this week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where he'll spend his third Spring Training as the Braves' center fielder. "It's my real name, and I wanted to go to my real name. That's about it."

OK, but there is "on the other hand."

Since somebody put stitches in the first baseball, more than a few folks associated with Major Leagues have been superstitious. We've seen managers refuse to touch the chalky foul lines after leaving their dugout for a trip to the pitcher's mound. We've seen hitters adjust and readjust their batting gloves in a specific order during each of their trips to the plate. We've seen teammates flip their caps backward during rallies. We've seen those in the midst of wonderful streaks as a team or as an individual drive the same way to the ballpark or eat the same food or wear the same clothes.

Then there is the name thing. Baseball folks are into nicknames, especially when those nicknames are associated with pretty results.

Upton has experienced ugly results since he came to the Braves before the 2013 season as their most expensive free agent in club history. He has a collective batting average of .198 during the past two years. But here's the thing: for so many reasons, he'll rebound at the plate this season.

Upton talks of how he has clicked with Kevin Seitzer, the Braves' new hitting coach, after working together during a couple of sessions this offseason. Upton's brother, Justin, was traded during the offseason from the Braves to the Padres. So Melvin Jr. won't have the clubhouse pressure of trying to keep up with a younger sibling who ranked among the top sluggers in the National League last season.

There also is just the law of averages.

Upton can't get any worse at the plate, and he likely will get better. Much better. So much so that when it happens, historians will draw a line from the time he went from B.J. to Melvin Jr.

We're back to baseball, superstitions and nicknames. If The Sultan of Swat would have slammed all of those home runs during the 1920s under his given name of George Herman, the most famous Babe in sports would have been either Babe Didrikson Zaharias or Babe Parilli.

No way Ruth switches to "Babe" in that scenario.

Decades later, the Boys of Summer were prolific, and so was their shortstop named Pee Wee Reese. He wasn't going to use "Harold" anymore, not as long as he played for those Brooklyn Dodgers.

Heard of Jay Hanna and Paul Dee? They pitched their way into national prominence as Dizzy and Daffy, respectively. There also were a slew of baseball guys named "Whitey," ranging from Ford to Lockman to Herzog, and, no, that wasn't their given first name. They were successful under their nicknames, and they weren't changing. The same went for Sparky, as in Anderson, as in the baby his parents named George. Then there is Yogi Berra: After he helped to trigger another Yankees dynasty during the late 1940s, he wasn't switching to Lawrence or Larry.

Chipper Jones really is Larry Jones. The former Braves third baseman stayed with his nickname throughout his future Baseball Hall of Fame career. Still, Mets fans chanted, "Larry, Larry, Larry," whenever he batted in New York. I mention that, because maybe Jones did contemplate using his real name along the way. With those chants ringing in the background during his trips to Flushing, he brutalized Mets pitchers more than any other group of pitchers in the Major Leagues. He even named his son, Shea, in honor of the Mets' old ballpark that he made his personal slugging playpen.

Which brings us to Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. When he was Mike Stanton during his first two Major League seasons through 2011, he was pretty good. Now, as Giancarlo Stanton, he is pretty great. He finished second last season in the race for the NL MVP Award after he slammed a league-high 37 homers -- most of them seemingly traveling beyond Mars. Stanton also batted .288 with 105 RBIs. He did all of that despite missing nearly the last 17 games after getting smacked in the face by a pitch.

I'm thinking Upton knows about Stanton's name-change renaissance.

During Upton's first eight seasons in the Major Leagues with the Rays, he was considered a rising player. He hit a collective .255 with a .336 on-base percentage and .314 slugging percentage. He also managed a career-high 28 home runs in 2012. Since joining the Braves, he has 21 homers overall in two seasons. Plus, he has that collective batting average of .198, along with a .279 OBP and a .314 slugging percentage.

Not good. You know, not as B.J.

So why not see what Melvin Jr. can do?

Just saying.

Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.