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Sunday, May 1, 2016

BASIC BIITTNER : Biittner on Biittner

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Biittner with Biittner
Larry Biittner, 1972
I don't think I'm asked any question more often than a variation of "Where did you come up with the name of your column?" Though I could swear I had written a column about that very subject, a recent perusal of all my previous columns on our website, www.chronicletimes.com, failed to produce such a column.

One of the most recent queries I received came from a fellow (and I must confess that I no longer have his name) who wanted to advise me of his nephew, Larry Biittner, who played sports at Pocahontas Catholic and Buena Vista College in the 1960s, then went on to play professional baseball for more than a decade.

Well, "Butch" Biittner's uncle was probably surprised when I responded that I was VERY aware of his nephew and his accomplishments, because my column name is taken from my nickname of 40 years, Biittner, which in turn was a reference to that very same Larry Biittner. The (very uninteresting) story is that my nickname came about during a game of "pickup" basketball on my "home court" (aka my parents' driveway, which is now the driveway of my wife and I, by the way) when my friend Mark Wharton and I were being beaten by our friend Tom "Fuzzy" Estes, who would go on to play basketball at Northwestern College and subsequently be named to the Iowa High School Athletic Association Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach, following successful coaching tenures at Little Rock (IA) and Sioux Center. Anyway, the stars of the Buena Vista basketball team at the time were Cliff Mortenson and Larry Biittner, and "Fuzzy" started calling Mark "Mortenson" and me "Biittner" because I guess he thought our real surnames sounded kind of like those of Mortenson and Biittner. I have no idea if anyone ever called Wart "Mortenson" again after that day, but, for whatever reason (and believe me, it had absolutely nothing to do with any athletic talent I had in common with Biittner), several friends of mine started calling me "Biittner," and many of them still do to this day.

Larry Biittner, 1975
I have always wanted to meet Larry Biittner, who lives in his old home town of Pocahontas, and perhaps have a photo taken with him and write a column ("Biittner Meets Biittner") about the experience. I know a couple of people who went to high school or college with him, and was kind of hoping they would introduce us. I finally wrote Larry Biittner a letter myself a couple of months ago, telling him most of this and - not surprisingly, I guess - haven't received a response. So, I'm going to go ahead and do part of my "Biittner" column today, minus the key ingredient of actual contact with "The Man." So, instead of "Biittner Meets Biittner," we present "Biittner ON Biittner."

Larry Biittner attended Pocahontas Catholic High School and starred in both basketball and baseball there, graduating in 1964. He is a member of the IHSAA Basketball Hall of Fame, as well as the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Biittner attended college at what was then called Buena Vista College in Storm Lake, and starred in both sports in college as well, graduating from BVC in 1968. A left-hander, the 6-2, 205 Biittner pitched and played first base for the Beaver baseball squad of legendary coach Jay Beekman, and is now a member of the Buena Vista Athletic Hall of Fame.

Larry Biittner, 1978
I have read - and hoped to have it verified or denied by Larry when we met - that the Biittner family name was actually "Buttner," with the umlaut over the "u" in the German style, but that when his forebears came to this country, the non-German-knowing immigration agents thought it looked like two dotted "i's," and the spelling thus became Biittner, in much the same manner as Vito Andolini became Vito "Corleone "in the fictional book "The Godfather," because an immigration agent thought he was giving his name when he was instead giving him the name of his home town, Corleone.

Larry Biittner advanced to the Major Leagues relatively quickly (though he probably didn't think so), having the proverbial "cup of coffee" with the (then) Washington Senators in 1970, playing under the first of many famous managers for whom he would play in the Majors - Hall of Famer Ted Williams. Biittner was still with the organization when it moved to Texas, and were renamed the Rangers in 1972. He had 382 at bats in 1972 and 258 in 1973, playing for two more famous managers, Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin, who took over from Herzog late in the 1973 season.

Biittner was traded to the then - Montreal Expos (who now, ironically, are based in Washington, as the Nationals), where he played for yet another famous manager, Gene Mauch. Biittner's peak year in Montreal was in 1975, when he hit .315 in 346 at bats. In 1976, however, he was dealt to the Cubs early in the season, and that is where he would play the bulk of his career - from 1976 through 1980. Though his tenure in Chicago marked the end of his "famous manager" run, Larry played between 110 and 138 games each season he was with the Cubbies, and posted career season highs in 1977 with 28 doubles, 12 home runs and 62 RBI, while batting .298. Throughout his major league career, Biittner, who batted and threw left-handed, switched between first base and the outfield, and even pitched on one occasion.

Larry Biittner, 1983
After he left Chicago, Biittner served mostly as a pinch-hitter in 1981 and 1982 with the Cincinnati Reds, and did post a .310 BA as well as a career-high .413 Slugging Average in 1982.

He wound up his career back with his original organization, appearing in 66 games - mostly as a pinch hitter - with the Texas Rangers in 1983. He still had his sweet swing, though, batting . 276 at age 37, in what would turn out to be his final season. That mark was pretty close to his final career average of .273 , posted over 12 seasons, 1217 games and 3151 at - bats.

Not a Hall of Fame career, certainly, but definitely much better than any of the rest of us had.

I'm certainly proud to be his (sort of) namesake.

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner