What’s in a nickname?

Contributed by Warren Mowry

This is a bit off the beaten political track for me, but let it be known that I am a baseball fan.  And, by that, I mean it in the original sense – I am a baseball fanatic.  I follow baseball from Opening Day (what other sport really has anything capitalized along those lines?) to the last pitch of the World Series.  I then follow it during the Hot Stove season, keeping track of who signed what free agent, which team got the better of trades.  I mark the date that pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training (note the capitalization again – and, by the way, it’s Feb. 14 for the Braves).  I followed the Bravos from the time that Hank Aaron, Joe Torre, and Felipe Alou moved down from Milwaukee, through good times and bad – though I don’t know how many more 106-loss seasons I could have endured, so thank Heaven for what began in 1991.  I even follow the Seattle Mariners, for crying out loud, to see how Ichiro does for my Rotisserie team (the fabulous King Ranch Bullies, for those keeping score at home).  My Dad told me once that if I could have majored in baseball stats, I would have been Phi Beta Kappa (sorry, Dad, no such luck).  I am, you see, a nut about baseball.

Today’s players are doubtless better athletes than those in the past – they are stronger, faster, more muscular, and probably more flexible than players from bygone eras.  They are also more brittle, fragile almost to the point of invalidity, and their strength may have come out of  hypodermics.   I heard today that there hasn’t been a 300-inning season by a pitcher in 30 years.  Juan Marichal by himself pitched 30 complete games in one season – I am not sure that there has been a team in the last 20 do that.  But the there’s another thing that present ballplayers lack in comparison – decent nicknames.

Let’s face it, we have A-Rod and K-Rod.  We have J-Roll (Jimmy Rollins).  We have “Junior” (for the recently retired Ken Griffey, Jr.  Get it?)  Wow, the originality is staggering.  Yeah, there have been a couple of them- “Crime Dog” Fred McGriff and Randy “Big Unit” Johnson – that could go against anybody.  But take a stroll, as I often enjoy, through the pages of The Baseball Encyclopedia, that 15 pound compendium of every single player who ever appeared in a single inning of major league baseball (and which reveals, of course, that Archibald “Moonlight” Graham is not the product of the Field of Dreams screenwriter’s imagination).  Look back into the olden days.  Despite Chris Berman’s best efforts, you tell me if we don’t suffer from a modern nickname gap.

Just check out the Hall of Famers.  Every one of the originals had a great nickname:  The Babe (or The Bambino, or the Sultan of Swat – you choose).  The Big Train.  Big Six (and this was before the uniforms had numbers).  The Flying Dutchman.  The Georgia Peach.  You can hear “Iron Horse,” or “Yankee Clipper,” or “Splendid Splinter,” “The Hammer,” or “Meal Ticket” and know exactly whose nickname it was.  Some nicknames were so good you’d never know the players by their given names.  Ever heard of Denton Young?  Leroy Paige?  Harold Traynor?  Albert Bender?  Hazen Cuyler?   Leon Goslin?  James Bell?  Okay, try Cy.  Satchel.  Pie.  Chief.  Kiki.  Goose.  Cool Papa.  Recognize them now?

Even the obscure players merited great nicknames.  How about the terrible-fielding Dick “Dr. Strangeglove” Stewart?  Or the wonderful defensive outfielder of the 19th Century, Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson?  You have Hank “Bow Wow” Arft, Dain “Ding-a-Ling” Clay, Johnny “Trolley Line” Butler.  You have royalty –  John “The Little Napoleon” McGraw, “Prince” Hal Chase and Mike “King” Kelly – or nobility – Bill “Charles Esquire” Coughlin or Donald “Duke” Snider.  You have the ethnic – Harry “The Golden Greek” Agganis or John “The Terrible Swede” Anderson.  You have the redundant – Handsome Jack Carney, Handsome Henry Brown, and Handsome Tom Brown.  You get the opposites – Leo “The Lip” Durocher and “Whispering” Bill Barnett.  And you get the bizarre – Nick “Tomato Face” Cullup, “Glass Arm” Eddie Brown (who, surprisingly, was not a pitcher, but an outfielder) and Sammy “Babe Ruth’s Legs” Byrd.  And, for the most part here, I have only gone through the “B’s” for the hitters.

Name another sport that can match baseball’s nicknames.  Basketball?  The best they can do is go by the first name.  Kobe.  LeBron.   Yaaaawwwwwnnnn.   Football?  Too contrived, or self-appointed (Chad Ochocinco should be taken out and spanked – actually, that would be a good idea if he was still Chad Johnson).  No, if you want to have a good nickname, be a baseball player.

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2 Comments to “What’s in a nickname?”

  1. Hello, forgot to mention “Charlie Hustle!”

  2. Yes, well, wait til I get to the “R’s” . . .

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