Where have all the good nicknames gone?

Posted on 17 August 2012 by Chris Caylor

In my college days, going through my early 30s, a friend and I would make an annual drive to Colorado Springs to watch the Sky Sox play. Granted, we lived in the Denver metro area, so it wasn’t that long of a drive, but whatever. It was one of my favorite days each year. On the way, we would quiz each other on all sorts of baseball trivia: franchise relocations, past World Series winners, MVP/Cy Young winners, etc. My favorite topic was player nicknames. The Wizard. The Babe. Charlie Hustle. Spaceman. Oil Can. Crime Dog. The list could on for days.

Recently, I ran across an article on Athlon Sports that purported to list the 50 best baseball nicknames ever. It is a woefully inadequate list, if you ask me, but generally, those lists are always debatable because they are just a writer’s opinion. It did get me to thinking, though: where are the good nicknames today? Sure, there are a few popular ones: Kung Fu Panda (Pablo Sandoval), the Flyin’ Hawaiian (Shane Victorino), Pronk (Travis Hafner), Spider-Man (Torii Hunter), or “Coco” Crisp.

But too often, current nicknames are just plain lazy. Tulo? Longo? Sorry, shortening a name doesn’t count as creative. Neither do the abbreviations (A-Rod, Han-Ram, CarGo, J-Roll) or nicknames starting with “Big” (Unit, Papi, Hurt, Mac). Political correctness has ruined any good personal appearance nicknames. I don’t mean lame or unoriginal names like Ugly or Fatty; I mean creative ones like Three Finger, Schnozz or Piano Legs. Animal nicknames can be tiresome as well – Bull, Moose, Skeeter. Yawn. Now, nicknames like Penguin, Stork or Horse Belly, those have some flair.

Also, excessively long nicknames or forced nicknames don’t work – really, which is more memorable: The Babe or The Colossus of Clout? Exactly. Or, if I said “The Denora Greyhound,” would you know who it is? More likely, you would recognize “Stan the Man.” Players cannot nickname themselves either, so that rules out Dustin Pedroia’s Laser Show and Nyjer Morgan (Tony Plush).

So where does that leave us? What do we have left?

There are a few other good nicknames out there.

One of my favorite nicknames was Harry “Suitcase” Simpson. Although he was traded multiple times in his career (and thusly packing his suitcase constantly), his nickname was initiated when a Cleveland sportswriter described Simpson’s size 13 feet as being as large as suitcases. I don’t know about shoe sizes, but the multiple teams part would suit (see what I did there?) several contemporary players. Jamie Moyer, Octavio Dotel, Jerry Hairston, Matt Stairs. For alliteration’s sake, Reggie “Suitcase” Sanders would have been perfect.

Adam Wainwright is commonly referred to by teammates and St. Louis media as Waino, a perfect example of a lazy nickname. Conversely, Cardinals blogger and Viva El Birdos founder Larry Borowsky referred to him as Wagonmaker, which is what Wainwright translates to in Olde English. That’s more like it.

Adam Dunn is the Big Donkey, he doesn’t really belong on this list. I only mention him because he needs to be on the same team as Pedroia so we could have the Big Donkey and the Little Jackass. White Sox GM Kenny Williams needs to make this happen.

Billy Butler’s nickname is Country Breakfast. Definitely one of the better ones, and quite fitting. Butler is not a small man.

Once Jose Bautista blossomed into one of baseball’s best sluggers with the Toronto Blue Jays, he became Joey Bats. Again, one of the better current nicknames.

Jeff Samardzija’s nickname is Shark. Not great, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to spell.

Felix Hernandez is King Felix, an appropriate nickname for one of the best pitchers in the game, particularly in light of his brilliant perfect game Wednesday. But not terribly original.

John Axford, aka The Ax Man, is an exception to the lazy nickname criteria I listed above. While it is an example of a shortened name, it is original enough, especially for a closer.

Cardinal fans coined Scrabble as a nickname for Marc Rzepczynski within days of his arrival at the trade deadline last year. It reminds me of Doug Gwodsz, a 1970s pitcher known as Eye-chart.

I find Ryan Braun’s nickname, the Hebrew Hammer, to be boring. On the other hand, Mike Epstein’s old nickname is fantastic. He played for five teams between 1966-74 and was known as SuperJew. How fantastic is that? It would be instantly become the best nickname in baseball today. Failing that, non-Brewer fans might find Bug Eyes a suitable nickname as well.

There was a player named Jack Daniels, who played for the Boston Braves in 1952. His nickname was Sour Mash Jack. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Right – John Lackey.

Remember the annual trips to Colorado Springs to see the Sky Sox? One year, they were playing the Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A team for the Cardinals), who had an infielder named Stubby Clapp. He was fortunate enough to inherit the nickname from his father and grandfather. Anyway, my friend and I started chanting “Clapp on, Clapp off, Clapp on/Clapp off, the Clapper.” Soon most of the crowd was chanting with us. He finally looked back with a grin and tipped his cap to the crowd. One of my all-time favorites.

Finally, this player played in the 30s and 40s and proclaimed himself “the ugliest player in baseball.” No, I’m not referring to Willie McGee. His name was Johnny Dickshot. He needs no nickname.

Think about past teams, like the Athletics, Reds and Yankees of the 70s, the Cardinals and Mets of the 80s, or the Indians of 90s. Those teams all had players with cool nicknames up and down the lineup and on the pitching staff. Teams in 2012 might have a handful of such players, but nothing like the Big Red Machine or the 1977-78 Yankees.

However, today’s players have something that other players did not: Twitter.

MLB.com reports that nearly 300 players have Twitter accounts and list over 125 verified accounts that players have agreed to make public. Some of them take time to really interact with followers. For instance:

Logan Morrison (@LoMoMarlins) has an often hilarious feed and asks trivia questions of his followers with autographed merchandise for prizes.
Carlos Beltran (@carlosbeltran15) solicited his followers for input on what uniform number he should wear with the Cardinals this season.
Derek Holland (Dutch_Oven45) of the Rangers frequently tweets and re-tweets Chuck Norris jokes, among others.
Jeremy Guthrie (@jguthrie46) made several fans in Colorado when he asked via Twitter if someone wanted to play catch with him. Guthrie randomly selected a fan who replied and made many fans in the process.
C.J. Nitkowski (@cjnitkowski) was worth following when he was retired, but now that he is attempting a comeback, he is a must-follow. He wouldn’t be a rookie like Jim Morris, but the story is every bit as compelling.
Dirk Hayhurst (@thegarfoose) started tweeting when he was an active player (and author) with the Padres and Blue Jays and has continued on since retiring and becoming a radio host and Blue Jays analyst. He is thoughtful, funny and responsive.
C.J. Wilson (@str8edgeracer), Brandon Phillips (@DatDudeBP), Jason Motte (@jmotte30), and Adam Jones (@simplyAJ10) are other players who are active Tweeters worth following.

If you look at those Twitter handles, some of them are really clever, especially those of Morrison, Holland, Hayhurst and Wilson. Could you consider those nicknames? Interesting question. If the point is to have a unique moniker to identify a player, then a distinctive Twitter handle certainly qualifies. But imagine, just for the sake of argument, that Wilson makes the Hall of Fame – is he going to have “@str8edgeracer” on his plaque, similar to Stan “The Man” Musial? The image greatly amuses me. Incidentally, I wonder if Chris Johnson has changed his Twitter handle (@CJAstros23) since being traded to the Diamondbacks.

In any case, this is one of the best things about baseball. From statistics to history to players and their nicknames, baseball just lends itself to lists and debates better than any other sport. I’m sure I missed some current nicknames. Hit me up in the comments with other good ones.

3 Comments For This Post

  1. Gary Perilloux Says:

    Loved this piece: The idiosyncratic nicknames are part of the milieu that’s made baseball not just a sport, but the national pastime. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for a player even to have multiple nicknames. There are occasions when “The Splendid Splinter” is the sublime label and others where “Teddy Ballgame” says it better.

    The old A’s owner Charlie Finley, among his many quirks, took to nicknaming his players, even forcing them upon some. Jim Hunter hated “Catfish” but the name stuck and I can’t imagine him without it. “Blue Moon” Odom probably only pitched well “once in a blue moon,” or perhaps it was Finley’s way of saying Odom was the lesser light in a comparison with Vida Blue (some names are so cool they don’t need nicknames; Vida’s middle name, by the way, was “Rochelle”).

    Much like the All-Star Game, I think it would be uproariously great fun to stage an annual baseball fan vote to determine the greatest nickname. The mere existence of the contest would help create a flurry of great new nicknames. Heck, it might even be enough to get Chris Berman back into the ESPN SportsCenter anchor desk on a regular basis. And we all know what that would mean: A steady diet of such classics as Jim “Two Silhouettes On” Deshaies, Ozzie “Like A” Virgil and Bert “Be Home” Blyleven.

    But then Bud Selig is no more likely to stage an MLB Annual Great Nicknames Extravaganza than I’m likely to make $20 million a year as a stuffed-shirt commissioner who holds the game back. That’s why we call him “Big Bad” Bud Selig, Bud “Dumber” Selig, Bud “I Don’t Like Extra Innings” Selig, Bud “What’s a PED?” Selig, Bud “Astros Hater” Selig, Bud “I’ll Never Retire” Selig … I got a million of ‘em …

  2. Jenn Grayson Says:

    I love the fact that you mentioned the Sky Sox…. Several other season ticket holders and I have come up with several nicknames for the current players (although it can be difficult to keep track of all of them with the constant changing of the guard). Many of the nicknames have stemmed from inside jokes or just from getting to know each of the players over the course of the season. Hope you enjoy them as much as we do:

    Andrew Brown – UPS: One of our favorites, he had a short stint with the Rockies this year. The most fitting slogan (and worthy of making a sign to take to Coors) is “What Can Brown Do For You??” He is quite aware of his nickname and at least him and the other players find it amusing.

    Brandon Roberts – Outfield: This came about for two reasons – he plays CF and just happened to have “Your Love” by the Outfield as his walkup song.

    Brendan Harris – F-Bomb: For those who don’t know him, watch one game and you probably won’t forget who he is. He is famous for grounding out, breaking his helmet on the ground, breaking something in the dugout, or yelling “F***!!!!” at the top of his lungs on the way back to the dugout.

    Chad Tracy – E3: Yes, the big club manager’s son and current AAA 1st baseman. Every night he’s at first, the season ticket holders down the first base line fear for their lives. You can never tell if he’s actually going to catch the ball. He’s gotten better, but not enough to lose the nickname.

    Drew Pomeranz – Pomeranian: This nickname is more than just a play on his name. While spending time in the Springs, Drew had one of the worst haircuts – a version of a mohawk, but it was HORRENDOUS. The team photographer compared him to a dog… thus he was deemed Pomeranian.

    Edgar Gonzalez – Candyman: One of several pitchers released this year. He always seemed to have some kind of candy in the dugout. When we sent an insider in to investigate what kind of candy he had, it was discovered he had a special stash from Mexico that he only shared with certain players.

    Jimmy Cesario – Jimmy Wiggles: Currently in Tulsa, Jimmy is by far a fan favorite. When he comes up to bat, he has a little shimmy he does (Yes, similiar to the scene from Major League). Giggles follow every time he’s up to bat… and we honestly tried to get them to play the song by LMFAO (“wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, YEAH!”).

    Rob Schahill – Bambi: One of the pitchers that JUST CAN’T SIT STILL!!! He’s as jumpy as a baby deer… not to mention if you see his profile picture on the Sky Sox website, he honestly has the deer in the headlights look.

    Tommy Field – Helpful Smurf or Strawberry: His original nickname was Helpful Smurf… helpful because he was always getting the timely hit or making that fantastic play to get the out and smurf because he’s easily the shortest on the team. Recently, Rene Lachemann called him Strawberry… since they’re in season. Cute and absolutely hysterical!

    I could continue on and on as we’ve seen many, many players travel through the Springs, but these were by far our most creative ones! And if you’re ever in the Springs and want to know more, just look down the first base line for the pom pom… :D

  3. Chris McBrien Says:

    Love this piece! Since I am a fantasy baseball guy, it is also worth mentioning that several very creative fantasy team names have arose which also utilize player names within them. Some favorites include:

    Honey Nut Ichiros
    Gone With the Lind
    To Kill a Marlon Byrd
    Wieters Digest

    The list goes on. Funny names in baseball are a rich part of it`s history.

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