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.