New Shoes in the Rain

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What's in a (nick)name? I have shared in this space, I'm making my way through the masterful Ken Burns "Baseball" miniseries (my version of spring training, as I quipped to a friend recently).  Watching that, I'm struck by one of the lost aspects of sports--player nicknames.

The great George Herman "Babe" Ruth, possibly the most famous baseball player to ever live, had MANY nicknames, in addition to the name by which most know him:

Sultan of Swat
Wazzir of Wham
Caleph of Clout
Behemoth of Bust
and more

His New York Yankee teammate, the durable and underrated Lou Gehrig, was nicknamed "The Iron Horse," owing to his consecutive game streak that was broken a few years ago by Cal Ripken, Jr.  And Cal had no nickname that I know of.

Another Yankee, Joe DiMaggio, was known alternately as "Joltin' Joe" or the "Yankee Clipper."  National League slugger Jimmy Foxx was known simply as "Double X," and Rogers Hornsby was called "The Rajah."

So what happened?  Why don't athletes have colorful nicknames anymore?  In more modern times, the best nickname I can think of was for former Cincinnati Reds first baseman Sean Casey, who became known as "The Mayor."  This was largely because he was so outgoing that he would chat with EVERY baserunner and even the umpire during play.  A close second was former outfielder Lenny Dykstra, who was known as "Nails."  As in tough as.

Ken Griffey, Jr. was known as simply "Junior," which was more of his name (to separate him from his dad, Ken Griffey, Sr.) than a nickname.

Still another that comes to mind was the great Pittsburgh Pirate Willie Stargell, who, in the latter stages of his career, became a vocal leader on the Pirates club and was dubbed "Pops" by his younger teammates.

I want nicknames to come back.  And not the idiotic ones that Chris Berman of ESPN is known for.  The worst one of his?  Bert "Be Home" Blyleven.  Clever once, but not if it's often repeated.

Who's with me?


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