What has happened to sports nicknames? Over the last 15 years or so it seems like the only nicknames left are some sort of spin on a person’s initials (e.g., Chris Paul as CP3) or some lame combination of their first initial and part of their last name (e.g., A-Rod). The days of original, quality nicknames needs a revival.
The most famous baseball player of all-time, has not only the most well-known nickname of all-time, but a lengthly list of other options. George Herman Ruth is known most people as “Babe” Ruth. In fact, I don’t know that I have seen anyone refer to him as George. Of course if Babe is too simple, there is also “The Great Bambino”, “The Sultan of Swat” and the “Colossus of Clout”.
The Bleacher Report has two different lists of nick names compiled at different times in 2011. Amazingly these lists are not only in wildly different orders but also contain some completely different names. There seem to be different categories of names.
There are plenty of nicknames, like “Babe”, that have basically replaced the person’s actual name:
- Ervin “Magic” Johnson
- Eldrick “Tiger” Woods
- Anthony “Spudd” Webb
- David “Deacon” Jones
- Harold “Pee Wee” Reese
- Leroy “Satchel” Paige
- Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
- Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway
- James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell
- Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean
- Jim “Catfish” Hunter
- Paul “Bear” Bryant
- Rich “Goose” Gossage
- Adam “Pacman” Jones
- Larry “Chipper” Jones
Then there are those known or referred to just by nickname:
- “Big Ben” Roethlisberger
- “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson
- William “The Refrigerator” Perry
- David Ortiz: “Big Papi“
- Karl Malone: The Mailman
- Julius “Dr. J” Erving
- Walter “Sweetness” Payton
- Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez
Then there are those who are never mentioned without their nickname:
- Glen “Big Baby” Davis
- Craig “Ironhead” Heyward
- Ed “Too Tall” Jones
- Stan “The Man” Musial
- Mark Fidrych: “The Bird“
- Robert “Tractor” Traylor
- “Mean” Joe Greene
- Billy “White Shoes” Johnson
- “Sugar” Ray Robinson
- “Pistol” Pete Maravich
- Dick “Night Train” Lane
- “Shoeless” Joe Jackson
And there are my favorite nicknames:
- Honus Wagner “The Flying Dutchman” – One of my all-time favorites because it’s unlikely something like this would ever be socially accepted again. When your name is “Honus”, why do you even need a nickname?
- Dale Earnhardt, Sr.: “The Intimidator” – Given to him because of his aggressive driving style
- Randy Johnson: “The Big Unit” – Just cool to say
- Gary Payton: “The Glove” – A result of his defensive prowness. Another one that is just cool to say
- David Robinson: “The Admiral” – He was a Navy grad, but not actually an Admiral
- Frank Thomas: “The Big Hurt” – Definitely some hometown sentiment here
- Fred McGriff: “The Crime Dog” – A play on McGruff The Crime Dog
- Pete Rose: “Charlie Hustle” – His name wasn’t “Charlie”, but who cares?
- Jack Nicklaus: “The Golden Bear” – Weird name for a golfer, but the guy made an awesome logo out of it
- Reggie White: The Minister of Defense – There will only be one of these ever
- O.J. Simpson: “The Juice” – Off the field issues aside, it’s an awesome name
- Ted Williams: “The Splendid Splinter” – Another strange and yet awesomely unique one
- Joe DiMaggio: “The Yankee Clipper” – I guess most of these are just cool to say
- Lou Gehrig: “The Iron Horse” – How many guys would kill to have a nickname this cool?
- Willie Mays: “The Say Hey Kid” – Totally random
- Ty Cobb: “The Georgia Peach” – Not sure why I think it’s cool
- Walter Johnson: “The Big Train” – Another amazing one
Most of these, like “The Flying Dutchman” were so long ago. I suspect that much of the lack of nicknames in sports has to do with people “protecting their image”. It’s all about “brand” these days, and it seems like most people don’t want to risk sullying that with a nickname. But that’s a shame because nicknames are a lost art. They also meant something. There aren’t a lot of names on either of those top 100 lists that aren’t Hall of Famers or regular all-stars. It seems like nicknames were reserved for people who deserved it.
My plea is that we try to resurrect this, who’s with me?