When I was a kid I owned a big fat, magazine-sized book called “The Big Book Of Baseball” and in the back it had several pages listing the names of several well-known ball players and their nicknames. That’s probably where I first encountered the nickname “The Sultan of Swat” for Babe Ruth and “The Splendid Splinter” for Ted Williams.
Not every nickname was a great one and some of them made you go, “Huh?” But it seemed as if every player had a nickname. Now? Not so much. In fact I hardly ever hear about baseball player nicknames now. Has the game gone serious? Are players too cool or sensitive?
The other day I was reading up on Roger Bresnahan, the early 20th century catcher who invented shinguards and I got a chuckle out of his nickname. He was called “The Duke of Tralee” because people thought he had been born in Ireland. Only he was born in Toledo. What’s a few thousand miles between friends?
Anyway, I decided to study up on baseball nicknames for old-times sake and to look up some more recent ones. They come under the headings of the good, the bad and the ugly. A good one should make you smile and recognize instantly why the player received it.
First a few bad and ugly ones that make you wonder who hated the player or what the heck they were talking about: Matt Stairs was called Stairsy. Sounds like a hockey thing. Ernie Lombardi was called “Schnozz” because he had a big nose. Not too complimentary. Frank Bodie was called “The Wonderful Wop.” Definitely politically incorrect decades later. Likewise, just about any player with American Indian blood, from pitcher Charles Bender to catcher John Meyers, was called Chief. Or in the case of Allie Reynolds, The Super Chief. Sandy Koufax was called The Left Arm of God by some–a bit over the top. Steve Carlton was boringly named Lefty. Although I never heard it used and I was around the Phillies when he was, I saw another nickname for Carlton as Silent Steve. That was appropriate. Jim Hunter was called Catfish. Owner Charlie Finley made it up for PR purposes, not because it made sense.
Let’s skip ahead to some good, fun ones. Edwin Snider was The Duke of Flatbush. Reggie Jackson was Mr. October. James Bell was Cool Papa. Ron Guidry was Louisiana Lightning. Rogers Hornsby was The Rajah. Sal Maglie was The Barber. Ozzie Smith was The Wizard of Oz. Joe Jackson was called Shoeless because he was seen playing in a game barefoot and years later I saw his visage on a replica of a shoe ad reading, “He wears them.” Luke Appling complained so much about his health he was called “Old Aches and Pains.” Johnny Mize was known as The Big Cat. Phil Rizzuto was called Scooter. I always loved that big brother Paul Waner and little brother Lloyd Waner were called Big Poison and Little Poison. Some people probably believe that Cy Young‘s real name was Cy, but it was Denton True Young and Cy was the shorter nickname for his nickname Cyclone.
Tony Gwynn was called Captain Video by some because he studied the video of his at-bats. Fred McGriff was Crime Dog. Juan Gonzalez was Juan Gone at the peak of his home-run hitting prowess. Jeff Reardon was Terminator. Right up there with my all-time favorites was the nickname for base stealing whiz Vincent Coleman–Vincent Can Go.
Oh yes, The Hoosier Thunderbolt was the nickname of Hall of Fame pitcher Amos Rusie. All because the hurler who was retired by 1901 with 245 victories, four 30-win seasons and threw wicked fast, was born in Mooresville, Indiana.