Baseball: Past and Present

1. George Herman Ruth- The Sultan of Swat, The Bambino, The Colossus of Clout, Babe: No surprise here- the greatest baseball player of all-time also inspired the greatest nicknames. Sportswriters of the 1920s outdid themselves to come up with new names for the Yankee slugger.

2. Joe Jackson- Shoeless Joe: Would the most famous of the Black Sox be so remembered without such a romantic moniker? Granted, a lifetime .356 batting average would assure immortality in the record books even for a hitter named Peanuts McGee, but Shoeless Joe sounds like something from myth.

3. Lou Gehrig- The Iron Horse

4. Pete Rose- Charlie Hustle: Whitey Ford derisively nicknamed Rose during spring training in 1963 after watching him sprint to first base on a walk. The name quickly came to epitomize Rose’s all-out style of play.

5. Joe Wood- Smoky Joe: Like Shoeless Joe, Smoky Joe is another baseball nickname that made an otherwise mundane name timeless. Wood earned his moniker because he of how hard he threw.

6. Reggie Jackson- Mr. October

7. Stan Musial- Stan the Man

8. Willie Mays- The Say Hey Kid

9. Mordecai Brown- Three Finger: Same deal as Wood. Ask most fans about Mordecai Brown, and I imagine there would be plenty of blank stares. But I imagine Three Finger Brown would draw some looks of recognition, even a century after the Deadball Era great’s Hall of Fame career.

10. Joe DiMaggio- The Yankee Clipper, Joltin’ Joe

11. James Bell- Cool Papa: Negro League baseball remains a somewhat mysterious world nearly six decades after its demise, records incomplete, many players forgotten to history. Here’s one exception, thanks to a memorable name (for a superb player, of course.)

12. Ted Williams- Thumper, The Kid, Teddy Ballgame, The Splendid Splinter

13. Ted Radcliffe- Double Duty: Damon Runyon nicknamed Radcliffe after watching him pitch one game of a doubleheader and catch another.

14. Leo Durocher- Leo the Lip, The All-American Out: Durocher would have a spot on this list for the nickname he earned as a bombastic manager, Leo the Lip. He gets some dubious bonus points for his other nickname, which Ruth bestowed upon him during his playing days. It seems apt for a man who hit .247 and had a lifetime OPS+ of 65 playing most of his career in the 1930s, a Golden Age for hitters.

15. Jim Hunter- Catfish: A memorable Sports Illustrated retrospective on the 1974 Oakland A’s recounted how Hunter came by his handle:

On the day in 1964 that the 18-year-old Jim Hunter became a Kansas City Athletic, Finley asked him if he had a nickname. Hunter told him that he did not. “Well, you’ve got to have one,” said Finley. “What do you like to do?”

“I hunt and fish,” replied Hunter.

“Mr. Finley kind of hesitated on the phone,” recalls Hunter. “Then he said, ‘You were six years old when you ran away from home. You went fishing. Your mom and dad looked for you all day. About three o’clock your mom and dad found you. You had caught two catfish and were bringing in a third, and from that day on you were Catfish. Now repeat the story to me.’ ” When Hunter did, Finley said, “Anybody ever asks you anything, that’s how you tell it.”

16. Nolan Ryan- The Ryan Express

17. Bob Feller- Rapid Robert, Bullet

18. Ozzie Smith- The Wizard

19. Ernie Banks- Mr. Cub

20. Honus Wagner- The Flying Dutchman: Nearly a century on from the end of Wagner’s Hall of Fame career, it stands to reason– politically incorrect nicknames just don’t find their way into baseball anymore.

21. Mickey Mantle- The Commerce Comet, The Mick

22. Walter Johnson- The Big Train

23. Juan Marichal- The Dominican Dandy

24. Ty Cobb- The Georgia Peach: Not one of my favorite baseball nicknames, as it seems a man as complex and unbridled as Cobb might have inspired descriptions that better captured the fury with which he played and lived. Still, I’d be remiss to not include Cobb here.

25. Branch Rickey- The Mahatma: The Cardinals, Dodgers, and Pirates executive earned his moniker both for his baseball acumen and scrupulous religiosity.

26. Sal Maglie- The Barber: So named because of his menacing reputation on the mound, though he never struck out more than 146 in a season. Still a great nickname.

27. Earl Averill- The Earl of Snohomish: The Cleveland Indians Hall of Famer was dubbed for his hometown of Snohomish, Washington.

28. Lenny Dykstra- Nails: Between career-ending injury problems and his ongoing legal issues in recent years, Dykstra’s had a rough go of it since finishing second in National League MVP voting in 1993. But in his prime, both for his nickname and the style of play it connoted, Dykstra may have been a poor man’s Rose (a Rose by any other name, we could say.)

29. [Tie] Hugh Mulcahy- Losing Pitcher, Walter Beck- Boom Boom: Mulcahy and Beck earned their nicknames as hapless pitchers for the Philadelphia Phillies of the 1930s. One of my baseball books notes of Beck:

It must have been on just such a typical Baker Bowl day that stocky Hack Wilson, hot and sweating, waited out in right field, hands on knees, eyes downcast, while his manager walked to the pitcher’s mound to replace [Beck.] Line drives had been caroming off the wall all afternoon– after all, Beck wasn’t called ‘Boom, Boom’ for nothing– and Wilson was exhausted from chasing the ball.

Unhappy at being removed, Beck angrily heaved the ball toward right field with all his might.

Hearing a familiar sound as the ball glanced off one of the tin advertising signs on the right-field wall, the startled Wilson awoke from his reverie, ran after the ricocheting ball as fast as he could, and fired it on a line to second base– a perfect peg to get the runner trying to stretch a single into a double, if only there had been one!

31. Charlie Keller- King Kong: One of the best players not in the Hall of Fame and certainly one of my favorite nicknames among that bunch.

32. Frankie Frisch- The Fordham Flash: Sounds more like a comic book character.

33. Pepper Martin- The Wild Horse of the Osage: Western novel.

34. Hideki Matsui- Godzilla: One of the few nicknames I like among current baseball players. Either sportswriters have stopped being as creative or I’m just unfamiliar with a new generation of nicknames.

35. Mose Solomon- The Rabbi of Swat: Solomon was supposed to be John McGraw’s great coup, the National League version of Ruth, able to help pack the Polo Grounds with a broad base of Jewish fans. But Solomon couldn’t field, making 31 errors in 108 games in the minors in 1923. The Giants called him up that fall, and McGraw refused to play him in the field. Solomon made three hits in eight at-bats over the last few weeks of the season, and that was the end of it.

36. George Kelly- High Pockets: Bill James ranks Kelly as one of the worst Hall of Famers, and I don’t know if I can dispute seeing as Kelly boasted a career batting average of .297 during a great time for hitters and may have been ushered into Cooperstown through the influence of former teammate and Veterans Committee head Frisch. I will say High Pockets Kelly is one of the coolest names on any plaque in Cooperstown. It sounds Dickensian.

37. Frank Thomas- Big Hurt

38. Hank Aaron- Hammerin’ Hank

39. Will Clark- Will the Thrill

40. Don Mattingly- Donnie Baseball

41. Orlando Cepeda- Baby Bull

42. Marv Throneberry- Marvelous Marv: The expansion 1962 New York Mets may have been one of baseball’s all-time worst clubs, going 40-120, but their fans adored them. They nicknamed their first baseman Marvelous Marv even though he was marvelous at nothing and once missed two bases on a triple. Later in life, he endorsed Miller Lite, noting in a commercial, “If I do for Lite what I did for baseball, I’m afraid their sales will go down.”

43. Buck O’Neil- Nancy: O’Neil recounted in the Ken Burns’ Baseball series about how he came by one of the more unusual nicknames in baseball history. In essence, teammate Satchel Paige invited an Indian maiden named Nancy to come visit him at a hotel in Chicago, not knowing his future wife Lahoma would also be in town. Paige wound up with both women in the same hotel, and when he went calling for Nancy in the night and Lahoma heard, Paige said he was just looking for O’Neil. The name stuck.

44. Bill Lee- Spaceman: The SABR biography of former Red Sox hurler Lee notes, “His often-outrageous statements and bizarre actions marked him as an oddity and ensured him a lasting reputation in the buttoned-down baseball world. They also earned him the nickname ‘Spaceman,’ a title he never fully embraced, arguing that his first priority was always Mother Earth.”

45. Sandy Koufax- The Left Arm of God

46. Mark McGwire- Big Mac

47. Carl Hubbell- King Carl, Meal Ticket

48. Walter Maranville- Rabbit

49. Jimmie Foxx- The Beast, Double X

50. Hideo Nomo- The Tornado: When I think of the first great Japanese player in the majors, I’m forever reminded of the image of him on the mound,  body contorted as he prepares to unleash his pitch. In the spirit of other great nicknames here, Nomo’s describes him aptly.



10 Comments so far

  1.    Tom on June 29, 2011 8:35 am      

    Great list. The first name missing that jumped out at me was The Big Six–Christy Mathewson…The second was Rich Gossage …

  2.    William Martin on June 29, 2011 9:23 am      

    Come on man The Space Man should be higher and what about Whitey Ford The Chairman of The Board?

  3.    Brendan on June 29, 2011 9:35 am      

    I agree with Tom that the nickname Goose should be represented, either by Rich Gossage or Leon Goslin. I would also nominate George “Snuffy” Stirnweiss.

  4.    Tom on June 29, 2011 10:27 am      

    Harold “Pie” Traynor
    Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean
    Paul “Daffy” Dean
    Bill “Moose” Skowron
    Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd
    Al “Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky
    Edwin “Duke” Snider

    …I’m going to try to stop thinking about this…

  5.    The Baseball Idiot on June 29, 2011 12:36 pm      

    I would have to add Piano Legs Hickman and Baby Doll Jacobson.

  6.    stratobill on June 29, 2011 2:10 pm      

    “Sudden Sam” McDowell
    Lawrence “Yogi” Berra
    Mike “The Human Rain Delay” Hargrove

  7.    Brian on July 6, 2012 11:44 pm      

    I always liked Harry “Suitcase” Simpson and Walt “No-neck” Williams.

  8.    Brian on July 6, 2012 11:47 pm      

    I almost forgot, I also like Mark “the bird” fidrych.

  9.    Dave on February 3, 2013 8:46 am      

    My personal favorites were Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson and Dick Stuart “Dr. Strangeglove.”

    I’m sorry, but nicknames like “Mr. Cub,” “Big Mac,” “Will the Thrill,” and “Donnie Baseball” are just BORING compared to these two.

    But at least there are no “A-Rod,” type names on this list. No creativity behind those nicknames.

  10.    David LaBuda on June 5, 2014 7:15 pm      

    In Cleveland they called Bob Feller “Fireball Bob Feller”.

    You forgot Jim “Mudcat” Grant and Leroy “Satchel” Paige.

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  • Written by Graham Womack