October 25, 2014

Bring Back the Nickname

November 17, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

Who was the best center fielder in New York in the 50’s? Willie, Mickey or Ed? How about the time George promised the sick boy he would hit a home run for him? Then George went out and did it. Winning the Denton Young Award all of a sudden doesn’t sound as glamorous. I would love to see baseball and those that follow it somehow bring the nickname back for the players in the game.

Now when you go back and say did you like Willie, Mickey or the Duke and tell the story of the promise that the Babe made to an ill child, or capturing a Cy Young Award, the importance of the nickname to the history of baseball becomes even more evident.

Reggie Jackson hits five homers in a World Series and is dubbed Mr. October. Chase Utley does it and he is called….well Chase Utley. You can’t tell me that a player like Prince Fielder can’t be given a great nickname. Just look at one of his homers where he swings from his heels and annihilates the ball and the name alone, Prince Fielder, is just begging for something to be attached to it. It seems wrong to let a clutch player who could be an all-time great at his position and another who squares up the ball with such vicious force, to not be honored like so many legends of the game once were.

The single season RBI record is held by Hack Wilson at 191. Now if you are a pitcher what is going to get in your head more the night before a game; knowing the next day you were going to be facing a player named Hack or Lewis (his real first name)? It is tough not to argue that the Cardinals “Gas House Gang” team of 1934 would surely not be as memorable if they were around today. On that team you had Dizzy and Daffy Dean, Ripper Collins, Ducky Medwick, Pepper Martin, Spud Davis and Leo “The Lip” Durocher. Just classic names, right? Of course today you would have read about Jay and Paul Dean, Jim Collins, Joe Medwick, John Martin, and Virgil Davis. That turns into a forgettable roster of names all of a sudden. It is interesting how a simple moniker can help immortalize a player or team and help them to live on in our memories well beyond their playing days.

Has the fun gone out of baseball? Is it because newspapers are slowly disappearing, and along with that, the once crucial baseball reporter for the paper? Back when major cities had multiple daily papers I would assume the writers drew upon their creative side to paint a picture of the game and the players who played it. Now with the internet and outlets such as ESPN you can get up-to-the-minute play-by-play if you wish, or a quick recap on your computer the next day. Because so many of us are in a rush, it is as if the details are fed to the fan as quickly and simply as possible so as not to waste time. With that the game has lost some of its romance to me.

I am a 36-year-old baseball curmudgeon who dreams about a time when field dimensions were bigger than my back yard, players didn’t wear their uniforms like pajamas (is it me or does CC Sabathia look like he is wearing a pinstriped Snuggie with his uni being so baggy?) so you could see their stirrups, and if a playoff game ended in a little over three hours you wouldn’t marvel at how quickly it was played.

If nicknames are going to make a comeback some rules or guidelines have to be established. What we don’t want is it to turn merely into a marketing free-for-all where nicknames will be chosen based on the higher Q Score that it gets a player.

The first rule of getting a solid nickname is that it has to be given to you and you can’t give it to yourself. This would be a challenge because players today can’t possibly have the same camaraderie they once did to earn the names. Spacious chartered flights have taken the place of long train rides and cramped planes where you were forced to spend time and get to know one another. Add to that cell phones, the BlackBerry, iPods and laptops and you can fly across the country with someone and not find time for them. The good names are derived from a person’s actions, looks or tendencies so the stronger that bond is between the players the more likely a teammate will toss something out there that has a chance to stick.

The second rule is you can’t use anything given to you by ESPN’s Chris Berman. Along with his tired act that gets trotted out every now and again, no one in my opinion has hurt the art of the nickname more. Berman has taken it upon himself to bang a round peg through a square hole in making sure that almost every player has something given to them no matter how mindless or ridiculous. Here is the best example in my opinion; you take Albert Pujols, who when it is all said and done could be one of the game’s all time great hitters, and Berman sticks him with Albert “Winnie the” Pujols. It is cute and funny, if it is coming from my four-year-old. I am curious to know if the soldiers at Guantanamo Bay would choose waterboarding or forcing a prisoner to listen to Berman’s call of the entire Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game if they had a choice between the two interrogation tactics.

The third rule is if you have been caught doing steroids, or it is pretty much known that you have done them, you don’t get one. So that means good-bye to: Slammin’ Sammy, Big Mac, the Bash Brothers, Big Papi, and the Rocket. The game needs neither your services nor tainted accomplishments that have been at the expense of the true greats that define baseball. The only exception that is allowed is if the name exposes you for what you did, therefore a ruling would be A-Rod “no” but A-Roid a definite “yes.”

There are some decent names floating around the league today. I like that they call Tim Lincecum “The Freak” because of his diminutive stature and the fact that he has such a nasty arsenal of pitches. Another is the much talked about hired gun in waiting Roy “Doc” Halladay for the Blue Jays (as of this moment). I blame Val Kilmer in Tombstone as Doc Holliday for being biased towards this one. Calling Vlad Guerrero “Vlad the Impaler” is spot on for someone who wears no batting gloves and has never met a pitch he didn’t like regardless of location.

I see potential still for all the stars of today. There are Utley and Fielder who were mentioned earlier along with players like Ryan Zimmerman, Evan Longoria, Andre Ethier, Ryan Howard, Joe Mauer and Hanley Ramirez to name a few. The Washington Nationals have possibly the hardest thrower in the game in 2009 #1 pick Stephen Strasburg since “The Big Train” Walter Johnson pitched in the same city ages ago. Somehow you have to link those two flame throwers together, it is almost wrong not to.

My personal favorite is Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx who was known as “Double X” and “The Beast.”  Unless you are a woman playing sports, being called “The Beast” has to be one of the most complimentary things to be referred to as in the field of athletics. Just think if they called softball star Jenny Finch “The Beast,” bite your tongue. Even his other name of “Double X” is strong. Some players can’t even get one intimidating name and Foxx has two, and he backed both up soundly; hitting over 500 career homers, winning 2 world titles, three MVP Awards and nearly winning back-to-back Triple Crowns. Foxx missed leading the league only in batting by a margin of .003 points in 1932 (.364-58-169) and finally turned the trick in ’33 (.356-48-163).

Don’t take for granted the names that baseball history has given to us. What kind of a past on the diamond would have been passed on without players known simply as Shoeless Joe, Yogi, Three Finger, Lefty, The Say Hey Kid, Joltin’ Joe, Charlie Hustle, Hammerin’ Hank, Mr. Cub, The Georgia Peach, The Heater from Van Meter, Schmidty, Pee Wee, The Iron Horse and of course the Babe. It would be a disservice to what was once a great game to not leave tomorrow’s legends with something as unique and identifiable as the ones who came before them.

Comments

One Response to “Bring Back the Nickname”
  1. Mike Lynch says:

    Matt,

    Excellent job! I couldn’t agree more about nicknames needing to make a comeback. In the Seamheads.com Near Miss Simulation League, I ran the 1922 St. Louis Browns and it was fun managing guys with names like Baby Doll, Gorgeous George, Dauntless Dave, Chick, Dixie, Rasty, Hub, Heinie, Dutch, and Jockey.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!