Is The Nickname In Decline?

From Babe Ruth to The Crime Dog, baseball has a rich history of nicknames for its stars, but what about more recent times? John Branch of the New York Times investigates the cultural phenomenon and comes to the conclusion that great sports nicknames are disappearing.

In an age of A-Rod and D-Wade, when nicknames rarely conjure imagery beyond a corporate logo, it can be easy to bemoan the loss of another slice of simpler times.

But sociologists and experts in onomastics, the study of names, said the diminishment of nicknames was not exclusive to famous athletes. Studies on the subject are few, but there is widespread agreement that the use of nicknames across American society has steadily slipped.

Less certain is why. Maybe it reflects a loss of intimacy and connectedness. Maybe it is because of the changing way we name children, or how we now deflect unflattering nicknames to shape our own identities. Maybe all the good nicknames are taken.

Whatever the case, the decline is most easily gauged in sports, where nicknames have long played a role in distinguishing and at times deifying athletes.

I’m not so sure I can hop aboard the train that Branch is driving. While uncreative name-based nicknames like A-Rod, Johnny Mac, and Tulo may be more prevalent, it’s not as though inventive handles are in complete decline. This article reminds me a lot of my parents telling me how “real” music stopped being written after The Beatles.

Here are some of my favourites for current ballplayers:

  • Lance Berkman: “Big Puma” or “Fat Elvis”
  • Pat Burrell: “Pat the Bat”
  • Carl Crawford: “The Perfect Storm”
  • Adam Dunn: “Big Donkey”
  • Jeff Francoeur: “Frenchie”
  • Vladimir Guerrero: “Vlad The Impaler”
  • Franklin Gutierrez: “Death to Flying Things”
  • Travis Hafner: “Pronk”
  • Roy Halladay: “Doc”
  • Félix Hernández: “King Felix”
  • Orlando Hernández: “El Duque”
  • Orlando Hudson: “O-Dog”
  • Tim Lincecum: “The Freak”
  • Hideki Matsui, Oakland Athletics: “Godzilla”
  • Iván Rodríguez: “Pudge”
  • Carlos Ruiz: “Chooch”
  • Pablo Sandoval: “Kung Fu Panda”
  • Shane Victorino: “Flyin’ Hawaiian”

Closer to home, the Blue Jays have a ton of potential for nicknames:

  • Travis Snider: “Lunch Box”
  • Jesse Litsch: “The Ginger Beard Man”
  • John McDonald: “The Prime Minister of Defence”
  • Ricky Romero: “RR Cool Jay”
  • Jose Bautista: “Joey Bats”

So, let’s have it. What are your favourite nicknames for hometown players?

Comments (40)

  1. Braves fans are now referring to Eric Hinske as “Big Damage.” What is this I don’t even

  2. my favourite nickname for an athlete would either be Ryan Braun’s “the hebrew hammer” or “the big fundamental” Tim Duncan

  3. I heard Big Diesel for Hinske last night after his catch, then Big Damage after the home run. Enjoy, Atlanta. The good times never last long.

    The Big Fundamental is one of the best.

    I think Pronk is my favourite. Hafner just looks like a Pronk.

  4. I don’t think it’s an established nickname, but I sprayed beer out my nose once when a fan yelled “Full Mental Jacket” at Milton Bradley.

  5. My favourite Jays nickname has still got to be Scrabble, which is far more clever than Zep.

  6. Scrabble or Eye Chart are both pretty good.

    Full Mental Jacket = awesome.

  7. Based on a process of elimination of possible the identities of Brian Wilson’s luchador roommate, can we not safely add “The Machine” to Pat Burrell’s nickname rolodex?

  8. I like Scrabble for Rzepchynski… and after watching the last couple of games against Boston I would like to propose “Lunch Meat” for Jarred Saltalamachhia

  9. I think the best nicknames are when people use the nickname more or are even unaware of the player’s actual name. The only example of this from your list is Pudge, and maybe Halladay. Meanwhile in history you have Babe Ruth, Yogi Berra, Catfish Hunter, Cool Papa Bell, etc.

    One more that fits in this example is Dice-K, which I think is pretty cool. And when I looked him up on Wikipedia, I found out his nickname in Japan is “”The Monster of the Heisei Era” which refers to the reign of the current Emperor of Japan. The more you know.

  10. The correct nickname for Lincecum is Big Time Timmy Jim.

  11. Coco Crisp is probably the best modern example of a player who is only known by his nickname.

  12. I am partial to the O-Dog – mainly because my grandpa would call him that – and it was such a struggle to hear an 85 year old man refer to someone as that O-Dog guy.

  13. Agreed Torgen.

    I hate Dice-K. His real name is almost easier to write than the nickname.

  14. E5 for Edwin is pretty mint too.

  15. I liked when Drunk Jays Fans referred to Shaun Marcum as ‘North of Steeles’

  16. Given the way he seems to will pitchers and fielders to let him get on base when he most needs it, and that he’s he’s magically become amazing at all baseball skills, I would propose Jose Bautista = Baseball Jesus

  17. Manny Pacquiao’s nickname, when translated, is The National Fist. I know he’s a boxer and not a baseball player, but it’s such a great nickname I felt like I had to share it.

  18. notice how molina’s new nickname is “benched” after his little gigglefest?

    lyle “doubleplay”

    cito – mcsenile

  19. North of Steeles is definitely awesome…too bad it no longer applies. Mr. November for Jeter is lame and a ripoff of a much cooler nickname. ‘Death to Flying Things’ is probably my favourite current nickname, made all the better by the ‘Death to Flying Things’ Franklin Gutierrez fly swatter giveaway at Safeco. I also kind of like ‘The Greek God of Walks for Youkilis even if I hate the player.

  20. Don’t forget Edwin – E5!

  21. Yunel Escobar = The Cuban MiSSile…?

  22. Im putting one down for Snake Face….

  23. “Death to Flying Things” is among the oldest baseball-related nicknames, as it was also given to Bob Ferguson (his MLB debut, according to Wikpedia, was in 1871).

  24. I hope you purposely leftout Big Papi.

    North of Steelez is my fav.

  25. What about Kung Fu Panda?

  26. When Eric Thames comes up, something English themed could be done because of his last name. Maybe London Fog?

  27. How ingrained is “Pudge” Rodriguez? I saw Ivan Rodriguez and wondered, what’s Pudge’s nickname, before I saw it was Pudge. I read Ivan as Pudge. If I read it out loud I would do the same even though it says Ivan Rodriguez. Even thinking as I write I hear pudge each time I write Ivan.

    Speaking of nicknames, with the Twins coming… Captain Blackburn.

  28. I personally enjoy “The Toddfather” for Todd Helton

  29. what nicknames shall we use for stoeten and parkes? starsky and hutch? hansel and zoolander?

  30. Ed Jovanowski is “Special Ed”. I love that one. “Dumbasshole” Garcia after he burned his jersey in the ’80′s. Anybody remember the Mad Hungarian who was a reliever long ago? I refer to the Sedin twins as Pinky & the Brain or the Olsen Twins.

  31. I have not called Matsuzaka Dice-K for awhile now, he is Dice-BB.

    I also call Chris B. Young – Krispie, cause there is another Chris Young.

  32. Remember, no matter how lame baseball nickname are, they are still way, way better than hockey. Thank you 80s Oilers for killing the hockey nickname.

    Any idea how Pudge got transferred to Ivan Rodriguez from Carlton Fisk.

    Shaker for Moseby was solid.

  33. My friends and I call Snider “Big Handsome” from that amazing Jimmy Kimmel bit.

    Lloyd “Shaker” Moseby was my favourite from the past.

  34. @linz
    Special Ed for Jovonowski is also awesome — think there was an SI article from when he played for the Panthers that described how he picked up that moniker.

  35. I loved the Yunebomber and ‘shopped pic.

  36. The reason why the nickname has declined is because players no longer have personalities nor does the media want them to. Look at Damian Goddard, one unfriendly comment and he’s fired. Lawrie gets one unflattering picture posted online and he’s vilified. Partying, drinking, womanizing, outspokenness, fighting, smoking, gambling are all frowned upon. And with the money at stake, players are going to follow the company line. Players hardly show any emotion on the field anymore. Snider snapping the bat on his knee used to be common occurrence 20 years ago. BJ Upton gets suspended for arguing a call. Hard to have a nickname when you have to be prestine clean and show no emotion.

  37. I’m quite fond of Octavio “Don’t Ask” Dotel.

  38. “The Terminator.” Very apropos – for Henke’s kick assed-ness, and the fact that he did quite literally terminate a lot of batters and a lot of games.

  39. I’d love to call Snake-Eyes Rauch “Cobra Commander.” Will never stick.

    Also won’t stick “That Fat Ginger.” I say it with love.

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