Nicknames and The Hall Of Fame: A Look at Baseball's All-Time Best
As October baseball reaches its zenith with the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants I thought it would be great to look back at some of the all-time greats in both playing and a more unusual category, nicknames.
There have been lots of studies on The World Series, and you can find some amazing old images here in our Digital Gallery, but there haven't been a lot that focus on baseball nicknames. James K Skipper put together a comprehensive dictionary of origins and meanings of nicknames and there are a few other books that talk about the subject, but given the rich history of the sport and the love writers have of going on about about it you would think there would be more, especially regarding the best of the best!
In Late July I visited Cooperstown, New York and spent a lot of time in the Baseball Hall Of Fame, specifically The Plaque Gallery. The plaques of the lucky few elected to the hall are fascinating to study, with stats, tidbits, teams played for and sometimes some pretty cool nicknames. Just walking into each section I was engrossed in bygone eras and lost years, it really is a captivating experience and exemplifies that not only did Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez choke in the playoffs, but we have choked when it comes to recent nicknames. A-rod, K-Rod, D-Wright, and Youk, nicknames have become lazy, as today's shortenings can't hold a candle to past years; for every Kung Fu Panda it seems we get a slew of Dice-K's, A-Gone's and a Miggy.
Below are some pictures, commentary and links to resources in our catalog on some of the best, feel free to let me know your favorites in the comments.
Some nicknames are so linked to a player it is impossible to remember what their real name is! Sure, "The Babe" could be put here, but people know George Herman Ruth as the greatest player to probably ever play the game, these are even more ingrained nicknames.
It just so happened that the two below were next to each other in the hall and they are two players even casual fans know...and, diehards? I challenge you to think of Satchel and Yogi's real names before clicking on the picture for a better view...
Then there are nicknames that just roll off the tongue or in this case a jazz song, and seem to fit the player like the glove he handled better then anybody, ever:
The "Say Hey Kid" Willie Mays was arguably one of the top 5 players of all-time, one could also argue that his nickname puts him at the top of this class too.
Super Old Timers
These guys are from the way back years, times when the game was odd, and the players even odder. The author David Nemec has focused some on the early years of baseball as has Roy Kerr and others, it was a wild time with wild nicknames... These are two classic nicknames for two great players, time has not forgotten them. Mordeci "Three Fingered" Brown and "Old Hoss" Charles Radbourn are both well represented today..."Old Hoss" even has the skills to keep up one of the funnier Twitter accounts out there.
I already mentioned Satchel, but one of the longest names in the Hall of Fame stood out to me as well as one of the shortest nicknames...
Maybe I was too hard on the modern day nicknames as Cumberland "Cum" Willis Posey Jr. got a nickname on his plaque that was just a name abbreviation, pretty weak for one of the most important men in Negro Leagues history. On the other hand the Cuban born pitcher Jose de la Caridad Mendez has one of the longest names on any plaque there and he gets his nickname put up in 2 languages, "El Diamente Negro" / "The Black Diamond." There are a bunch of other great Negro League Hall of Fame nicknames; one more worth mentioning is James "Cool Papa" Bell. As Satchel Paige said about him, "One time, he hit a line drive right past my ear. I turned around and saw the ball hit his rear end as he slid into second."
'20s '30s '40s
Arguably the years when the nation was most enthralled with the game of baseball these decades produced some spectacular nicknames...
What a murderers' row of nicknames! If Joe "Ducky Wucky" Medwick doesn't bring a smile to your face you need to get out more. George "High Pockets" Kelly was a big man (6 foot 4) who could play the game, eventually getting inducted by the Veterans Committee and the Brothers Waner, Big and Little Poison have some killer nicknames and both hit the cover off of the ball in Pittsburgh.
More Recent Times
There hasn't been a total drop off in recent times, we have a few good ones that should get some love as well:
George "Sparky" Anderson was a fantastic and beloved manager with a pretty spot-on nickname, while Andre "The Hawk" Dawson got his moniker for his excellent defense in the outfield. James Augustus "Catfish" Hunter was not only the first million dollar man possessing a great (and completely fabricated) nickname, he is also the only one on this list Bob Dylan wrote a song about, high praise in my book. Finally as a Mets fan I needed to include Tom "The Franchise" Seaver, I know, I know, his nickname isn't on the plaque, but believe me it is embedded on every Mets fan's heart, and hey we need something to cheer about, "The Kid" went in as an Expo.
These are obviously just a few of the great nicknames presented in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown and not meant to be a comprehensive list. Sure there were a bunch of big ones I skipped ("The Wizard", "The Yankee Clipper", "Cap", "The Georgia Peach," etc.) but I had to end somewhere. Baseball Almanac has put together a full list here for some reference. Do you have a favorite HOF nickname? Feel free to let me know in the comments, and enjoy the World Series.