What’s in a name? Well, in the case of many baseball players, you might ask, what’s in a nickname? Nicknames have been a part of baseball’s history since its early days. Long before there was a designated hitter or a Wild Card, there were nicknames. Remember the great Boston Red Sox left fielder Ted “The Splendid Splinter” Williams? Or Yankees center fielder “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio? Simon and Garfunkel even memorialized Joe’s nickname in their hit song “Mrs. Robinson” made famous by the classic movie, “The Graduate.”
There are even those nicknames that have actually replaced a ball player’s real name completely. How many know that “Sparky” Anderson’s real first name is George? (Be honest.) And ditto for that Lawrence “Yogi” Berra.
Since a good nickname is one that stands the test of time, for this list we’ll go back in time for some of the oldies but goodies. Get out your scorecards as we count down my top 10 best old-time baseball nicknames.
10. Stan “Stan the Man” Musial
As a 24-time All-Star, a 3 time World Series Champion, a 7 time NL batting title champion and a 3 time NL MVP, this nickname certainly fit the St. Louis Cardinals outfielder. It was reportedly started by sportswriters who ran out of superlatives to describe his many accomplishments.
9. Leroy “Satchel” Paige
Paige was a right-handed pitcher known largely for his success pitching in the Negro Leagues. His nickname came from a childhood job he had carrying suitcases or “satchels” at the train station. At 42, he became the oldest rookie to play in the the majors and in 1971 he was the first player from the Negro Leagues to be elected into the Hall of Fame.
8. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson
No list of nicknames could be complete without “Shoeless” Joe. According to legend he played one minor league game in his stocking feet because the new spikes he had worn the day before had given him blisters. It only took that one game to give him a nickname that stands to this day.
7. Leo “Leo the Lip” Durocher
Although a player and a manager, Durocher’s nickname comes from his managing days. In fact none other than Babe Ruth summed up Durocher’s unspectacular days as a New York Yankees infielder with the lesser-known nickname, “The All-American Out.” As a manager, however, Durocher was not so easy to forget. He was considered outrageous and outspoken and still ranks fourth on the all-time list of umpire ejections with 95. It was these many altercations that earned Durocher the “Leo the Lip” label.
6. Jim “Catfish” Hunter
Charles Finley, flamboyant owner of the Kansas City A’s gave Hunter the name “Catfish” simply because he thought his new right-handed pitcher needed a flashy nickname. The 8 time All-Star, 5 time World Series Champion and Cy Young Award winner more than lived up to his nickname. In 1987, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Flashy? I would say so!
5. “Hammerin'” Hank Aaron
There are 755 reasons for this nickname. Count ’em. That’s the number of home runs that Hank Aaron, also nicknamed “the Hammer,” hit during his Hall of Fame Career in which he famously broke Babe Ruth’s long-held home run record.
4. Lenny “Nails” Dykstra
OK, this isn’t the oldest name in the book but I couldn’t resist following “Hammer” with “Nails.” Can you blame me? Dykstra was the center fielder for the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies. Nicknamed for his “tough as nails” personality and fearless play, Dykstra was a 3 time All-Star and World Series Champion. Unfortunately in recent years he has made more headlines for his bizarre behavior off the field.
3. Willie “The Say Hey Kid” Mays
The story behind Mays’ nickname is that when he first entered the league he had trouble remembering other player’s names so in an interview Willie once said, “You see a guy, you say, ‘Hey man, say Hey man.'” Hall of Famer, Mays, a center fielder, was often considered the best all-around player of his time. It’s safe to say that no one will be forgetting his name any time soon.
2. Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean
Like many nicknames, this one’s origin is up for debate. Some say it’s because Dean made batters dizzy at the plate, which might explain how he was the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season, but the most accepted story is that he got the name while in the army. A young Dean was found by his sergeant throwing peeled potatoes at garbage can lids. Perhaps he was practicing his curve ball but the sergeant, unhappy with such behavior, yelled, “You dizzy, son-of-a- (well let’s just say it wasn’t gun.) By the way, Dean’s brother Paul was also a major league pitcher. His nickname? “Daffy.”
1. George Herman “The Babe,” “The Sultan of Swat,” “The Bambino,” “The Colossus of Clout,” Ruth
Who but Babe Ruth, ranked by the Sporting News as number one on their list of “Baseball’s 100 Greatest Players,” could top our list with not one, not two, but four nicknames. Actually, we could devote a whole list to just Ruth’s nicknames but that’s a column for another day. He was dubbed “Babe” by his teammates on the Baltimore Orioles, his first professional team, because of his youth. Most of the others are self-explanatory but the “Bambino” was given to him by his Italian fans who lived in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood near the Polo Grounds, the site of many of “The Babes” “Colossal Clouts.”
As with any list, there are many, many more names than time (and word count) would allow. Stay tuned for a future list featuring some of baseball’s more modern monikers!