What happened to all the good sports nicknames? My favorite nicknames of my lifetime are Frank Thomas: “The Big Hurt,” coined by Ken Harrelson, and Deion Sanders, who gave himself the “Prime Time” moniker.
Is it me or did we just stop coming up with good ones since then?
Not to say it’s a completely lost art. There’s “Big Dick” Nick Foles. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are “The Splash Brothers,” a takeoff on the old A’s duo, “The Bash Brothers,” McGwire and Canseco.
But mostly we just got lazy and started using diminutives of players’ names, like A-Rod. A colleague suggests this trend started with David Robinson (who actually already had a good nickname, “Admiral”), as some referred to him as D-Rob. But really, it probably started in pop culture, with J.Lo. There’s no end to this type: I-Rod. K-Rod. T-Mac. K-Mart. D-Will. Enough already.
This type of problem is even worse in hockey, where locker rooms are rife with such unimaginative names like “Couts” (Sean Couturier) and “Stammer” (Steven Stamkos). Seth Jones, an imposing 6-foot-4 defenseman who skates like crazy and has a big shot, is the son of a former NBA player with a great nickname: “Popeye” Jones. Seth is called … “Jonesy.”
Maybe Chris Berman ruined nicknames. He came up with some legitimately good ones, like Bert “Be Home” Blyleven and Eric “Sleeping With” Bieniemy. But he had a lot of groaners, too, and ultimately, Berman became an overbearing, ubiquitous presence and you just wanted him to shut up and go away and stop with the dumb shtick.
Many nicknames are given by teammates or opposing players. Whitey Ford derisively called Pete Rose “Charlie Hustle” during an exhibition game, and it stuck. There were childhood nicknames that ended up being perfect sports names, like Chipper Jones, Muggsy Bogues or Tug McGraw. Bust mostly, the art of bestowing nicknames on athletes has always fallen on sportswriters. Think Grantland Rice and “The Four Horsemen” of Notre Dame. Rice is also often credited for calling Red Grange “The Galloping Ghost,” but Grange himself claimed it was given to him by another sportswriter, Warren Brown of Chicago. As a group, the media has largely failed at coming up with memorable ones over the past few decades.
In the old days, some larger-than-life stars had multiple nicknames. George Herman Ruth was most commonly called “Babe” but was also called “The Bambino” and “The Sultan of Swat.” Lou Gehrig was “The Iron Horse” and “Larrupin’ Lou.”
Ted Williams was “Teddy Ballgame” and “The Thumper.” But Williams’ most famous nickname was “The Splendid Splinter.” That follows one of the more popular structures for good nicknames: “The [adjective or birthplace][alliterative noun]”:
- The Commerce Comet (Mickey Mantle)
- The Fordham Flash (Frankie Frisch)
- The Galloping Ghost (Red Grange)
- The Nigerian Nightmare (Christian Okoye)
Joe Posnanski offered up some similar ones recently, including Mookie Betts as “The Nashville Nighthawk.” Not bad.
When Derek Jeter dove headfirst into the stands to make an incredible catch in the 2001 ALCS vs. the Oakland A’s, It was a wasted opportunity. He made an arguably more impressive, more dangerous play against the Red Sox on July 1, 2004. Someone should have labeled him “The Kalamazoo Kamikaze.”
Why wasn’t Barry Bonds called “The Brooding Bay Bomber”?
Here are some fun nicknames we came up with. We recommend using them immediately.
- Aaron Judge “The Linden Launcher”
- “Marvelous” Mitch Marner
- Johnny Gaudreau “Jersey Boy”
- P.K. “Suddenly” Subban
- “The Shohei Kid” Ohtani
- Travis Konecny “Motormouth”
- “Benny Two Points” Simmons
- Jose “Buzz” Altuve
- Rudy “The Infestation” Gobert