Monday, May 22, 2006

The Best Nicknames In Sports

It never fails. It always happens. I think that I have come up with a neat new sports list for this blog, I brainstorm and do a large amount of groundwork, and then inevitably find out that ESPN has already beaten me to it when I eventually do a Google search. This time around, I decided I wanted to do a list of the Best Sports Nicknames for each of the four major North American sports. Sure as a McEnroe temper tantrum, ESPN has already done it. Hell, even Wikipedia has a list of athlete nicknames, though they don't rank them. So I had to decide: what was I going to do with a mostly completed list of 50-100 names?

Well, I decided to do what any hack without a hint of originality would do, and press on. Below are lists of the Best Nicknames in the major sports, as decided upon by a jury of me, myself and I. My criterion for determining the ranking of these names is as follows:

• Which names are the most enduring?
• Which names are the most hilarious?
• Which names, ultimately, are the most badass and cool?

In making up these lists, several things have come to my attention. The first is that baseball and basketball clearly have the best nicknames in sports. When I originally thought of the idea, I assumed in my mind that baseball would be the clear winner. But when I started putting pen to paper, I realized that basketball was holding it's own. Whereas baseball has a storied history of giving nicknames to its athletes--it appears to have come with the uniform until about 1965--basketball has a recent and vibrant history in doing so. As African American culture and the NBA became synonymous, and players like Darryl Dawkins, Julius Erving and Walt Frazier set the trends, heavily stylized and poetic NBA nicknames became the norm. I'm not Cornell West, so don't quote me on any of this shit, but that is how it appears to me. Sure, nicknames existed in the game before then, but if the past 30-35 years tell us anything, it is that NBA athletes treat the creation and promotion of nicknames as a veritable art form.

What is interesting about baseball is how completely many of the players take on their nicknames. That is to say, oftentimes aplayer's given name will be completely replaced by their nickname. Did you even know that "Cy" is not Cy Young's real name? Or that Satchel Paige's given name is Leroy? Or that Mr. and Mrs. Reese did not actually name their son "Pee Wee"? From Cool Papa Bell to Shoeless Joe Jackson, baseball players have been given nicknames that become the focal point of their identity. It happens in other sports, but not with the regularity in which it has happened in baseball.

Hockey and football certainly have great nicknames, but for the most part they don't compare with baseball and basketball. A large number of the great nicknames in hockey come from members of the Montreal Canadiens, which is not surprising given their dominance of the game and the splendor of the French language. Historically, I think football has the worst nicknames of all. It was not until the arrival of Chris Berman that football finally saw a renaissance in nickname giving. The vast majority of Boomer's names do not make my lists, as I have already done a post on his wondrous work. His nicknames often do not stick, either. They are used by him and by fans, but you won't usually see them in print or on things like posters.

This leads to my final point, which is that other than in the NBA, and from the mouth of Chris Berman, no one else seems interested in applying quality nicknames to players anymore. I don't know why this is, only that it is. Hockey is the worst violator on this front. As Avi regularly points out, most hockey nicknames now entail the simple addition of the "y" or "er" to the end of the last name. Ryan Smyth becomes, "Smytty". Ales Hemsky becomes, "Hemmer". Or even worse, the last name is simply abbreviated, as in Chris Pronger becoming, "Prongs". It is a sad state of affairs really, and one that should be remedied.

Always willing to do its part, SportsMatters team created a "Sports Nickname & Loquaciousness Hall of Fame" intended to recognize the great contributions that athletes, journalists and others in the world of sports have made in the fields of poetry, verbosity, as well as nickname usage and application. Read to the end of this post to see the names of the first six inductees. A player and a builder category exist. The SNNLHOF will eventually grow to include other sports and other categories, but the SNNLHOF Board felt that it would be best to start now with a small sample. Only one player not from the four major sports is being inducted today. When you see who it is, you will know why. It is our hope that this recognition will not only be of benefit to those athletes who have laid the groundwork, but will encourage young and upcoming athletes to pursue extreme elocution and nickname glory. A donation of fifty thousand thesauruses will be made to amateur sports leagues across North America in honour of the inductees.

Honourable Mention: The Big Fundamental (Tim Duncan), Pistol Pete (Pete Maravich), His Airness (Michael Jordan), The Glide (Clyde Drexler), Black Mamba (Kobe Bryant), The Dream (Hakeem Olajuwon), Big Nasty (Corliss Williamson), The Dunkin' Dutchman (Rik Smits), The Pearl (Earl Monroe), The Big O (Oscar Robertson), The Houdini of the Hardwood (Bob Cousy), The Cooz (Bob Cousy),The Kandi Man (Michael Olowokandi), The Reignman (Shawn Kemp), The Spider (John Salley), The Truth (Paul Pierce), The X-Man (Xavier Xavier McDaniel), Zeke from Cabin Creek (Jerry West)

10. The Grand Teuton (Detlef Schrempf)
9. The Glove (Gary Payton)
8. The Mailman (Karl Malone)
7. The Iceman (George Gervin)
6. The Human Highlight Reel (Dominique Wilkins)
5. Grandma-ma (Larry Johnson)
4. Chocolate Thunder (Darryl Dawkins)
3. The Round Mound of Rebound (Charles Barkley)
2. The Basketball Jesus (Larry Bird)
1. The Big Aristotle (Shaquille O'Neal)

Honourable Mention: Too Tall (Ed Jones), Dandy Don (Don Meredith), Ickey (Elbert Woods), Night Train (Dick Lane), Slash (Kordell Stewart), Swervin (Mervin Fernandez), Joey Heisman (Joe Harrington), The Freak (Jevon Kearse), The Molester (Lester Hayes), Deacon (David Jones)

10. Prime Time (Deion Sanders)
9. The Pinball (Michael Clemons)
8. Broadway Joe (Joe Namath)
7. The Juice (Orenthal James Simpson)
6. The Nigerian Nightmare (Christian Okoye)
5. The Galloping Ghost (Red Grange)
4. He Hate Me (Rod Smart)
3. The Minister of Defence (Reggie White)
2. The Fridge (William Perry)
1. Sweetness (Walter Payton)

Honourable Mention: Hendu (Dave Henderson), The Yankee Clipper (Joe DiMaggio), The Wizard of Oz (Ozzie Smith), The Big Hurt (Frank Thomas), Spaceman (Bill Lee), Flash (Tom Gordon), Big Papi (David Ortiz), The Cobra (Dave Parker), Godzilla (Hideki Matsui), El Guapo (Rich Garces), Swede (Charles Risberg), The Thrill (Will Clark), Joltin' Joe (Joe DiMaggio), Pee Wee (Harold Reese), Satchel (Leroy Paige), Doc (Dwight Gooden), Babe (George Herman Ruth)

10. Charlie Hustle (Pete Rose)
9. The Georgia Peach (Ty Cobb)
8. Cyclone/Cy (Denton True Young)
7. The Say Hey Kid (Willie Mays)
6. Three Fingers (Mordechai Brown)
5. The Human Rain Delay (Mike Hargrove)
4. The Splendid Splinter (Ted Williams)
3. The Sultan of Swat (Babe Ruth)
2. Shoeless (Joe Jackson)
1. Cool Papa (James Bell)

Honourable Mention: The Flower (Guy Lafleur), The Mask (Jim Carrey), The Roadrunner (Yvon Cournoyer), The Silver Fox, Ronnie Franchise (Ron Francis), Coco (Grant Fuhr), Le Gros Bill (Jean Beliveau), Mr. Hockey (Gordie Howe) The Hammer (Dave Schultz), The Tiger (Dave Williams), CuJo (Curtis Joseph), The Grim Reaper (Stu Grimson), Le Magnifique (Mario Lemieux), Big Bird (Larry Robinson), The Stratford Streak (Howie Morenz), The Cowboy (Bill Flett) The Mitchell Meteor (Howie Morenz), The Professor (Igor Larionov), The Red Light (Andre Racicot)

10. The Chicoutimi Cucumber (Georges Vezina)
9. Boom Boom (Bernie Geoffrion)
8. Knuckles (Chris Nilan)
7. The Rat (Ken Linseman)
6. The Bulin Wall (Nikolai Khabibulin)
5. The Little Ball of Hate (Pat Verbeek)
4. The Rocket (Maurice Richard)
3. The Golden Jet (Bobby Hull)
2. Pocket Rocket (Henri Richard)
1. The Magic Man (Kent Nilsson)

Unit Names
Honourable Mention: The Legion of Doom (Philadelphia Flyers), The Monsters of the Midway (Chicago Bears), The Electric Company (Buffalo Bills)

10. The Kraut Line (Boston Bruins)
9. The Dirty Birds (Atlanta Falcons)
8. The Broadstreet Bullies (Philadelphia Flyers)
7. The Steel Curtain (Pittsburgh Steelers)
6. The French Connection (Buffalo Sabres)
5. Run TMC (Golden State Warriors)
4. The Four Horseman (Notre Dame Fight Irish)
3. The Triple Crown Line (Los Angeles Kings)
2. Phi Slamma Jamma (University of Houston)
1. Purple People Eaters (Minnesota Vikings)

Sports Nickname & Loquaciousness Hall of Fame:

Athlete: George Herman Ruth
Nickname: Babe, The Great Bambino, The Sultan of Swat, The Colossus of Clout, The Wali of Wallop, The Wazir of Wham, The Maharajah of Mash, The Rajah of Rap, The Caliph of Clout, The Behemoth of Bust, Blunderbuss, The Mammoth of Maul, The Mauling Mastodon, The Mauling Monarch, The Prince of Powders, and The Great and Powerful Babe Ruth.
Contribution: Holder of the greatest nicknames in sports. Also the athlete by which all others are compared ("The Babe Ruth of...").

Athlete: Muhammad Ali
Nickname: The Greatest
Contribution: The Poet Laureate of the Sporting World.

Athlete/Builder: Darryl Dawkins
Nickname: Chocolate Thunder
Contribution: The Innovator. Took nicknames and verbiage to a whole new level. Named his slam dunks, and claimed to be an alien from the planet Lovetron.

Athlete: Shaquille O'Neal
Nickname(s): Big Aristotle, Shaq-Fu, Diesel, Superman, Doctor Shaq
Contribution: The Philosopher. Other than Ali, the most quotable athlete in the history of sports.

Athlete: Ted Williams
Nickname: The Splendid Splinter, The Kid, Teddy Ballgame, Thumper
Contribution: Multitude of nicknames, denoting playing excellence.

Builder: Chris Berman
Nickname: Boomer
Contribution: The Emperor. Has built a career out of creating and delivering phrases and nicknames.


At 12:16 PM, Blogger sacamano said...

Nice work, I'm going to have to come back later to really read this thing over; but I just wanted to point out that Paul Pierce was not the first "Truth" in hoops.

That honour goes to Walter "Truth" Berry -- although he never played in the NBA.

At 1:15 PM, Blogger huizinga said...

no bob "death to flying things" ferguson?

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

I've got to nominate an old favourite: Lloyd "Little Poison" Waner.

His older brother was "Big Poison," which isn't nearly as interesting.

At 1:25 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

Hmm. I botched the Little Poison link. It's:

At 1:41 PM, Blogger Alex said...

I always liked "The Microwave" Vinnie Johnson.

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Alex said...

In the unit category, you can't overlook The Hogs, or The Nasty Boys.

Can I also suggest a fan category be created, with The Dawg Pound being the first inductees?

At 2:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No Henry "Gizmo" Williams ?

C'mon now.

At 4:12 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Dammit. Gizmo is a gooder.

At 11:49 AM, Blogger Coltrane Jenkins said...

What about Vinnie "the Microwave" Johnson?

At 12:56 PM, Blogger illest said...

You are wrong sacamano. Walter Berry did play in the NBA. He played for the Spurs and Rockets

At 12:59 PM, Blogger illest said...

Berry also played for the Nets and TrailBlazers.

Another nickname was Downtown Freddie Brown which is the reason the 3 point shot is from downtown. Brent Musberger used to say Freddie Brown......downtown.

Dont forget Toni "The Waiter" Kukoc because of the way he used to set people up.


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