Friday, May 13, 2011

Nicknames a Thing of the Past?

George Herman Ruth had a lot of nicknames: Babe,
Sultan of Swat and the King of Clout.
The New York Times had a story today about the dearth of colorful nicknames in sports. They have a point. Sure there are still a few nicknames, but they seem to lack the panache of the past. I agree that A-Rod isn't really a nickname: It's just shorthand.

I can recall a lot of players whose nicknames were so entrenched that hearing their real first names was a surprise. There was Catfish Hunter, Goose Gossage, Whitey Ford, Pie Traynor, Red Schoendinst, Lefty Gomez, Dizzy Dean, Yogi Berra, and the greatest of all, Babe Ruth.

Sure announcers would mention the real names from time to time, but it was almost like they were divulging a secret.

Others had nicknames that were descriptive of some personal attribute or that were evocative of their play. Ted Williams was "The Splendid Splinter," Henry Aaron was "Hammerin' Hank" (although he preferred Henry to Hank), Willie Mays, of course, was the "Say Hey Kid." Later there was "The Kid" (Robin Yount who hit the big leagues at 18), "The Ryan Express" (Nolan Ryan), and "Donnie Baseball" (Don Mattingly).

The lack of nicknames today speaks to the way sports has involved into a business that rakes in billions of dollars. The games, as The Times notes, have become more corporate. That leads to separation from the fans. And less color in the game. And the article notes that nicknames are less prevalent in general society than in the past.

I ran my eye down the Milwaukee Brewers roster and no nicknames came to mind. No "Yankee Clipper (Joe DiMaggio) or "Fordham Flash" (Frankie Frisch) among them.

"The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book" is a wonderful book that I wore out as a kid that introduced me to great nicknames like "Suitcase" Simpson.

ESPN's Chris Berman, who must have grown up soaking in all the nicknames, is known for his word play involving players' names. They can't exactly be called nicknames, but at least he has a little bit of fun.

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