Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nicknames Nixed

What's missing from modern baseball?

Fun nicknames, for one.

Quick, who in baseball has a cool nickname?

Who has any nickname?

I remember reading that Derek Jeter would call Melky Cabrera "Leche" and Robinson Cano "Canoe." Joe Girardi calls Brett Gardner "Gardy."
Going back a few decades, there was "Stormin'" Gorman Thomas and Jeffrey "Penitentiary Face" Leonard.

Where's Alligator Arms? Where's Beer Truck? Where's Scuzz Bucket?

Not in the MLB, I'm afraid.

I'm nearly done with the Babe Ruth bio The Big Bam, by Leigh Montville, and it's a fun read. (Personal note: The Babe is laid to rest about a mile from my house. It is my town's only claim to fame.)

Boy, did the guys back then have colorful nicknames, whether it was Muddy Ruel or Hub “Shucks” Pruitt or Grover Cleveland Alexander "the Great" or Ping Bodie.

Even the non-nicknames were colorful: the commish was Kenesaw Mountain Landis. A pitcher on the Ruth-era Yankees was Urban Shocker. Urban Shocker! It sounds like a new kind of stun gun, or the best prank you ever played on your roommate.

The Babe himself had a million nicknames, including, of course, The Babe. (The Babe was born George Herman Ruth and picked up The Babe as a baby-faced young player.)

Yet "The Babe" was not used by his inner circle, writes Montville. "That was the outside world’s name for him. This was the inside. This was the core of the fun."

His teammates called Ruth "Jidge," which was slang for George. Or Bam. Or Big Bam. Or The Big Fellow. (Maybe today's players also keep the best nicknames within the clubhouse. But I doubt it.)

The sportswriters had some fun names for The Babe too. (For the record, the writers -- Grantland Rice, Bozeman Bulger -- were no slouches in the name department.) The Caliph of Clout. The Sultan of Swat, the Colossus of Clout. The Bambino, of course, which came from sportswriter Damon Runyon. The Rajah of Rap. The Behemoth of Bangs.

Alliteration was big when cities had a dozen newspapers duking it out.

Even Ruth got into the name game himself. "I have been a Babe and a Boob," he said after a disappointing 1925 season that saw The Babe take his eye off the ball, both literally and metaphorically. "And I am through – through with the pests and the good time guys. Between then a few crooks I have thrown away over a quarter million dollars."

The Babe even had nicknames for his bats. There were Black Betsy, Big Bertha and Beautiful Bella in his record-setting '27 season. Betsy was responsible for home run #59, while Bertha swatted #60.

After that winning season, the Babe embarked on his usual barnstorming baseball tour of the country. (Honestly, he rode trains and played baseball all year-round.) Babe skippered one squad while teammate and fellow slugger Lou Gehrig captained the other. Gehrig was born Ludwig Heinrich Gehrig and the tabloids thought he needed a cool nickname, so one dubbed him "Buster." It didn't stick, but the players had a moniker for Gehrig: "Columbia Lou", due to his Ivy League education.)
The baseball tour featured "the Batterin' Babes" against "the Larrupin' Lous."

There's simply not enough larrupin' going on in today's game.

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