The competition to determine, once and for all, the Official 2009 Cardinals Players’ Nicknames (all nicknames are unofficial, offer void in Tennessee).
Nicknames are a hallmark of baseball, possibly as old as the game itself. A good nickname for a player is like a poem: it fits seamlessly with their given name and tells a whole story about them in one or two words.
Yes, the nickname in baseball is as natural as the chocolate chips in a cookie. And the Cardinals are a team steeped in good nicknames as they are in all traditions of baseball. Reminisce with me about the halcyon days when the field was patrolled by men like:
“Sunny” Jim Bottomley
Lou “The Franchise” Brock
“The Baby Bull”, Orlando “Cha Cha” Cepeda
Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean
Leo “The Lip” Durocher
Frankie “The Fordham Flash” Frisch
Bob “Hoot” Gibson
Marty “Slats” Marion
Joe “Ducky” Medwick
Johnny “Big Cat” Mize
Stan “The Man” Musial
Ken “Zamboni” Reitz
Enos “Country” Slaughter
Lonnie “Skates” Smith
Ozzie “The Wizard” Smith
And remember, too, some of the great nicknames throughout all of baseball:
“Hammerin’” Hank Aaron
Richie “Putt-Putt” Ashburn
James “Cool Papa” Bell
Johnny “Little General” Bench
Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown
Charlie “The Old Roman” Comiskey
Bob “The Heater from Van Meter” Feller
Lou “The Iron Horse” Gehrig (or one I would love to know the story behind: “Biscuit Pants”)
Walter “The Big Train” Johnson
Greg “Mad Dog” Maddux
Christy “Big Six” Mathewson
Willie “The Say Hey Kid” Mays
Willie “Stretch” McCovey
“The Sultan of Swat”, George Herman “Babe” Ruth
Duke “The Silver Fox” Snider
Ted “The Splendid Splinter” Williams
Ah. Smell the pine tar and chewing tobacco.
Now, I would posit that the art of nicknames leaves something to be desired in the modern day. Sure, there are a handful of good nicknames on the field right now,
Sean “The Mayor” Casey
Jeff “Frenchie” Francoeur
Travis “Pronk” Hafner
Roy “Doc” Halladay
Dan “Caveman” Haren
Frank “Big Hurt” Thomas (not technically employed right now, but not officially retired)
Shane “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” Victorino
(All nicknames per Wikipedia)
but mostly, modern major league nicknames are not-so-clever tricks with the player’s name: like “A-Rod”, “Man-Ram”, “Smoltzy”. You can see what I mean here.
A good nickname requires a few things:
First, the nickname should not be based on the player’s real name. It may be something that rhymes with part of a player’s name, but it shouldn’t just be their name with different parsing (A-Rod) or their name with a suffix (Smoltzy).
Second, the nickname should actually have something to do with the player himself, not just a cute addition that makes his name sound funny (I’m looking at you, Chris Berman). For example, Hafner is called “Pronk” because his former teammate, Bill Selby, combined what were Hafner’s two nicknames, both about his abilities on the field: “The Project” and “Donkey” (Wiki link). As a different case, take Roy Halladay. “Doc” was appended to him because it combines with his last name to sound like the Old West gunslinger and boozer Doc Holliday. “Now,” you might say, “That’s just a cute addition, something you were deriding earlier.” Ah, but “Doc” also connotes Halladay’s senior position on the pitching staff, that he’s the best, the most experienced, and the most repected pitcher his team’s got. So, to me “Doc” is a good nickname.
Third, the nickname has to be at least marginally original. Could Albert Pujols be called “The Splendid Splinter”? His talent level would certainly qualify. But the unoriginality of the nickname would doom it to failure. Countless Red Sox fans would cry out “Wuddah you, retahded? Pujols is no Teddy Ballgame!” And God knows the last thing we want to do is piss off New England fans in their era of sports dominance. <sarcasm>
What about Pujols’ most common nicknames currently? “The Mang” is a co-opt (some might argue an ethnically insensitive one) of Stan Musial’s nickname. And it sounds too much like “The Man”. So for me, it doesn’t make the cut. “The Machine” seems pretty fitting given Albert’s consistently great play year to year, but I wouldn’t have even known people called him that if it weren’t for Wikipedia. The fact that it hasn’t caught on (to me at least, let me know if you disagree) means it’s off my list. How about “El Hombre”? This one seems pretty golden to me. One could argue that it too is a co-opt of Musial’s nickname, and in a sense it is. But in this case, borrowing seems to work. “El Hombre” is different enough from “The Man” that you wouldn’t confuse the two. Further, it implies something about Pujols: that alongside Musial, he’s arguably the best position player the Cardinals have ever had. That the nickname is Spanish pays tribute to his Dominican roots. And “El Hombre” ties Pujols in to Cardinal history: what an honor to share a nickname with Stan Musial, even if they’re in different languages. To me, “El Hombre” is the winner.
But that’s not only for me to decide, which brings me to the reason for this Fanpost (long story short….too late).
I put it to you, the most knowledgeable gathering of Cardinals fans (who also have internet access), to create, nay, discover great nicknames for the 2009 Cardinals.
Some ground rules for the ensuing discussion:
1.) The nickname should not be just a play on the player’s real name, e.g. Ryan “Thudwick” Ludwick. Think Old School nicknames. (We can debate whether “Wagonmaker” or “Cobbler” should be acceptable for Wainwright and Skip.)
2.) The nickname must be about the player himself, not just a cute appellation, e.g. Winnie the Pujols (God, I hate Berman).
3.) And finally, the name must be original enough so that no other well known player in the history of baseball would share it (we can argue the particulars of “well known” should an issue arise).
An example of a Cardinal player with what these rules would consider a perfect nickname is Todd “The Colonel” Wellemeyer. It meets all the criteria and it’s pretty cool to think “Alright, the Colonel’s pitching today.” Another example: Jason “’Stache” LaRue.
And now, what players to include…. Since the 25 man roster has not yet been finalized, I’ll include any players who have a realistic chance of heading north. Let me know if you disagree with this list and I can make changes.
(sorry the list is so freaking long....couldn't figure out a multi-column format)
Some of these players already have well known nicknames that would qualify under the established nickname rules (Brad “Puppy Kicker” Thompson, Todd “The Colonel” Wellemeyer). But I didn’t want to include any established nicknames since that’s not for me to decide. If the VEB community comes to a consensus that WonderBrad (there’s another one) should officially be known as “Puppy Kicker”, then all the better.
I don’t expect to get a good nickname for every one of these players. I mean, what the hell could we call Trever Miller anyway? But it would be cool to get a solidified good nickname for the most beloved players: Pujols, Wainwright, Carpenter, Molina, etc..
I think the best way to do this is for people to shout out their suggestions in the comments and see which ones get the most applause. If one player has two nickname suggestions that the community cannot decide on, I could submit a subsequent Fanpost where that player’s nicknames are put to a poll. We’ll see if it gets that far. When the nicknames seem decided (or whenever people lose interest), I’ll post again with the results. And I expect everyone to memorize them and use them profusely during the season.
So what do you say, VEB? Who’s the next player to have a nickname as awesome as Cool Papa Bell?