Randy Johnson: A First-Ballot Nickname Hall-of-Famer

↵Randy Johnson has announced he is retiring from the game of baseball. With the Hall of Fame on everybody's mind today, there is no debate that Johnson will be a first-ballot selection into Cooperstown. In fact, the news of his retirement on the day before the Hall of Fame selections will likely overshadow the accomplishments of those selected for induction today. The fact of the matter is, Randy Johnson could get voted into Cooperstown right now with more votes than anyone on this year's ballot ... combined (note: I know that a player needs 75% of the votes to get in, and hence there's no way Johnson could possible get more than, say, the top two vote-getters on this year's ballot. It was more to illustrate the point that Johnson is one of the best pitchers of all-time.) ↵

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↵Where were we? Ah, yes ... Randy Johnson is one of the best pitchers of all-time. But what's more fun for bloggy types is, well, the chortle every time we get to type the phrase, "The Big Unit." It's a first-ballot Hall of Fame nickname if there ever was one. Never really wanting to know how the nickname came to be, I covered my eyes – like that time when I was a kid and my parents took me to see Ghostbusters in the movie theatre (I was easily frightened as a youngster) – looking through my fingers to read (via Wikipedia, of course): ↵

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↵⇥During batting practice in 1988, the 6'10" Johnson, then with the Montreal Expos, collided head-first with outfielder Tim Raines, prompting his teammate to exclaim, "You're a big unit!". The nickname stuck. ↵
↵That was oddly disappointing, in a way. But just looking at Johnson's lanky 6'10" frame with an oft-mulleted head and the guy really does fit the nickname – The Big Unit. We thought it'd be fun to compare the name to some other Hall of Fame nicknames, and that is to say, nicknames of current members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Here's a completely incomplete list of some of the great nicknames in baseball history. ↵

↵There's your requisite Lefty's (Grove, Gomez, Carlton). Your Whitey's (Ashburn, Herzog, Ford) and your Red's (Faber, Ruffing). You have your Dizzy (Dean) and your Dazzy (Vance). Your Home Run (Baker) and Hack (Wilson). There are a few Goose's (Gossage, Goslin) and Rube's (Foster, Marquard, Waddell). There's even a Pee Wee (Reese) and a Wee Willie (Keeler). But here are the select few first-ballot nicknames. ↵

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↵Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown
↵As a boy, Brown had an accident with some farm equipment, slipping and getting his hand caught in a feed chopper, mangling his right hand. While the hand was still healing, Brown fell again, breaking several finger bones that were not re-set and never healed properly. And yes, this was the Hall of Famer's throwing hand. According to his bio, friends called him "Brownie" or "Mort" and he wasn't known as "Three-Finger" until the headline writers got a hold of him. ↵

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↵Reggie Jackson – "Mr. October"
↵There's probably no better on-the-field nickname for a player than this. Careers are made in the regular season, but Championships are won in October. (Well, November now.) ↵

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↵ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵ ↵
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↵Branch Rickey – The Mahatma
↵Rickey is one of the most influential names in the history of the game, helping break down the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson as well as drafting the first breakout Hispanic star in Roberto Clemente. Rickey created the framework for the modern-day minor league system and introduced the batting helmet to the sport. ↵

↵His benevolence and forward-thinking earned him a nickname of reverence: The Mahatma. And he didn't even have to fast. ↵

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↵George Herman "Babe" Ruth – "The Sultan of Swat"
↵Ruth was so good he'd get in the Nickname Hall of Fame on the first ballot with two nicknames. Heck, even the Bambino might be a first-ballot selection. Per Wiki: ↵

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↵⇥After watching Ruth pitch in a workout for half an hour, (Baltimore Orioles owner and manager Jack) Dunn signed Ruth to a contract. He signed a contract for $250 a month on February 14, 1914. Since Ruth was only 19 years old, Dunn had to become Ruth's legal guardian as well; at that time, the age of majority was 25. When the other players on the Orioles caught sight of Ruth, they nicknamed him "Jack's newest babe." The reference stayed with Ruth the rest of his life, and he was most commonly referred to as Babe Ruth from then on. ↵
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↵Ted Williams – "The Splendid Splinter"
↵Teddy Ballgame is a fine nickname too, but I miss the word "splendid" from American vernacular. Let's try to bring this back to prevalence. Okay? Splendid. ↵

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↵Willie Mays – The "Say Hey Kid"
↵The nickname 'Say Hey Kid' just reminds baseball fans of a simpler time in the sport's history where we didn't have worry about PEDs or big-market vs. small market baseball. (There was just, you know, greenies and overt racism. Ahh, the simpler times.) Per Wiki: ↵

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↵⇥It is not clear how Mays became known as the "Say Hey Kid". One story is that in 1951, Barney Kremenko, a New York Journal writer, having overheard Mays blurt "'Say who,' 'Say what,' 'Say where,' 'Say hey,'" proceeded to refer to Mays as the 'Say Hey Kid'. ↵⇥

↵⇥The other story is that Jimmy Cannon created the nickname because, when Mays arrived in the majors, he did not know everyone's name. "You see a guy, you say, 'Hey, man. Say hey, man,'" Mays said. ↵⇥

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↵ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵⇥ ↵ ↵
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↵James Augustus "Catfish" Hunter
↵Catfish was a nickname given to Hunter by A's owner Charles O. Finley and is one of several animal nicknames in the Hall. He's also one of a set of players whose first names most people don't even know (see Gossage, Goose above). Perhaps Negro Leaguer Turkey Stearnes (born Norman Thomas Stearnes), deserved first-ballot consideration as well, but for animal nicknames, you can't top a Catfish. ↵

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↵Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra
↵The world is a better place because Yogi Berra is in it. He is the quintessential baseball character. His nickname came from a friend thinking he looked like a Hindu holy man, called a yogi, whenever he sat with his arms and legs crossed waiting to bat. And it stuck. Then a cartoon bear came along and kinda ruined the name ... or made it better, depending on how much you enjoy trying to steal pick-a-nick baskets. ↵

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↵Lou Gehrig – "The Iron Horse" "Biscuit Pants"
↵Okay, look. The Iron Horse is a great nickname, especially considering Gehrig's run of consecutive games. But Biscuit Pants? Just amazing. ↵

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↵⇥Gehrig had a number of nicknames bestowed on him, for better or worse, since childhood. Weird, accurate, silly, offensive. In roughly chronological order, here is a list of the post-given-name additions: (Skipping ahead) "Biscuit Pants" - by players because of his baggy pants over thick legs and a "broad back porch." ↵
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↵Charles Gardner "Old Hoss" Radbourn
↵Let's be honest, Old Hoss made the list because he's the only member of the Hall of Fame to have an active Twitter feed. ↵

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↵Honrable Mention
↵Charlie Hustle. Shoeless Joe Jackson. ↵

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↵There are certainly some we missed. Feel free to add to the list. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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