The New York Times recently featured an article about the death of good sports nicknames. It wasn’t all a curmudgeonly things-were-better-in-the-old-days rant, either -- there were good points. Take the first letter or syllable of a first name, then take the first syllable of a last name, slap them together, and you can stop thinking. A-Rod. F-Rod. CarGo. If this trend were around back in the olden times, instead of Yogi we would have L-Bear. Luckily, they were far more creative back then.
Even worse, the instant feedback loop of the internet has ruined attempts for nicknames to stick organically. If someone were to point out that Ubaldo Jimenez doesn’t have a nickname in an internet forum, someone would suggest something stupid like "Big U," another person would type "FASTBALDO" in all caps, and they’d start getting into it, ruining the discussion for everyone else.
But the nickname isn’t totally dead. Baseball-Reference.com lists all of the nicknames for a player if he has one, and there are more than a few that aren’t that well-known. Here are six, grouped into two categories:
Nicknames That Should Become More Popular
"The Bison" - Matt Kemp
Not bad. There’s nothing in his name or physical profile that suggests it where it came from. I didn’t Google its origins because that would ruin the mystery. He’s the Bison -- a man with a rich history and an uncertain future. There aren’t many like him left in this world. Strong. Mysterious. Proud. And if he were to ever play for the Indians, they’d be able to find all sorts of different uses for that nickname.
"Hollywood" - Cole Hamels
He does seem like a guy who puts toothpicks between his toes to even out a tan -- just a little hipper than the next cat in the clubhouse. This might be a better name for Barry Zito, who really is the type to pop up on TMZ with an actress who has a pilot on the WB, but it fits for Hamels as well.
The downside is that Hamels was totally wooden in his biggest commercial appearance -- the one where the old guy in shorts comes out to the mound like he’s a pitching coach. Hamels’s delivery of "Who are you?" just didn’t sing, dammit. It was acting that should lead to a nickname like San Fernando Valley Hamels.
"Fat Ichiro" - Pablo Sandoval
Somehow, it got from here all the way to Baseball Reference, which suggests a nickname that has staying power. Alas, Sandoval had the temerity to go and lose weight in the offseason, so the nickname isn’t as funny anymore. But it was perfect while it lasted -- a winking acknowledgment to a player who was a little on the fluffy side, but had a preternatural ability to make all sorts of hard contact on pitches all over the strike zone.
Nicknames That Should Probably Go Away, Soon
"Wizard of Os" - Roy Oswalt
There was a guy named Ozzie Smith, and he took the nickname. There is to be no further discussion. And if you want to write a story about a Danish prince, you’re also going to have to think of a better name than "Hamlet." Please keep the "Wizard of Hos" nickname away from Eric Hosmer. The U.N. needs to step in if needed.
Also, no more "Freak"s, and the next football player with the initials "L.T." is going to have to figure something else out.
A couple of years ago I had 60 at-bats and I was hitting .170 and everybody was ready to kill me, too. What happened? Laser show.
It’s a pretty funny quote, but I’m not sure if it’s nickname-worthy. Ichiro had a legendary quote too, but his nickname isn’t "Two Rats In a Wool Sock" Suzuki.
Actually that would be pretty cool. Very "Goodfellas." So maybe Laser Show should stick. At least, you think so, and then you imagine someone with an exaggerated Boston accent saying, "Just wait until (expletive) Lasah Show comes up with people on base. Yankees won’t know what hit ‘em." Stereotypes are good for something.
There has to be a better nickname. This is just lazy. This is like calling a Polish guy "The Sausage," a Belgian guy "The Waffle," or a French guy "Rude French Guy in a Beret." Plus, Alexei has an "x" in his name -- that's nickname gold.
And this is the worst part: Aroldis Chapman also is "The Cuban Missile". There it actually makes sense. Dude throws missiles. Errant missiles that might take out a home for foundlings, but missiles nonetheless. It makes sense for a pitcher. For a shortstop? What part of playing shortstop lends itself to missile connotations? Might as well be the Cuban Toaster, the Cuban Coat Rack, or the Cuban Awl.