There was a time when nicknames were common in major league baseball. Today, there are a few, and some players wear them proudly. They may have been associated with a physical deformity, or some physical trait, like red hair. Many were very colorful, and some, you just wondered how in the world that guy got that handle.
The Dodgers have had more than their share of these characters. And some of those are in the Hall of Fame. Probably the most recognizable nickname in baseball history is Babe. And if you bring that name up, a fan will usually say, Babe Ruth.
The Dodgers had their own Babe in the 30’s, Babe Herman. He wasn’t as good as Ruth, but he still holds the team record for the highest batting average in any season. He hit .393 in 1930. That was arguably the best season ever by any Dodger player in history. Check this slash line, .393/.447/.678 with 35 homers, 130 RBIs and an OPS of 1.124. His OPS+ was 169. And he did not even win the batting title! Bill Terry of the Giants hit .401.
But let’s get back on track about nicknames in baseball. Babe’s real name was Floyd Caves Herman. Babe Ruth supposedly was hung with his nickname by his Baltimore teammates when he first arrived on the scene. He was a babe in the woods so to speak.
But he earned a couple of others along the way, The Bambino, and the Sultan of Swat. But nicknames go back much further than Ruth. One of my favorites is a player who was with the Phillies before the turn of the century. His name was Robert Ferguson. His nickname? “Death to all Flying Things”. Wow. How did that guy get that handle?
He got the nickname because of his prowess as a fielder. He wore many hats over his career in baseball, player, league official, umpire and manager. He also served as president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Players from 1972-75. He had a 14-year career in the majors and hit exactly 1 homer. He was noted for his stubbornness and temper.
But the list of nicknames is very long, he is just one colorful name on the list. Some of them are just head scratching. For instance, former reliever, Don Stanhouse, was called Full Pack by his manager, Earl Weaver, because he would smoke a full pack of cigarettes when he was pitching. Made him that nervous. But his other nickname was hung on him by his teammates. Since there was already a Stan the Man, Musial, his teammates called him Stan the Man Unusual.
Harold Reese became Pee Wee in his youth because of his prowess with that particular marble. A game rarely played today. Carl Furillo, before he came to the Dodgers, was known as the Reading Rifle, a tribute to his hometown, and his strong right throwing arm. In Brooklyn, he earned another one, Ol Skoonj. A reflection on his love of the Italian dish, Scungilli.
The Cardinals had Dizzy and Daffy, the Dean brothers, the Dodgers had Dazzy. His nickname was related to his dazzling fastball. Charles would rarely be called Charles after that handle was laid on him. What is amazing about Vance’s career is the fact that he had won zero MLB games before his 30th birthday. From then on he won 197. And became a Hall of Fame pitcher.
Duke Snider got his nickname from his dad for his self-assured swagger. He earned a couple of others while in Brooklyn, “The Duke of Flatbush, and the Silver Fox. Chase Utley was called the Silver Fox towards the end of his career.
Here are some of the more recognizable and unusual nicknames. Mickey Mantle, The Commerce Comet, Stan Musial, The Man, The Donora Greyhound, Leo Durocher, The Lip, Hank Aaron, Hammer, Hammerin Hank, Bad Henry, Walter Alston, Smokey, Luke Appling, Old Aches and Pains. Wade Boggs, Chicken Man, Lou Gehrig, The Iron Horse.
Yasiel Puig, The Wild Horse, Lou Brock, The Franchise, Albert Pujols, The Machine, El Hombre and Tio Albert, Honus Wagner, The Flying Dutchman, which was weird because Wagner was German. The Waner brothers were known as Big Poison and Little Poison. Ozzie Smith,, The Wizard, Willie Mays, The Say Hey Kid, Don Sutton, Black and Decker.
There was Bill Spaceman Lee, David Big Papi Ortiz, Ted Williams, The Splendid Splinter, Joe DiMaggio, The Yankee Clipper, Mordecai, Three Finger Brown, Chief Bender, Mitch Wild Thing Williams, Oil Can Boyd, Adam Dunn was The Big Donkey.
As you can see, the list is long. Some of the names were known only to the players’ teammates. Others were well known by the public. The Dodgers have CT3 and Code Red, Chris Taylor and Dustin May. The Catman, Tony Gonsolin, and JT was Redturn. I also liked when they had that players day promotion and the players put different nicknames on the back of their jerseys, one of my favorites was Ross Stripling, better known as Chicken Strip.
Koufax was “The Left Arm of God”, Roseboro was Gabby. Orel Hershiser, Bulldog, Ron Cey, The Penguin, Steve Garvey, Popeye, Frank Howard, Hondo, Lou Johnson, Sweet Lou, and Fernando was El Toro. They are not as prominent as they once were. They take us back to a simpler time.