The Very Best Nicknames in Sports
Lawrence Berra was nicknamed “Yogi” by Bobby Hofman, who thought Berra resembled a Hindu yogi—solemnly seated with arms and legs crossed—after losing a game.
When Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley saw Jim Hunter pitch for the first time in 1965, he knew he’d signed a legend. The only problem, according to Finley, was the name—“Jim Hunter” didn’t sell tickets. The next morning, Finley called Hunter into his office and informed him that his name was now “Catfish.” Jim was understandably confused, and while the conversation was not recorded, we’re almost positive his response was, “Um... why’s that?”
That’s because baseball players, like all professional athletes, are first and foremost entertainers—and entertainers aren’t named “Jim.” Unfortunately, guys like Charlie Finley are a bit of a dying breed. The perfect nickname used to be steeped in lore, metaphorically connected to athletic prowess, an inside-out joke that made children of all ages—particularly the nickname-ee—grin. Now, it seems, the “-Rod” generation simply resorts to hyphenated pig latin.
As Hunter left the office, he asked his new owner what he should say if and when people asked about the origin of his new nickname. “You came back from the river on your 10th birthday," Finley replied, "having caught six catfish and handed them to your old man. Sell it. Goodbye.” On that note, we now present the very best nicknames in sports...
And the nominees are...
BEST NICKNAME ADAPTED FROM REAL NAME A-Rod: Alex Rodriguez, baseball Connie Mack: Cornelius McGillicuddy, baseball Dice K: Daisuke Matsuzaka, baseball The Wizard of Oz: Ozzie Smith, baseball Sir Charles: Charles Barkley, basketball K-Rod: Francisco Rodríguez, baseball
FUNNIEST NICKNAME A-Fraud: Alex Rodriguez, baseball Crime Dog: Fred McGriff, baseball The Gambler: Kenny Rogers, baseball The Human Rain Delay: Mike Hargrove, baseball Skip to My Lou: Rafer Alston, basketball The Owl Without a Vowel: Bill Mlkvy, basketball The Law Firm: Benjarvus Green-Ellis, football Shrek: Kevin Mench, baseball Oil Can: Dennis Ray Boyd, baseball
BEST GEOGRAPHICAL-BASED NICKNAME The Flyin’ Hawaiian: Shane Victorino, baseball The Flying Dutchman: Honus Wagner, baseball The Flying Dutchman: Pieter van den Hoogenband, swimming The Polish Powderkeg: Sebastian Janikowski, football The Russian Rocket: Alexander Popov, swimming The Spanish Inquisition: Pau Gasol, basketball The Wee Welshman: Ian Woosnam, golf The Wizard of Westwood: John Wooden, basketball The Nigerian Nightmare: Christian Okoye, football
BEST NICKNAME BASED ON SEX APPEAL/GOOD LOOKS Gentleman Joe: Joe Sakic, hockey Broadway Joe: Joe Namath, football Ickey: Elbert Woods, football Marvelous Marvin: Marvin Hagler, boxing Primetime: Deon Sanders, football The Silver Fox: Lester Patrick, hockey El Guapo (“The Handsome One”): Rich Garces, baseball
BEST NICKNAME BASED ON APPEARANCE Wilt the Stilt: Wilt Chamberlain, basketball Big Baby: Glen Davis, basketball Big Bird: Larry Robinson, hockey Big Papi: David Ortiz, baseball Big Ben: Ben Roethlisberger, football The Big Hurt: Frank Thomas, baseball The Big Unit: Randy Johnson, baseball The Big Easy: Ernie Els, golf The Refrigerator: William Perry, football The Bus: Jerome Bettis, football Mean Joe: Joe Greene, football
BEST RACIST, SEXIST AND/OR CULTURALLY INSENSITIVE NICKNAME The Big Jew: Sandy Koufax, baseball The Chief: George Armstrong, hockey The Chief: Robert Parish, basketball Chocolate Thunder: Darryl Dawkins, basketball Chris: Jim Everett, football Cornbread: Cedric Maxwell, basketball Hootie: William Johnson, golf Mrs. Doubtfire: Colin Montgomerie, golf The Albino Rhino: Karl Mecklenburg, football The Hebrew Hammer: Ryan Braun, baseball The Hick from French Lick: Larry Bird, basketball The Yiddish Curver: Barney Pelty, baseball
BEST NICKNAME GIVEN OUT OF RESPECT Charlie Hustle: Pete Rose, baseball Donnie Baseball: Don Mattingly, baseball Mr. October: Reggie Jackson, baseball Mr. November: Derek Jeter, baseball The Admiral: David Robinson, basketball The Franchise: George Thomas Seaver, baseball The Great One: Wayne Gretzky, hockey The Greatest: Muhammad Ali, boxer The Minister of Defense: Reggie White, football The Sheriff: Peyton Manning, football The Yankee Clipper: Joe DiMaggio, baseball
BEST NICKNAME BASED ON ATHLETISISM Fast: Willie Parker, football Flash: Joe Gordon, US baseball, Tom Gordon, baseball Night Train: Dick Lane, football Pistol Pete: Pete Maravich, basketball Sandman: Mariano Rivera, baseball The Barber: Sal Maglie, baseball The Mailman: Karl Malone, baseball The Rocket: Roger Clemens, baseball Megatron: Calvin Johnson, football The Splendid Splinter: Ted Williams, baseball The Say Hey Kid: Willie Mays, baseball
BEST NICKNAME INVOLVING AN ANIMAL Bulldog: Orel Hershiser, baseball Eric the Eel: Eric Moussambani, swimming The Dutch Dolphin: Pieter van den Hoogenband, swimming The Walrus: Craig Stadler, golf The Hawk: Andre Dawson, baseball The Raging Bull: Jake Lamotta, boxing The Golden Bear: Jack Nicklaus, golf The Great White Shark: Greg Norman, golf Catfish: Jim Hunter, baseball The Big Tuna: Bill Parcells, football
BEST NICKNAME INVOLVING AN INTENDED PUN Obi One Ginóbili: Manu Ginóbili, basketball The Pillsbury Throwboy: Jared Lorenzen, football Thorpedo: Ian Thorpe, swimming The Bulin Wall: Nikolai Khabibulin, hockey
BEST NICKNAME THAT BECAME A FIRST NAME Cadillac: Carnell Williams, football Catfish: Jim Hunter, baseball Chipper: Larry Jones Jr., baseball Clyde: Walt Frazier, basketball Bernie: Bernabé Williams, baseball Coco: Covelli Crisp, baseball Doc: Dwight Gooden, baseball Dusty: Johnnie Baker Jr., baseball Goose: Rich Gossage, baseball Mookie: William H. Wilson, baseball Tiger: Eldrick Woods, golf Whitey: Edward Ford, baseball; Dorrel Herzog, baseball Yogi: Lawrence Berra, baseball Magic: Ervin Johnson, basketball Penny: Anfernee Hardaway, basketball Spud: Anthony Webb, basketball
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE NICKNAME El Chupacabra (“The Goatsucker”): Yovani Gallardo, baseball El Presidente (“The President”): Dennis Martínez, baseball El Toro (“The Bull”): Fernando Valenzuela, baseball Le Bombardier Marocain (“The Moroccan Bomber”): Marcel Cerdan, boxing Le Penseur (“The Thinker”): Jean Béliveau, hockey Le Sénateur (“The Senator”): Serge Savard, hockey Pambansang Kamao (“National Fist”): Manny Pacquiao, boxing El Duque (“The Duke”): Orlando Hernandez, baseball Pelé (Vasco da Gama’s goalkeeper, Bilé, which a young Arantes couldn’t pronounce): Edson Arantes, soccer
THE VERY BEST NICKNAME IN SPORTS Cinderella Man: James W. Braddock, boxing Babe Ruth: George Ruth, baseball Dr. J: Julius Erving, basketball Air Jordan: Michael Jordan, basketball Magic Johnson: Ervin Johnson, basketball Hurricane Carter: Rubin Carter, boxing Shoeless Joe: Joe Jackson, baseball Iron Mike: Mike Tyson, boxing Smokin’ Joe: Joe Frazier, boxing
That's all, Jack.