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.

—C.B.S.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • C. Brian Smith