Dan's Dugout: Baseball Needs Nicknames • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Baseball Needs Nicknames

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Good thing Jeff Francoeur won a spot on Atlanta’s varsity roster this spring.

His nickname alone makes keeping him worthwhile.

“Frenchy” may be a simple, self-explanatory nickname. But it’s part of a dwindling breed.

Gone are the days of Choo-Choo Coleman, No-Neck Williams, and Turk Farrell — nicknames that kept memories of their bearers alive when the stats did not.

As the 2016 campaign unfolds, nicknames are harder to find than a Sunday doubleheader.

Alex Rodriguez answers to the nickname A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez answers to the nickname A-Rod

On the Boston Red Sox, David Ortiz answers to “Big Papi” while Markus Lynn Betts is better known as Mookie. Down the pike a piece, the Yankees have a Dutch-born shortstop who answers to Didi but signs checks as Mariekson Julius Gregorius. The Yankees also have a pair of fading veterans, Alex (A-Rod) Rodriguez and Carsten Charles (CC) Sabathia who will soon carry their nicknames into retirement.

Seattle strikeout sensation Felix Hernandez is King Felix because he’s king of the hill, but that royalty does not extend to Texas slugger Prince Fielder — that his given name. The Rangers do have one nickname of note, however: Japanese native Yu Darvish was named Sefat Farid Farvish at birth. When a fan yells, “Hey, you,” he always pays attention.

Toronto has two pitchers, R.A. Dickey and J.A. Happ, who use initials rather than first names but those don’t really count as nicknames.

National Leaguers who swear by initials include Atlanta catcher Anthony John Pierzynski and Arizona outfielder Allen Lorenz Pollock, both of whom answer to A.J.

And let’s not forget Colorado second baseman David John Le Mahieu, whose DJ follows the CC model of dropping the dots between letters.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have a centerfielder named Joc Pederson and the Atlanta Braves have an infielder named Jace Peterson. Both first names are real.

Giancarlo Stanton used to be known as Mike

Giancarlo Stanton used to be known as Mike

So is Giancarlo Stanton, although the Miami slugger once went by Mike (a contraction of his middle name, Cruz-Michael).

Melvin Upton used to call himself B.J. because his father’s nickname was Bossman and he was Bossman, Junior. Getting rid of the nickname didn’t help, however, and the San Diego centerfielder, once a rising star in Tampa Bay, has been hanging by a thread ever since.

Oddly, the best nickname in the Senior Circuit belongs to a manager. Johnnie Lee Baker’s mom started calling her son Dusty after he came in covered with dirt after playing outside. Dusty Baker is in his first season at the helm of the Washington Nationals.

Not an inspiring group of monikers, is it? Certainly not when compared with the great nicknames of the past.

Consider these:

In two years, Larry Wayne Jones, Jr. will become a first-ballot Hall of Famer when writers vote for a switch-hitting slugger they knew as Chipper — a “chip off the old block” in his dad’s eyes.

George Herman Ruth became a baseball legend as Babe, while Jerome Hanna Dean was so

The Babe was born George Herman Ruth

The Babe was born George Herman Ruth

unpredictable that teammates called him Dizzy — and brother Paul Daffy.

John Henry Wagner was Honus, German for John, while Denton True Young was Cy, short for cyclone, because he threw so hard.

Harold (Pee Wee) Reese was a marbles champion, Charles Leo (Gabby) Hartnett talked a blue streak, and Joe (Ducky) Medwick walked like a duck.

Charles Radbourn won 60 games in a season to earn the nickname “Old Hoss” but Lou Gehrig was “The Iron Horse” because he played every game before illness stopped his streak.

Edwin (Duke) Snider was the “Duke of Flatbush” while Edward (Whitey) Ford was his blond-haired nemesis.

Animals were the source of multiple monikers, from Charlie (King Kong) Keller to Dave (Kong) Kingman. When Jim Vaughn matched Fred Toney in a 1917 no-hit effort, it was a battle between the 230-pound “Hippo” Vaughn and the 260-pound “Man Mountain from Tennessee.”

Harvey Haddix and Felix Millan, both called The Kitten, earned their spurs and their nicknames in the big leagues along with Mark (the Bird) Fidrych, a pitcher who pecked at the ball on the mound, and Jim (Catfish) Hunter, one of a half-dozen Oakland A’s nicknamed by publicity-seaking owner Charles O. Finley. Not all his nicknames worked, though: for every John (Blue Moon) Odom, there was a Vida (True) Blue.

Frank Thomas put 'The Big Hurt' on rival pitchers

Frank Thomas put ‘The Big Hurt’ on rival pitchers

The first Frank Thomas was called “Donkey” because of his big ears but the later Frank Thomas, now in the Hall of Fame, was called “The Big Hurt” because of the way he treated opposing pitchers.

George Stanley Cochrane, a Hall of Fame catcher who became a manager, was called Mickey because he was Irish but Emil Frederick (Irish) Meusel got his nickname because he played for an Irish manager, John McGraw. Because Mickey Mantle’s dad idolized Cochrane, he gave his son a real first name that was someone else’s nickname.

The baseball lexicon is littered with Docs — from Bobby Brown to George Medich — and Sparkys, including pitcher-prankster Albert Lyle and Hall of Fame manager George Anderson.

Tom Seaver and Ken Griffey, Jr. share the first name of George but used their middle names on their baseball cards.

Baseball-reference.com is a great resource for finding the finest nicknames in baseball history. The lengthy list ranges from Preacher Roe and Schoolboy Rowe to Dazzy Vance, Smokey Burgess, and Vinegar Bend Mizell.

And let’s not forget Lawrence Peter Berra, who won his Yogi nickname because his short, squat

Yogi Berra had one of the great baseball nicknames

Yogi Berra had one of the great baseball nicknames

appearance suggested an Indian yogi.

Such nicknames just don’t grow on trees.

Just guessing, but maybe the writers had more time to think up nicknames during their long train trips between cities. For whatever reason — from air travel to the solidary and stupendous salaries of the free agent era — today’s game not only consists of shrunken distances between cities but shrinking nicknames.

For a game that needs to celebrate its past to accentuate its present, that’s a shame.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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