What would baseball be like if players didn't have nicknames?
Nicknames are fun, and they're great ways for fans to feel connected with their favorite players. Sometimes these contrived monikers even take on lives of their own; if asked to name the greatest hitter of all time, how many people would say George Ruth?
People both inside and outside the game spend countless hours trying to guess which players will be the next Ted Williams or Pete Rose, so why not spend a few minutes thinking about which players' nicknames have inherited the assumed the places of "The Splendid Splinter" and "Charlie Hustle?"
The following slides comprise my list of the best nicknames in baseball today. The winners were selected primarily on creativity, coolness, and, in some cases, the moniker's elevation from silly sobriquet to a title that becomes a player's identity.
Of course, the popularity of the name has to count for something too. For example, Jhonny Peralta isn't on this list because not many people know that his nickname is "Guitar" (also because it's a stupid nickname).
Finally, as part of my aforementioned emphasis on creativity, no player whose nickname is simply a derivation of his actual name was allowed to crack the top 10. That means no "A-Rod," "King Felix," or even "Magnum Z.I."
Ken Griffey, Jr.—"The Kid"
Technically, Griffey can't be on this list because he retired two weeks ago. But the body of his career is still warm, and this moniker is too iconic to overlook.
Jason Heyward—"The Jay-Hey Kid"
The pun isn't as noteworthy as the connection it implies; the hype around Heyward has been so strong that he was implicitly linked to Willie Mays (one of the greatest players of all time, for those of you who have never heard of baseball) before his first MLB at-bat.
Shane Victorino—"The Flyin' Hawaiian"
Aside from being a fun rhyme, Victorino's nickname is great because it conjures up images of tropical beaches, plentiful pineapples, and a magical creature that speeds through the air. The first two things might not exist in Philadelphia, but the last does, as evidenced by his 112 stolen bases since 2007.
According to traditional baseball logic, Tim Lincecum should not be one of the best pitchers in the game.
He's too small to be throwing in the mid-90s. He doesn't use his four-seam fastball enough, and that delivery is absolutely ridiculous.
Lincecum is unusual and shouldn't exist. He's an oddball and an abnormality, an outlier and an anomaly.
In other words, he is The Freak.
Brewers slugger Ryan Braun has a long way to go before he fulfills the prophecies of being named MVP and making the Hall of Fame. But, with apologies to Kevin Youkilis and Ian Kinsler (this is starting to sound like an Adam Sandler song), Braun has already established himself as the best Jewish player in today's game.
Baseball has a strong and often overlooked Jewish heritage. Since Hank Greenberg refused to play on Yom Kippur in 1934, the MLB has been home to several semitic superstars, from Al Rosen and Sandy Koufax to Shawn Green and Rod Carew (and he converted!).
Braun's moniker inspires images of a biblical warrior filled with courage with superhuman strength. It's also a throwback to Greenberg and Rosen, who shared his nickname, as well as former Home Run King Hank Aaron, who was called simply "Hammer."
But more importantly, in a game whose history is so rich in diversity and tolerance between different peoples, The Hebrew Hammer is a role model for kids who want to become professional athletes after their Bar Mitzvahs.
You don't have to look at Pablo Sandoval for long to see why people have compared him to a cuddly bear.
With a wide girth and an easy smile, Panda is the personification of jolly. You can tell that he loves what he does and brings an atmosphere of cheerfulness and fun to the Giants clubhouse.
But to opposing pitchers, he is less like the harmless pandas Ron Burgundy tried to report on in Anchorman than the ferocious grizzlies he and the Channel 4 News Team had to fight when they jumped into the bear pit. Their fear is reflected in the fact that only 39 percent of pitches he sees are in the strike zone, the second-lowest mark in baseball.
Here's where the Kung Fu comes in: Panda is great at hitting bad pitches—think Vladimir Guerrero in his prime. Plus he has a solid glove (4.8 UZR/150) and decent speed for a guy his size (he's on pace for six steals).
When I first heard an announcer use this name, I instantly knew who he was referring to, without any explanation. For some reason, it just fits.
Roy Halladay is arguably the most dominant pitcher in the game. The only way one can accurately describe his talent is with three letters: D-O-C.
It's not just that the name references Wild West gunslinger Doc Holliday (especially since, unlike Halladay, the original "Doc" suffered from control problems). It's a moniker that implies respect, and its simplicity reflects the fact that his curveball can speak for itself.
Most baseball fans know of Omar Vizquel's reputation as a fantastic fielder. Even if they forgot just how many Gold Gloves he won (11), most would agree that he is the best defensive shortstop of his generation, if not of all-time.
But even those kinds of superlatives don't do justice to the gracefulness and seemingly innate fluidity of his glovework.
There's a certain beauty in the way he handles each ball that's hit to him. It's not just that you can count on him to make the play, it's that he makes it look effortless every time.
His legend would be more fittingly immortalized in a poem than on a trophy. Hence his nickname, Manos de Seda—"Hands of Silk."
When Albert Pujols woke up on May 30, 2010, he was mired in the midst of one of the worst months of his career, putting up "only" 15 RBI and a .392 OBP in 27 games. Awful numbers, I know.
Anything Pujols does that falls short of legendary is considered a disappointment, and so people had begun to wonder if this was the beginning of the end for the game's best hitter. I even left him off an All-Star ballot for the first time in several seasons.
At any rate, Pujols ate his Wheaties that day (probably the ones that have him on the box), and silenced everyone who ever doubted him by smacking three homers in one game against the Cubs.
His talent is simply inhuman. He is not made of flesh and bone; he is The Machine.
When Gutierrez was a Cleveland Indian, I thought I was extremely clever for coming up with the nickname "F-Güt." I'm glad that didn't stick.
Originally a nickname shared by two revered fielders 135 years ago, "Death to Flying Things" sounds more like the title of a System of a Down song than something you'd write on a scorecard.
It's not a very practical thing to call someone. It's a mouthful to say; it doesn't roll off the tongue like "The Machine" or "Doc." And unless everyone within earshot is an avid baseball fan, you're going to get some pretty weird looks.
But my God, it is an awesome nickname.
When the pressure's off and the tension is low, David Ortiz has a cheerful demeanor and an easy smile. The width of his grin is eclipsed only by the size of his heart—and, of course, his belly.
The hero of the 2004 playoffs and the former face of the franchise, "Big Papi" is a term of endearment Boston fans use to describe one of their favorite players.
But when the game is on and the cameras are rolling, opposing pitchers are in for a world of hurt. Just ask Mariano Rivera or Esteban Loaiza. Then, his moniker is more than a pet name; it's a tribute to a great warrior.
Don't agree? Then do some soul searching and ask yourself, "Who's your Papi?"
The head of an archetypal mafia is used to getting what he wants. When "the boss" of a crime family wants something done, it gets done. End of story.
If something goes wrong, his frustration leads to fits of passionate rage, sometimes turning violent. If someone gets in his way, BAM! As for money—don't you worry about the money.
In other words, he's George Steinbrenner.
If you're a part of the Yankee "family," you see The Boss as a benevolent patriarch dedicated to his work. In exchange for their loyalty at the ticket office, Steinbrenner rewards his fans with "the best team money can buy."
But if you support one of the other 29 teams in the league, you see Steinbrenner as the bad guy. His ruthlessness and ability to turn the game's best players into his mercenaries, some say, are almost, well, criminal.
Once upon a time, there was a little boy who played baseball in Puerto Rico. Well, he wasn't really "little," at least around the waist.
The other kids teased him about his oversized girth. They called him fat. They called him chubby. They called him Pudge.
Thirty years later, that beefy youngster has established himself as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history.
Now, "Pudge" is more of an identity than a description. No one ever thought Ivan Rodriguez was too big to play baseball, as Billy Beane infamously did with Prince Fielder, or described him with the words "fattest man in America," as my mom did every time she saw Rich Garces on TV. Yet the name persists because, well, that's just who he is.
Fans and announcers alike call him Pudge Rodriguez without even realizing it. I-Rod may not have the coolest nickname in baseball, but no other player is so inextricably linked to his moniker.