Derek Jeter, 'The Captain,' and the 20 Most Annoying Nicknames in MLB History
With all of the focus recently on New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and his successful quest to join the 3,000 hit club on July 9, one glaring detail was thrown out in various publications and online websites again and again—Jeter’s nickname, “The Captain.”
First off, let me start by saying that Jeter’s accomplishment, and the way he achieved that accomplishment—becoming only the second player to reach the 3,000 hit plateau via a home run and only the second player in history to record a 5-for-5 day in reaching and surpassing 3,000 hits—is no doubt an incredible achievement and one that should be applauded by all true fans of baseball.
But that nickname—“The Captain”—what brilliant mind thought up that one?
We will delve into the issue of Jeter’s nickname further in this slide show presentation, as Bleacher Report takes a look at 20 nicknames for players in MLB history that are just downright annoying, and in some cases, are actually offensive and stereotypical.
The list is in no particular order, and we invite your comments regarding this list as well as what you think are annoying nicknames as well.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.
1. John Franklin “Home Run” Baker
Frank “Home Run” Baker, played for 13 seasons during 1908-1922 with the Philadelphia Athletics and New York Yankees. Baker played during the dead ball era, but his nickname was what was unique at the time.
Baker led the American League in home runs for three straight seasons between 1911-1913, hitting a grand total of 33 home runs. He ended his career with 96 lifetime home runs. Even after the dead ball era ended in 1920, Baker still only hit nine home runs in a single season.
So much for misleading nicknames.
2. Johnny “Little General” Bench
Oftentimes, a catcher is referred to a field general—the one player on the field who guides the rest of his team through whatever perils the inning might provide.
However, in the case of Johnny Bench, a catcher who was voted onto the “All Century Team” in 1999 as the catcher with more votes than any other catcher, the word “Little” in the front just doesn’t apply.
There was nothing little about what Bench did during his 17-year career, all spent with the Cincinnati Reds. A 14-time All-Star, a 10-time Gold Glove award winner, two-time National League Most Valuable Player and 1968 Rookie of the Year award winner, everything Bench did was large in nature, including headlining the Big Red Machine of the early-to-mid 1970s.
Take the word “Little” out of the nickname please, thanks.
3. Jack “Happy Jack” Chesbro
Jack “Happy Jack” Chesbro pitched for three teams during his 11-year career, most notably with the New York Yankees, where Chesbro won 41 games in 1904.
Before Chesbro debuted in the majors, he played for four years with the state mental hospital in Middletown, NY where he earned the nickname “Happy Jack.”
Just wondering—did he really gain the nickname for his pleasant disposition, or did he gain the nickname because he worked in a “happy” place?
4. Fred “Crime Dog” McGriff
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
First baseman/designated hitter Fred McGriff was a fierce-hitting left-handed hitter during his 19-year career which saw him just seven dingers short of the coveted 500 home run plateau.
The moniker “Crime Dog” was given to McGriff by ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman, who loosely referenced McGruff, a cartoon dog developed for American police to raise children's awareness on crime prevention.
Call me silly, but shouldn’t a nickname actually have something to do with the player themselves, and not something that put a sportscaster on the map?
5. Clint “The Hondo Hurricane” Hartung
In 1942, the New York Giants signed Clint “The Hondo Hurricane” Hartung to a contract before being drafted into World War II. At the time, Hartung was considered a sterling pitcher who could also wield an excellent bat.
During Hartung’s stay in the military, he played on several military, oftentimes facing several other drafted MLB players. Hartung was impressive, putting up a 25-0 record as a pitcher and hitting .567.
However, once turning pro in 1947 finally with the Giants, Hartung’s other nickname—Floppy—was more appropriate. Hartung was 29-29 in four seasons as a pitcher with a career ERA of 5.09.
Hardly hurricane-like stuff.
6. Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman
Clarence “Choo Choo” Coleman was a catcher signed by the Washington Senators in 1955, but didn’t break into the majors until 1961 with the Philadelphia Phillies. Coleman was then selected by the New York Mets in the 1961 expansion draft, and played parts of three seasons with the hapless Mets as a backup catcher.
The origins of Coleman’s are unknown. In fact, when once asked about its origins himself, Coleman once replied, “I don’t know.”
Maybe he outran a train once. Just a thought.
7. Darrell “Howdy Doody” Evans
Darrell Evans hit 414 home runs during his 21-season career, helping the Detroit Tigers win a World Series title in 1984 and twice hitting 40 homers in a season.
During his early playing days with the Atlanta Braves, Evans “earned” his nickname according to his appearance. Braves owner Ted Turner was said to have encouraged, and perpetuated, the nickname as well.
8. Whitey “Banty Rooser” Ford
Whitey Ford was more commonly known as “The Chairman of the Board” during his pitching days with the New York Yankees. One of the most successful pitchers in Yankees history, Ford won 236 games during his career, plus another 10 games in World Series play, still a record to this day.
For some reason, former Yankees manager Casey Stengel took to calling Ford “Banty Rooster,” apparently referencing Ford’s demeanor and style.
Only Casey could come up with that name.
9. Charlie “King Kong” Keller
For 13 seasons, American League pitchers had to face a movie legend.
Charlie “King Kong” Keller, who played primarily for the New York Yankees, was named “King Kong” after the movie of the same name, filmed in 1933.
It’s assumed that Keller did not scale the buildings of New York to earn the moniker.
10. Dom “Little Professor” DiMaggio
It always irked me that Joe DiMaggio got the nicknames “Joltin’ Joe” and “The Yankee Clipper,” yet his brother Dom, who was a fabulous ballplayer and center fielder in his own right, got stuck with the name “Little Professor.”
The fact that he was 5’9” and weighed just 168 pounds and wore glasses probably didn’t help much.
11. Branch “The Mahatma” Rickey
Famed baseball executive and brilliant innovator Branch Rickey is credited with a number of great accomplishments in baseball— a guiding force in building both the St. Louis Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers organizations, responsible for inventing baseball farm systems, and integrating baseball by signing Jackie Robinson—Rickey was a master indeed, elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1967.
But being named after an ideological leader of India? Sportswriter Tom Meany gave Rickey the moniker after listening to John Gunther’s comment about Mohandas K. Gandhi, describing him as a ”combination of God, your own father, and Tammany Hall."
Um, okay. Rickey was a great man in baseball history, but I don’t think I’d go quite that far.
12. Dave “Mr. May” Winfield
Joe Patronite/Getty Images
In all fairness to the Hall of Fame player, Dave Winfield was an outstanding player, one of the 28 members of the exclusive 3,000 hit club who also clubbed 465 home runs during his outstanding 22-season career.
However while playing for the Yankees between 1981-1988, owner George Steinbrenner gave Winfield the moniker “Mr. May,” referencing Winfield’s inability to hit effectively during the 1981 ALCS and World Series (a combined .077) average, but could hit like crazy when the pressure was off.
No word on whether or not former Yankee Reggie Jackson approved of the nickname.
13. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
I have all the respect in the world for Ivan “I-Rod” or “Pudge” Rodriguez—no doubt his ticket is already punched for the Hall of Fame.
But that nickname was already taken by another Hall of Fame catcher—Carlton “Pudge” Fisk.
Get another one.
14. Tom “Tom Terrific” Seaver
Look, Tom Seaver was a great pitcher for 20 seasons, winning 311 games and three Cy Young awards. But “Tom Terrific”?
Someone couldn’t come up with a better baseball nickname for Seaver, like “I drag my knee” Seaver?
Well, he DID scrape his right knee with that incredible stretch in his follow-through.
15. Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Outfielder and designated hitter Hideki Matsui is sitting on 499 career home runs, his total between Japan and the United States. That milestone homer could possibly happen in New York, the place where Matsui hit 140 home runs between 2003-2009.
Does anyone else think the nickname “Godzilla” is really offensive?
16. Derek “The Captain” Jeter
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Derek Jeter has been given several nicknames over the years. In 2001, he earned the nickname “Mr. November” after hitting the first home run ever in November during the 2001 World Series between the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks.
But in June 2003, Jeter was named the 11th captain in the history of the Yankees franchise, earning him the new nickname “The Captain.”
Um, excuse me, but there were some pretty darn good captains that played before Jeter (Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, Lou Gehrig and others).
Call him “Captain Clutch” or “Mr. November” or whatever other name has been designated for him. But “Mr. Captain” infers that he is the ultimate captain on a team that already lists Hall of Famers as captains.
17. Don “Black and Decker” Sutton
Over 23 seasons, Don Sutton won 324 games with a 3.26 ERA, all while compiling just one 20-win season during his long career.
Sutton was supposedly nicknamed “Black and Decker” by legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry, who handed Sutton a bottle of Vaseline and received a block of sandpaper from Sutton in return.
Not totally sure if Perry was responsible for giving Sutton the “Black and Decker” moniker, but Sutton certainly was well known for doctoring up a baseball or two.
18. Yovani “El Chupacabra” Gallardo
Norm Hall/Getty Images
For Milwaukee Brewers standout pitcher Yovani Gallardo, a 46-30 record in less than five seasons is a great start to his career, and the Brewers have him locked up until 2014 with a team option for 2015.
But “El Chupacabra”? A goat-sucking mythical creature? Really? Is that the best you can do?
19. Frank “ Big Hurt” Thomas
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Chicago White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson, who himself is nicknamed “Hawk,” assigned the nickname to Frank Thomas sometime in the early 1990s after Thomas had hit a rocket into the stands at Comiskey Park.
Thomas no doubt had menacing home run power, joining the 500 home run club in 2007 while with the Toronto Blue Jays. But for me, “Big Hurt” just didn’t jive. Sorry, Chicago fans.
Maybe it stems from my intense dislike of Harrelson. Who knows.
20. Ty “The Georgia Peach” Cobb
Ty Cobb, second on the all-time major league career hits list and first all-time with a lifetime .367 batting average, was anything but a peach when it came to his reputation.
Cobb was considered one of the surliest and dirtiest players in baseball history, once coming close to killing an African-American stadium groundskeeper at the Detroit Tigers spring training field in Augusta, Georgia in 1907, and then tried to choke his wife when she intervened on behalf of her husband.
A Georgia Peach? Far from it.