Philadelphia Phillies: 'Vanimal' and the 20 Coolest Nicknames in Team History
There’s nothing like a perfect nickname. Some of the best ones can replace a player’s actual name. I mean how many people call “Cookie” Rojas, Octavio Victor?
But is “Cookie” a cool nickname? And what criteria should be used to determine if a nickname passes the “cool” test? That’s the question for this list. After much thought, I decided that perhaps I was not the best judge of ‘cool’ so I turned off my Barry Manilow 8-track and went in search of my teenage son, the coolest person I know. I read out some nicknames and the ones he judged “awesome,” “nasty” or my favorite, “sick” made the list.
So here they are: the 20 sickest, I mean coolest, nicknames in Phillies history. And if you don’t agree? Don’t blame me. Do what I did. Ask the nearest teenager.
20. “ J-Roll” Just Keeps on Rolling
Although cool when it originated, the nickname J-Roll may sound a bit dated now but it is still cool enough to make the 20th spot on our list. The Phillies shortstop himself is the epitome of cool. In fact he is so cool that some even call him cocky.
From the things he says, “we’re the team to beat,” to the way he carries himself on the field and in the clubhouse, Jimmy Rollins exudes cool, and that carries over to his nickname. In fact, he’s known for giving other players on the team nicknames. So, almost as a courtesy J-Roll starts us off at number 20.
19. What’s Up “Doc?”
It’s short, it’s sweet and yes, it’s cool. It’s the perfect nickname for Phils ace Roy Halladay. Many think the nickname is a result of his surgeon-like precision on the mound and the way he slices through opposing line-ups. But that is not where the name originates.
The nickname “Doc” was actually coined by the late Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Tom Cheek in reference to the Wild West gunslinger, Doc Holliday. And this baseball "Doc" sure knows how to sling 'em from the mound. Being compared to a legendary gunman from the Wild West? Now that’s cool.
18. “Death to Flying Things”
Just the sound of this nickname is cool. In fact this was one on the list that got the “it’s sick” vote of approval from my teenage son. It was the nickname of Bob Ferguson who played shortstop and second base for the team then called the Philadelphia Quakers. His nickname derived from his great defensive skills.
In fact, Ferguson, or “DtFT” for short, played in the late 1800’s, a time in baseball before fielders routinely wore gloves. His teammates gave him this one-of-a-kind nickname because of his ability to catch fly balls with his bare hands. With his bare hands!
17. The “Vanimal”
A cool nickname for a cool dude. (Sorry, I got a little carried away.) Vance Worley is the 23-year-old rookie pitcher who has taken the fans and the league by storm. He wears goggle-style glasses on the mound, sports a mohawk, and to top it off, he has a cool nickname to match.
Worley is known as the "Vanimal" a nickname earned during his college days when he was known as a fiend in the weight room. He would arrive at 5 am, he never missed a day and he worked out hard. One of the trainers started calling him the "Vanimal" and it stuck.
Add to all that his 11-2 record and 2.85 ERA and that’s cool.
16. He’s “The Big Piece”
Ryan Howard has several nicknames. For example, some of his teammates call him Rhino but that is the same nickname as Phillies minor league manager Ryne Sandberg. Much cooler is the name coined for him by his manager Charlie Manuel, “The Big Piece.” Not much translation needed here.
Howard is the man in the middle of the Phillies line-up, the big man who brings home the big runs. He reached the 250 home run milestone faster than any man in baseball history. And this year Howard became the first Phillie to reach 100 RBI in six consecutive seasons.
The only thing cooler than being called “The Big Piece” by your manager is backing it up.
Most of us know him as "Whitey" but Phillies popular Hall of Fame center fielder Richie Ashburn had another nickname, one given to him by none other than the legendary Ted Williams. And how cool is that?
Williams gave him the name “Putt-Putt” because he ran so fast it seemed he had a pair of motors in his pants. Now there are those who say that it was Stan Musial who gave Ashburn the “Putt-Putt” name but either way, it’s still cool.
14. The "Tugger"
Now it’s possible that my emotions played a role in this choice since “Tug” was always one of my favorites and he helped to bring the Phillies their first World Series Championship in 1980. But his nickname’s not so bad either.
Frank Edwin McGraw had a nicknames that actually became his name. And he got his nickname years before he even thought about playing professional baseball. His mother called him “Tugger” when he was an infant because of the way he always pulled on her while she fed him.
It was later shortened to “Tug” and that, as they say, was that.
This name belongs to Phillies left fielder Lonnie Smith and while is is not clear who gave him the nickname, it is very clear how he earned it. Smith was a speedster but sometimes his legs seemed to have a mind of their own.
He would often slip on the base paths when trying to steal second only to have to scramble back to first looking to those watching like he was on skates. And he could be comical while fielding his position in the outfield, often falling down when he was chasing a ball.
According to Smith, he was pigeon-toed as a child and sometimes his feet would turn in when he was running. However, this didn’t stop him from being one of the game’s leading base stealers in the 1980’s and playing on three World Series Teams. Now that’s some pretty good skating.
12. “Dr. Strangeglove”
This one belongs to first baseman Dick Stuart who throughout his career was known as a good hitter but a not so good fielder. He had bad hands, stiff reactions and limited range, not a good combination. In fact one year he committed 29 errors, a record for a first baseman that still stands today.
But at least he had a cool nickname to show for it. One of his teammates gave him the name "Dr. Strangeglove," a play on words with the movie "Dr.Strangelove," a black comedy satirizing the nuclear age, which came out in the middle of Stuart’s career.
Perhaps best known today as a color commentator for the Phillies broadcasts, Gary “Sarge” Matthews played left field for the Phillies from 1981-1983. He earned the nickname “Sarge” because of his take-charge attitude in the dugout and on the field. He was also known as a tough competitor who always played hard.
His leadership was credited for helping the Phillies win the NL East in 1981and he was the MVP in the 1983 NLCS. Now years after he played, Matthews is still known to current players, friends and fans alike simply as the “Sarge.”
10. In a “Flash”
Tom Gordon was the only pitcher with 100 career wins, saves and holds. He earned his nickname “Flash” at the age of 21 when he exploded on the scene with a record of 17-9 in his first full season. He also had 153 strikeouts that year and finished second in the voting for Rookie of the Year. The nickname was a reference to the 1960‘s sci-fi TV show Flash Gordon.
Although Gordon did come onto the scene in a “Flash,” he was no “Flash” in the pan. Gordon went on to have a 20 year plus career in baseball and was a member of the 2008 Phillies World Championship team. The three-time All-Star played for eight different teams but though his uniforms changed, his nickname always stayed the same.
9. Hot Sauce
Baseball’s relievers, especially its closers, are often the quirkiest members of their teams so it’s no surprise that they are also the ones with the coolest nicknames. In this case, the cool name is also a hot one, “Hot Sauce” that is, and it belongs to Phillies closer Kevin Saucier.
Saucier was an energetic pitcher who often displayed his emotions while on the mound. Those displays along with his fiery temperament earned him the name “Hot Sauce.” Not to mention the fact that he often bounced around the mound like he had just eaten a tub of the stuff he was named for.
8. “The Flyin’ Hawaiian”
No cool nickname list could be complete without the inclusion of this one. Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino was born in Wailuku, Hawaii and is one of the few major league position players from our 50th state. He was a Hawaii state high school track and field champ and he set state records in the 100 meter.
Put those two together, born in Hawaii, runs real fast and there you have it, “The Flyin’ Hawaiian.” Victorino uses that speed to great advantage both on the base paths and tracking down balls in centerfield. He has already received three Gold Glove Awards for his fielding and is a two time All-Star.
And if that’s not cool enough, there is a Shane Victorino figurine where the “Flyin’ Hawaiian” is wearing, what else, a hula skirt and a lei.
7. “The Secretary of Defense”
Next is another stellar center fielder, Garry Maddox, who played for the Phillies from 1975-1986. Maddox is considered one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball history and he won eight Gold Glove Awards in a row during his time with the Phillies!
His outstanding defense led legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas to coin the nickname “The Secretary Of Defense” which fit the tall, graceful outfielder perfectly. His long strides could turn sure extra-base hits into outs and he routinely threw out runners with his rifle of an arm.
It would be hard to find a nickname that fit a man better than “The Secretary of Defense” fit the classy Maddox who was committed to excellence both on and off the field.
6. “The Praying Mantis”
His batting stance is unconventional to say the least. He is all arms and legs and sometimes looks so awkward at the plate that it’s hard to believe he can even hit the ball at all. But hit it he does. And the Phillies and their fans are perfectly happy to have this “Praying Mantis,” better known as Hunter Pence, holding down right field.
Pence is a throwback player in many ways. He wears his socks high and his jerky half-sidearm throws are as unorthodox as his swing but somehow he gets it done. He is batting .315 since joining the Phillies at the trade deadline with nine home runs (20 for the year) and 28 RBI (90 for the year.) Don’t let his looks fool you. Pence is one “Praying Mantis” you definitely want on your side.
5. “Lights Out”
Phillies closer Brad Lidge will forever be known as “Lights Out” Lidge by the fans of Philadelphia for his perfect 2008 season that brought the Phillies their first World Series Championship in 28 years. He went 41for 41 in saves in the regular season and capped it off by going 7 for 7 in the play-offs. If that’s not “Lights Out,” I don’t know what is. As for cool? What could be cooler than helping your team to win it all.
4. Shake ‘n Bake
Arnold Ray “Bake” McBride played right field for the Phillies from 1977-1981. While the origins of his nickname are sketchy, it seems he got the name “Bake” as a kid and it was an easy leap to “Shake ‘n Bake.” He was a fan favorite during his time with the Phillies and was a part of the 1980 World Series Championship team. Known for his speed and his style, in short, “Shake ‘n Bake” was just a cool guy with a cool nickname.
3. “Wild Thing”
Close your eyes, think back,and you can almost hear the theme song playing over the stadium sound system as Mitch Williams runs onto the field. The nickname refers to Charlie Sheen’s wild-throwing character Ricky Vaughan in the hit movie “Major League.” Although Williams wasn’t quite that wild, some nights he was close. He was known for throwing a lot of pitches resulting in many full counts, walks, and manager’s gray hairs.
Williams had an off-balance pitching motion in which he would fall to the ground after almost every pitch adding to his “Wild Thing” look. Despite all that, he had a pretty successful career helping the Phillies win the 1993 pennant. Of course, he also gave up the home run that cost them the World Series but what would you expect from a closer called the “Wild Thing?”
Phillies first baseman Dick Allen got the nickname "Crash" from wearing a batting helmet which at first glance doesn’t seem that nickname-worthy. Except Allen wore his helmet while playing defense at first base. He said it was to protect himself from objects fans were throwing from the stands. Allen had many years with the Phillies when he was as good as any player in baseball. He was voted the Rookie of the Year in 1964 and was an All-Star from 1965-1967.
Dick “Crash” Allen was one of his sport’s top offensive producers but also one of its most controversial. Most important for this list, however, is that according to my teenage judge, “Crash” is just a “sick” nickname. I have a feeling he would have liked Dick Allen, the man behind the nickname, too.
Some may think it’s too obvious to have Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz in the first spot but hear me out. How often does a small, soft-spoken catcher from Panama who speaks highly accented English become a fan favorite whose nickname can be heard echoing throughout the stands at Citizens Bank Park? How often does a guy like that even get a nickname? But every time Phillis catcher Carlos Ruiz does anything from getting a base hit to throwing a runner out at second you can hear those chants of “Choooooch.”
Add to that the nickname itself which, depending on who you ask, is Colombian slang for “underarm odor” or “dummy,” neither of which is your classic nickname material. But Chooch loves the name as much as the fans love him. And there’s something oh so cool about that!