Ranking the 25 Best Nicknames in MLB
If Tony La Russa and Ron Washington have reminded baseball fans of the awful state of contemporary baseball management, we need no reminder that nicknames are in even sorrier shape.
Where once sobriquets like "Death to Flying Things" and "The Commerce Comet" described what a player did well on the field or something important about them as a person, we now know our superstars by unimaginative, vague names like "A-Rod" and "The Freak." These are terrible nicknames. They're awful.
But exceptions still pop up, now and then. Somewhere in the baseball universe, people are still coming up with actually creative and thoroughly enjoyable nicknames. Here are the 25 best going in the game today.
25. Marc Rzepczynski: "Scrabble"
Though it's fairly derivative and mostly stems from polonophobia among those who are supposed to write and pronounce Rzepczynski's name for a living, Scrabble is a fun little nickname that highlights the inscrutability not only of his name, but of his stuff.
24. Brett Jackson: "The Golden Retriever"
Brett Jackson is the embodiment of Ronnie Bass from Remember the Titans, if you'll excuse the mixed sporting metaphor. He's an extraordinarily gifted athlete and baseball player, but also a Californian by birth and by disposition.
When he showed up in the minor leagues for the Cubs and began running down everything in center field, teammates noticed his long blond locks trailing him in the wind, and a great nickname was born. Once can only hope Jackson keeps his hair at least semi-long as he ascends to become the Cubs' everyday center fielder and lead-off man in 2012.
23. Jimmy Rollins: "Wishlist"
Believe it or not, the man we know as J-Roll once had a nickname that wasn't boring and stupid. Rollins plays up the middle of the diamond. He can hit and hit for power. He's a sensational fielder and can more than make the throws from the shortstop hole. He runs well enough to have stolen 373 career bases, but is smart enough to have done so with a success rate of nearly 83 percent. He is your whole toolsy Wishlist, packed into one package.
22. Andrew McCutchen: "'Cutch-22"
McCutchen is a walking, talking no-win situation for Pirates opponents. He does everything well, and has virtually no weaknesses. He might have acquired this moniker even if he didn't actually wear 22, but since he does, it was downright inevitable.
21. Rafael Furcal: "El Enano"
Furcal got this name back in his early days with the Atlanta Braves, and it hasn't stuck as well as it ought to have. Still, it's a great one.
Furcal is diminutive, but has much more strength than one would expect. He's also a fiery player who values the competitive element of the game and loves showing off his strong arm at shortstop. He fits his nickname to a tee: The Dwarf.
20. Vladimir Guerrero: "The Impaler"
Yes, the nickname is partially based on his first name, and yes, literally impaling a baseball would do a batter no good whatsoever. From his wild-swinging plate approach to his Howitzer arm in right field, though, Guerrero's fiercely dominant style reflects a trace of the ruthlessness of the real Vlad the Impaler. That, and the excellent chin beard Guerrero cultivated for much of his career, make it worthwhile.
19. Roy Halladay: "Doc"
A good nickname is often the result as much of serendipity as of design. Almost no matter what, a player with Halladay's surname reaching his heights of fame would be bound to hear the nickname "'Doc," based on Doc Holiday of Western film fame. As it turns out, though, Halladay is a precision surgeon on the mound, carving up opponents with command and control non pareil.
18. Ryan Braum: "The Hebrew Hammer"
Ethnic nicknames walk fine lines sometimes, but this one is fairly innocuous. That's not to mention that Braun is hardly the first athlete to bear it. It's true that he's Jewish, and true that he hammers the ball (he REALLY hammers it), and it will gain even more potency as Braun continues to achieve his tremendous power potential.
17. Pablo Sandoval: "Kung Fu Panda"
Sandoval will show up three times on this list. Don't think that's fair? Fine. It's going to happen anyway, because Sandoval has three terrific sobriquets. This is both the most common and the least enjoyable, though it's true that Sandoval (like Jack Black's animated character) is big, strong, fun-loving and utterly without grace.
16. Hanley Ramirez: "El Nino"
It's partially a takeoff of Ken Griffey's nickname, "The Kid," which takes a bit of the punch from this name. Ramirez did earn that kind of hype-friendly label in his own right, though, and anyway, "El Nino" also refers to the warm but stormy quasi-periodic weather phenomenon in the Pacific. Ramirez is like that: quiet, mellow, but also destructive to opponents when he gets rolling.
15. Brian Wilson: "The Beard"
It's hard to tell whether "The Beard" is a nickname for Wilson, or whether "Brian Wilson" is a nickname for his shoe-polish beard. The man is nuts, and the choice of sobriquet is a bit indelicate, but like Wilson, it's still fun.
14. Shane Victorino: "The Energizer Bunny"
Victorino is the other guy who will get multiple mentions on the list, the lesser of which is the nickname he has acquired since becoming the Phillies usual lead-off hitter the past two years. He energizes the lineup with speed, but also on-base skills, and a general restlessness that infects the dugout.
13. Chris Perez: "Pure Rage"
Fans force Kenny Powers comps on closers all the time, and it's obnoxious. Guys like Wilson, Perez and Jose Valverde are their own crazy men, and deserve to be recognized for what it is they do.
Perez loves rock music and is generally intense on the mound, and he relies heavily on his high-90s heat. It adds up to a persona pretty naturally, and the nickname grew organically from there.
12. Pablo Sandoval: "Round Mound of Pound"
Sandoval thinks, swings hard and makes contact with everything. He drives the ball with unusual authority, even on ground balls and line drives. He approaches the game like Vladimir Guerrero, but given his girth and his jocularity, Sandoval calls to mind Charles Barkley.
11. Carl Pavano: "American Idle"
Pavano got four years and $40 million for (as it turned out) 145.2 innings of work with the Yankees. He simply couldn't stay healthy. He moved on to Cleveland and Minnesota beginning in 2009, and has totaled over 640 innings in the three years since. Still, he will probably never escape the delightfully cruel nickname dropped on him by New York headline writers during his time on the Yankees' DL.
10. Hideki Matsui: "Godzilla"
This is, believe it or not, the second-cruelest popular nickname in the game's history. If it weren't for Kiki Cuyler (a hidden bit of derision, but a pointed one: the first part of Cuyler's surname was pronounced like Guy; he had a stutter and was quickly pinned with the nickname "Cuy-Cuy." Writers did not understand the jab at first hearing and transcribed a more palatable spelling.), Matsui would stand alone in this regard.
Having been given the nickname originally for his problems with acne, eczema and peeling skin as a young player, he developed such prodigious skills at the plate that eventually, the name became affectionate, even respectful. By the time he reached the United States, fans assumed it had always been so.
9. Alexei Ramirez: "Crisis"
Admittedly, this one is used rarely. Too often, Ramirez simply gets called "The Cuban Missile" or some weak derivative.
Occasionally, though, in a moment of clarity, Ken Harrelson or some other announcer will stumble into the right idea for Ramirez when he makes a great play. Fans occasionally pop up at U.S. Cellular Field with signs. The idea is this: Ramirez is Cuban, so it's a reference to the famed missile crisis. But it's also a Hell of a villainous nickname, not unlike Venom or Mystique. Ramirez wreaks havoc in many ways on the diamond, so it fits his skills, too.
8. Aroldis Chapman: "The Cuban Missile"
Calling a position player "The Cuban Missile" is reductive and unimaginative. Calling someone with a 105-MPH fastball by the same name is inevitable, but still delightfully on target.
7. Bronson Arroyo: "Saturn Nuts"
Arroyo was a drifter early in his career, riding the shuttle between Pittsburgh and the minor leagues his first three years. He didn't get his first real shot until 2004, when he started 29 games for the Red Sox. The team reached the playoffs (you might remember them), and when they called upon Arroyo to start Game 3 of the ALDS that year, teammate Curt Schilling accidentally bestowed a nickname with this post on a Red Sox message board. Arroyo is undeniably gutsy, and a little bit out there with his love of music and his off-handed interview style.
6. Jose Bautista: "Joey Bats"
Jose Bautista is fun. He has a wonderfully well-groomed beard, is thoughtful and well-spoken, and has a sense of humor. He is all about his bat, his thump, his power, so his nickname (and twitter handle) reflects as much. He also has a trace of the classy mobster to him, and this nickname grabs that, too.
5. Shane Victorino: "The Flyin' Hawaiian"
Victorino is Polynesian. He's fast. It's a pretty simple formula. The fun, though, is in the rhyme and rhythm of the name. It's whimsical, and whimsy is really what nicknames are all about.
4. Lance Berkman: "Fat Elvis"
Berkman prefers "The Big Puma," which is strange, because Berkman is actually pretty self-effacing and funny, and objectively, that nickname cannot hold a candle to this one. Whatever the reason, Berkman can keep his jungle name. I much prefer to wonder whether he has a Jungle Room in his basement, or for that matter, if he's ever tried on a jumpsuit.
3. Pablo Sandoval: "Fat Ichiro"
Like Ichiro, Sandoval is aggressive at the plate. Like Ichiro, he's a great line drive hitter. Like Ichiro, he makes contact just about every time he swings. That's about as far as the similarities go, but the parallel is hilarious, and it's real, as far as it goes.
2. Travis Hafner: "Pronk"
Aside from evoking a cartoon villain's crony (a role he would fit just fine), Hafner's nickname genuinely describes him in a real way. He got it a decade ago, when a teammate observed the number of times Hafner had been dubbed a developmental "project," and the frequency with which people compared Hafner to a "donkey" as he ran the bases. The combination was simple, if inelegant, and it fits him to a tee even today.
1. Dustin Pedroia: "The Laser Show"
He's not the most prolific line-drive hitter in the game, but when Dustin Pedroia puts bat to ball, it nearly always feels like a line drive. He stings the ball all over the field, whipping his bat through the strike zone on a scarcely discernible incline. He is as fun to watch as any hitter in baseball, and in a wholly original way. His nickname bears that out.