Many athletes have nicknames as each individual sport has its share of characters. In football, we had The Juice for O.J. Simpson. In basketball, we had Earvin “Magic” Johnson for what he could do on the court (pass, man, pass). Hockey? How about Bobby “The Golden Jet” Hull?
My dad? Pernel Hinely? Ok, he was no athlete, but he was always known as Whitey for his blonde hair. (The only person I had ever heard call him Pernel was his mom, my dear old grandma.) But I digress.
Let’s face it though, folks, baseball has the best nicknames! Babe Ruth was the Sultan of Swat while Ted Williams was The Splendid Splinter. Moving on into the 70’s there was Orlando “Baby Bull” Cepeda and my all-time favorite player, Willie Stargell, known as Pops, the elder statesman on a young Pittsburgh Pirates team. There have been so many characters in our fine sport. Here are my ten favorite nicknames. (I’ve left Pops off the list as I’ve already mentioned him.)
1) Don “Stan the Man Unusual” Stanhouse: Played in the majors for a decade for several teams (A’s, Expo’s, Orioles, etc.) but always had a crazy ‘fro and his clubhouse antics (shrieking for no apparent reason). Apparently Earl Weaver used to call him “Fullpack” as Weaver used to burn through a full pack o’ cigs with worry while Stanhouse was on the mound.
2) Al “The Mad Hungarian’ Hrabosky: Played from 1970 to 1982. Hrabosky earned his nickname due to his unusual last name as well as his antics on the mound trying to psyche batters out, walking around the mound and slamming the ball into his mitt. The fu-manchu moustache certainly didn’t hurt either.
3) Steve “Lefty” Carlton: Four-time Cy Young award winner played for several teams in his 20-plus year career, though most of his acclaim came with the Phillies. He was a southpaw (duh), refused to speak to reporters and had some unusual ideas about the U.S. government. Yup, he was a weirdo all right. Let’s always remember, 27-10 with a 1.98 ERA for the last place ’72 Phillies.
4) Ron “Louisiana Lightning” Guidry: A Yankee for his entire 13-year career Guidry was slight in build (most of his career he hovered around the 150 pound mark), but man the guy could throw heat, thus his nickname. Who could forget his 1978 season: 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA! Great ‘stache, too.
5) John “Blue Moon” Odom: I always thought this Oakland A’s ace was nicknamed as such because he could only get the ball over the plate “every blue moon” (not true) but later found out it was a grade school classmate’s nickname. I hope he has his life together now (he had a few arrests in 1985). He and Vida Blue made a formidable duo for the A’s.
6) Bill “Spaceman” Lee: Undoubtedly one of the game’s most colorful characters and true oddballs. Spaceman only played for two teams, Red Sox and Expos, in his 13 years career (I thought it was more). He often talked about population control, Greenpeace and sprinkling weed on his pancakes. We need more guys like him in the majors.
7) Willie “Stretch’ McCovey: McCovey played the beginning and end of his career as a San Francisco Giant (with the Padres and A’s between) but hey, the water behind right field in the Giants ballpark is called McCovey Cove so that means something, right? His nickname? Just because he was so darn tall (6’ 6”).
8) Harmon “Killer” Killebrew: A big, corn-fed boy from Idaho (lots of potatoes, too), Killebrew, was a Minnesota Twin, used to frighten opposing pitchers for his home run frequency (he’d hit ‘em a mile too), thus his nickname. He left us in 2011 at age 74 but not before they named the street in front of Mall of America Killebrew Drive.
9) Carl “Yaz” Yastrzemski: Yaz may have been Long Islander of Polish descent but to Red Sox fans he was a Bostonian through and through (playing all of his 21-year career with the Bosox). Ever hear folks utter “Carl Yaz” in one a thick Boston accents? It’s a gas!
10) “Stormin’ Gorman Thomas: Oh sure, he may have looked like a Hell’s Angel for part of his playing career but Thomas was just a good ol’ boy from South Carolina. Apparently he used to walk around the clubhouse mimicking The Fonz before he finally settled down and began blasting home runs. 45 of them in 1979. Yup, this guy was the real deal.
And what the hell…one more.
11) Ross “Scuz” Grimsley: Apparently he would not shower during winning streaks.
And here’s five I did not know when I was growing up:
1) Johnny Bench: The Little General
2) Lou Brock: The Franchise
3) Don Drysdale: Big D
4) Al Kaline: Salty
5) Juan Marichal: The Dominican Dandy
Perhaps next time we’ll discuss Greg “The Bull” Luzinski, Ken “Zamboni” Reitz, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, Dave “The Cobra” Parker, Dave “Kong” (or “Sky King”) Kingman, Rick “The Whale” Reuschel, Mick “The Quick” Rivers, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Marty “Taco” Perez, Ron “The Penguin” Cey, Bill “Mad Dog” Madlock and a few others.
Tim Hinely has called New Jersey, California, Oregon and now Colorado home. He has been doing his own music zine, DAGGER, for 26 years. Check it out at daggerzine.com