History: July 11, 1914: Nifty Sports Nicknames

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A Brief History

On July 11, 1914, the major league career of George Herman Ruth began, with Ruth pitching for the victory of the Red Sox over the Cleveland Naps.  On that same day, it is said Ruth met his first wife, a 16 year old waitress.  Of course Ruth is better known as “Babe” Ruth, but he was also often referred to as “The Sultan of Swat” or “The Bambino.”  What you might not know is that his Yankee teammates usually called him “Jidge.”

Digging Deeper

Great athletes and minor ones alike often have colorful nicknames, and baseball is especially good for nick naming players.  You had “Sudden Sam” McDowell, “Rapid Robert” Feller, “The Rocket” Roger Clemens, “Whitey” Ford, “Dizzy” and “Daffy” Dean (brothers), “Charley Hustle” Pete Rose, “The Georgia Peach” Ty Cobb, “Stan the Man” Musial, and “The Iron Horse” Lou Gehrig.  Still playing is “A-rod” Alex Rodriguez, but retired is Frank “The Washington Monument” Howard.  “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron was given an appropriate nickname, and Joe “The Yankee Clipper” DiMaggio was given one that recognized his grace.  Ted Williams was “The Splendid Splinter,”  a reflection of his thin build.  Leo “The Lip” Durocher was, well, lippy.

Durocher in 1948

“Yogi” is not the real first name of the Yankees great catcher and manager, Lawrence P. Berra, and “Cy” Young was really Denton True Young.  (True?).  Willie Mays was known as “The Say Hey Kid,” because, you guessed it, he said hey.

Sometimes nicknames have a country flair, such as pitchers Jim “Catfish” Hunter and Jim “Mudcat” Grant.  (For some reason pitchers seem more prone to getting nicknames.)  As far as country names,  Enos “Country” Slaughter, case in point!

Slaughter with the Cardinals in 1948

Basketball players have some pretty unusual first names anyway, but still, they come up with some cool nicknames as well.  You had “Wilt the Stilt” Chamberlain (aka, The Big Dipper), Shaquille O’Neal was called “Optimus Prime” after the giant Transformer, and of course you had Charles “The Round Mound of Rebound” Barkley.  Karl “The Mail Man” Malone always delivered, and the great Oscar Robertson was “The Big O.”  “Pistol Pete” Maravich was known for being a “gunner” (one who shoots a lot), and LeBron James is known simply as “The King.”  “Penny” Hardaway sounds better than Anfernee, his real name, and World B. Free had more zip than Lloyd Free.  Of course, changing his name to Meta World Peace did not make Ronald Artest, Jr. play any better.  “Dollar Bill” Bradley always struck me as a good nickname, while “The Hick From French Lick” (Larry Bird) not so much.  “Hot Rod” Hundley sounds much catchier and Travis “The Machine” Grant sounds intimidating.

Football gave us some catchy names, such as “Dandy Don” Meredith, “Jughead” Taylor, “Ironhead” Heyward and “The Juice.”  Lou Groza, offensive tackle and kicker for the Browns was known as “The Toe” for his kicking exploits.  William Perry earned his nickname, “The Refrigerator” for his immense bulk, and “Mean Joe” Greene deserved his bellicose moniker.  Another football name I always liked was “Cannon Ball” Butler, the rugged running back for the Falcons.  The Browns have “Johnny Football,” but despite his nickname Mr. Manziel has not accomplished much in the pros as of yet.  Daniel “Colt” McCoy also threw balls for the Browns, but not with much success.  “Broadway Joe” Namath won a Superbowl, so I guess he deserved a good nickname.

Namath in 1965, as a rookie with the New York Jets

What are some of your favorite sports nicknames?  Let us know!

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Historical Evidence

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.