By DAVID MILLER News Sports EditorSClBQuite a few years ago now, sports commentator Chris Berman started applying unique nicknames to baseball players. Many of the nicknames were really clever, some were funny and some required a real stretch of the imagination to understand (at least for me).
A few examples: Roberto Alomar was Roberto “Remember the” Alomar; Bert Blyleven was Bert “Be Home” Byleven; Jesse mBarfield was Jesse “Belly Up to the” Barfield; Mike Bordick was Mike “Room and” Bordick; Royce Clayton became Royce “A Roni” Clayton; Dion James was Dion “Bartles and” James; Eddie Murray was Eddie “Eat Drink and Be” Murray; Kent Mercker was Kent “Magic” Mercker and Al Osuna was Al Osuna “Or Later.”
As clever as some of Mr. Berman’s efforts may have been, the nicknames he provided to big league players very seldom stuck.
Neverless, nicknames have always had a place in major league baseball. It seemed back in the old days just about every player had a nickname by which he was better known than the name his Mom gave him.
For example, almost everyone has heard of the late Yogi Berra, the philosopher extraordinaire.
Not as many know that his real name was Lawrence Peter Berra.
Just for kicks I prepared an exercise involving Major League Baseball nicknames
In the first list are a few of the many baseball nicknames to surface over the years. The second list will be the real names. See how many you can match. I’ve already given you Lawrence “Yogi” Berra. Here are some others: (Warning: some of these go way back in time as you might expect from me, who also goes way back in time).
1. Sparky; 2. Home Run; 3. Cool Papa; 4. Three Finger; 5. Happy; 6. Dizzy; 7. The Splendid Splinter; 8. Duke, 9. Babe, 10. Big Poison, 11. Dazzy,12. Pie, 13. The Wizard of Oz; 14. Tom Terrific; 15. Scooter; 16. The Say Hey Kid; 17. Chief; 18. The Commerce Comet; 19. The Georgia Peach, 20. Rabbit; 21 Whitey; 22. Pee Wee, 23. Stan the Man, 24. The Big Unit, 25. Pepper, 26. Oil Can and 27. Chipper. 28. Dusty.
1. Tom Seaver, 2. Mickey Mantle, 3. Jerome Hanna Dean, 4. George Herman Ruth, 5. Theodore S. Williams, 6. George Anderson, 7. Mordecai Brown, 8. Paul Waner, 9. Ozzie Smith; 10. Phil Rizzuto; 11. Willie Mays; 12. Tyrus Raymond Cobb; 13. Stanley Musial; 14. Edwin Donald Snider; 15. John Franklin Baker; 16. James Thomas Bell; 17. Albert Benjamin Chandler; 18. Johnny Leonard Roosevelt Martin; 19. Charles Arthur Vance; 20. Charles Albert Bender; 21. Walter James Vincent Maranville; 22. Edward Charles Ford; 23. Randy Johnson: 24. Harold Joseph Traynor; 25. Harold Peter Henry Reese; 26. Dennis Ray Boyd 27. Johnnie B. Baker and 28. Larry Wayne Jones Jr
That’s enough. If you are into taking this kind of quiz, how well do you think you did? Some were fairly well known. Others may have been out in left field, so to speak.
If you are interested, here are the answers.
1. Sparky — George Anderson.
Sparky was the longtime manager of the Cincinnati Reds and later the Detroit Tigers. I had a boss in Illinois who lived and died Cincinnati Reds baseball. He taught me to appreciate Sparky and the Big Red Machine of the 1970s, which by the way also included Oklahoma native Johnny Bench.
2. Home Run — John Franklin Baker. By today’s standards, Mr. Baker was not much of a home run hitter. He had only 96 in his 14-year career back in the early 1900s. He got his nickname because he hit two homers in the 1911 WorldSeries. He did lead the league in homers four consecutive years, with his biggest year in 1913 when he hit 12 home runs.
3. Cool Papa — John Thomas Bell. He was one of the standouts in the old Negro Leagues that eventually wound up on the Hall of Fame. Cool Papa was extremely fast. Legend has it that he went all the way around the bases in 12 seconds. Satchel Paige said of him, “He was so fast that he could turn off the lights and be in bed under the covers before the room got dark.”’
4. Three Finger — Mordecai Brown. I remember that my aunt gave me a book with stories about all the baseball Hall of Famers. One of my favorites was Three Finger Brown for two reasons. I loved his nickname and I loved his real name. I had never heard of anyone named Mordecai (outside of the Bible) and I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone by that name since. His three-fingered pitching hand helped him throw a very wicked breaking ball.
5. Happy — Albert Benjamin Chandler. He wasn’t a ball player, but was baseball commissioner for a short stint. He was a politician from Kentucky and served as governor and U.S. Senator.
His most notable deed as commissioner was encouraging Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier.
6. Dizzy — Jerome Hanna Dean. There is some question about Dizzy’s real name. Some sources say it was Jay Hanna Dean. But then Dizzy loved to keep people guessing. There also is some unknown factors as to when he was born and where. Dizzy would say one thing one time and then a different thing another time. That’s perhaps why he was known as “Dizzy.”
7. The Splendid Splinter — Theodore S. Williams. Arguably the best pure hitterin the history of baseball. He also gave up some of his potentially best years as a ballplayer to serve in both World War II and the Korean War.
8. Duke — Edwin Donald Snider. Great baseball player. He made his mark as an avocado farmer in California after retirement.
9. Babe — George Herman Ruth. If he wasn’t the greatest player ever, he probably was the most colorful. I remember being amazed as a child about stories detailing his voracious appetite for hot dogs. He reportedly ate as many as 18 hot dogs in one sitting. It did make him sick, but legend is that he went out and hit a couple of home runs the next day.
10. Big Poison — Paul Waner. He and his brother Lloyd were Oklahomans who made their mark on baseball back in the 1930s. Paul was known as Big Poison, and Lloyd was “Little Poison.”
Neither were very big in physical stature, but both became Hall of Fame players.
11. Dazzy — Charles Arthur Vance. I remember when Dazzy was elected to the hall of fame. It was reported that he threw a 100-mile-per-hour fast ball, which got my attention. That is fast by anyone’s standards. I also remember that it was said he played for the Brooklyn Robins. I had never heard of that team, but in looking it up, discovered that the Brooklyn team was known as the Robins for a short time because of their manager Wilbert Robinson.
12. Pie — Harold Joseph Traynor. I have written about how I liked Pie for obvious reasons.
13. The Wizard of Oz — Ozzie Smith. A great shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals back in the 1970s-’80s.
14. Tom Terrific — Tom Seaver. He helped transform the terrible New York Mets into a winner.
15. Scooter — Phil Rizzuto.Good baseball player at shortstop. Yankees fans might disagree, but he was a very annoying announcer for the Yankees more recently.
16. The Say Hey Kid — Willie Mays. Another of my many childhood heroes. He got the nickname because he was always saying “Say Hey.” I have a friend who always says “Let’s Eat.” It would be appropriate to call him that I guess.
17. Chief — Charles Albert Bender. He was called Chief (as were a number of other players) because of his Native American ancestry. The book my aunt gave me introduced me to Chief Bender and I was intrigued by his name. Obviously, he was good enough to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
18. The Commerce Comet — Mickey Mantle. Oklahomans should know this one. He played high school sports in Commerce, hence the first part of his nickname. He could flat out run — hence the second part.
19. The Georgia Peach — Tyrus Raymond Cobb. He was one of the top four or five players to play the game — some would say the best. But his mean spirited, unforgiving personality made him one of the most hated players ever.
20. Rabbit — James Vincent Maranville. He was as well known for his off-the-field antics as he was for his ability to play baseball. He befriended Moses Yellow-Horse who has ties to Ponca City and Pawnee and some would say Rabbit led Mr. YellowHorse astray.
21. Whitey — Edward Charles Ford. Speaking of leading others astray — many credit Billy Martin and Ford to leading Mickey Mantle to a hard-living, hard drinking lifestyle. Ford could pitch, however. And when you needed a pitcher for a very important game, he was your guy. He usually won the big games.
22. Pee Wee — Harold Peter Henry Reese. Pee Weewas Dizzy Dean’s broadcasting partner for the old CBS Game of the Week. I used to sit by the television for every play in the days they were on the air.
23. Stan the Man — Stanley Musial. A great hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals. Stan and Biggie’s Restaurant in St. Louis used to be the place to go after a Cardinals’ game.
24. The Big Unit — Randy Johnson. At 6-foot-9, he was an imposing figure on the mound. His fast ball was pretty intimidating also. He’s one of my favorite modern day players.
25. Pepper — Johnny Leonard Roosevelt Martin. He could have had any first name. He still would have been my mother’s favorite since they shared the family name of “Martin.” Pepper also had Osage County ties and played semipro football in Hominy.
26. Oil Can — Dennis Ray Boyd — Pitched for the Boston Red Sox. His nickname reportedly comes from his ability to drink beer. Beer was often referred to as “oil” in his native Mississippi. Oil Can has to be one of the best nicknames ever.
27. Chipper — Larry Wayne Jones Jr. — A good player for many years, but now retired. I had to put this in for all the Braves fans I know, including Randy Bishop and Sharon Rowen.
28. Dusty— Johnnie B. Baker —A pretty good player quite a few years ago for the Los Angles Dodgers and now the manager of the Washington Nationals. Dusty could also be James Lamar Rhodes, who was one of the hitting stars in the 1954 World Series, having played for the New York Giants.
I haven’t watched Chris “Crazy Nicknames” Berman recently, so I don’t know if he still does the funny nickname bit. But even though I found some of his efforts to be a stretch, it is what I’ll always remember about him.