Too bad all the good ones are already gone.
In yet another marketing ploy disguised as a fan-friendly “Players Weekend”, major league baseball players will get to rep nicknames on the back of specially designed jerseys the weekend of Aug. 25-27.
Thus, Josh “Bringer of Rain” Donaldson, Andrew “Cutch” McCutchen and Miguel “Miggy” Cabrera get to let the world know just how good — or bad — their aliases are.
It makes one long for the days of Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson and Pete “Charlie Hustle” Rose, no matter what the public thought of them and their demeanor.
This latest exercise smacks of shameless self-promotion for a game that pays its players way too much, and in a lot of cases not a whole lot is given back.
Don’t get us wrong, there is much to love about major league baseball, but all the good nicknames — and a lot of the colorful players who had them — are sadly long gone.
Here are 15 great all-time nicknames we felt needed to be shared again.
Billy Butler – Country Breakfast
Billy Butler is currently a free agent and sadly, he won’t be one of the many to be able to sport what would easily be the best nickname in baseball, right now. He last played in 2016 and at 6′ and 260 lbs., he was giving Pablo Sandoval a run for the least svelte player in baseball. That’s why a sports editor from Missouri gave former all-star Billy Butler the moniker “Country Breakfast” during his stellar 2012 season. The newsman from the St. Joseph News-Press, Ross Martin, explained his reasoning this way: “My understanding of a country breakfast is a breakfast that includes all of the meats — sausage, bacon and ham. And anybody that knows Billy Butler, he looks like a guy that puts away a few of those meals every now and then.” In 10 big league seasons, the blocky Butler hit .290, with 147 homers and 728 RBI.
Mike Hargrove – The Human Rain Delay
Any baseball player wanting a true gem of a nickname need only come up with some original and quite likely superstitious ritual. Mike Hargrove, rookie of the year in 1974 with Texas and a lifetime .290 hitter in 1,666 major league baseball games, got his for being quite particular about his batting ritual. The former first baseman, later turned big league manager, no doubt drove many a big league pitcher to distraction with his quirky routine. He would, very slowly, adjust his helmet, make sure his batting glove was good and tight on his thumb, tug on his sleeves and wipe his pant legs. If the at bat wasn’t going his way, he’d further infuriate the guy on the mound by doing it all over again. With the number of hits (1,614) and walks (965) he garnered, we’d say his “Human Rain Delay” ritual worked.
Greg Maddux – The Professor
When looking the slight six-foot, 170 lb. Greg Maddux in his baseball heyday, he didn’t conjure up “Mad Dog”, that’s for sure. “The Professor”, for his studious ways and bespectacled face, was way, way more apt. Though he was known by the former alias earlier in his career, the four-time National League Cy Young winner and now Hall of Famer pitcher rightly earned his scholarly nickname. When he wasn’t pitching, the 355-game winner and eight-time all-star scoured the stats sheets to gain an edge on hitters he would face. It would help him greatly later in his illustrious career, when the velocity on his filthy two-seam fastball went down. Even without his best stuff he was still able to win 15 games at the age of 40 in 2006. It’s not hard to see why.
Dave Kingman – Kong
For all of his 1,941 game career, Dave Kingman was feast, or famine. “Kong” either hit a monstrous homer, or struck out, there wasn’t much in between. He had 1,575 big league hits in 6,677 at bats (.236 average), 442 of which were homers. He ended his career 13th all time on the at bats per home run ledger at a ridiculous rate of one per 15.11 at bats. He led the senior circuit in homers twice, with 48 in 1979 while with the Chicago Cubs and then 37 with the New York Mets in 1982. The man with the epic handlebar moustache also struck out prolificly, leading all NL hitters in that category three separate years, with a high of 156 in 1982. He hit over 20 homers in a season 12 times, coinciding with the 13 occasions he struck out well over 100 times.
Dave Parker – Cobra
Kobe Bryant may have been the “Black Mamba” but he wasn’t the first superstar to have a serpentine nickname. For 19 seasons, Dave “Cobra” Parker was as menacing a hitter in baseball as few others. He could hit for average (twice leading the NL) and power (two-time doubles leader and career 339 homers), uncoiling his intimidating 6’5″, 230 lb. frame like a big snake to smack the ball into the gaps and over the fence. Parker was the NL MVP in 1978 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and would win a World Series with them in 1979 and again 10 years later with the Oakland A’s. Parker amassed 2,712 hits and was an all-star seven times, a Gold Glover three times and also received three Silver Slugger awards.
Jay Dean – Dizzy
Even Jay “Dizzy” Dean’s St. Louis Cardinals team of the 1930s had a great nickname, “Gashouse Gang”, for their rugged appearance and brazen on-field exploits. Dizzy Dean was a colorful guy who would be the last National League pitcher to win 30 games in a season, doing so in 1934 when he went 30-7 with a 2.66 ERA. He was one of few pitchers, then, to win a MVP award, based on that monstrous output. Dean talked non-stop on any topic and later would have his career altered by having his big toe broken by a comebacker during the 1937 All-Star game. His career path was then shortened considerably when he had to overcompensate with his mechanics, which messed up his delivery and velocity. His gabby ways, though, got him a job as a baseball color commentator, where his grammatically challenged ways kept everyone entertained.
Jim Hunter – Catfish
The genesis of Jim Hunter’s “Catfish” nickname has never really been confirmed. But, we don’t really care because the late pitcher’s alias is one of the greatest, all-time. Some say that his Oakland A’s employer, curmudgeonly owner Charlie O. Finley, gave it to him for no good reason, while another rumor was floated he got it from some magical boyhood fishing exploits. That name, however he got it, was synonymous with success for much of the 1970s, when Hunter was at his zenith as a hurler. He won 20 or more games five seasons in a row and copped a Cy Young with Oakland in 1974 when he was 25-12 with a league low 2.49 ERA. Hunter was an all-star eight times and won five world championships, three with Oakland and two with the Yankees between 1972 and 1978. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.
Ty Cobb – The Georgia Peach
Funny that a guy who no one loved in baseball and who was a race-baiting Southerner got a nickname like “The Georgia Peach.” Whatever his politics or how he played the game, there was no denying that Ty Cobb was one of the greatest five-tool ballplayers of all-time. One of the first to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, Cobb had 4,191 career hits, stole 892 bases and finished with an all-time best .366 batting average. He played 3,034 games, the majority with the Detroit Tigers, winning 12 batting titles and leading the AL in stolen bases six times. Cobb was MVP just once, though, when he hit a career high .420 in 1911. While is batting and base-running were without parallel in his day, Cobb was reviled for being a “spikes up” player when stealing bases. His alias was a little misleading, to say the least.
Frank Thomas – The Big Hurt
No, he didn’t get his nickname from a famous pop song or a little known 1980s film of the same name. Frank Thomas, all 6’5″ and 240 lbs. of him, was so named for dialing long distance on baseballs 521 times in a 2,322-game career spent mostly with the Chicago White Sox in the 1990s and into the first decade of the new millenium. The Hall of Famer was chosen in the first round of the 1989 MLB draft, no doubt due in part that he was hard to miss on the field. Blessed with a great batting eye, the two-time AL MVP led the loop in walks four times and routinely had way more bases on balls than strikeouts. In 10 of his big league campaigns, Thomas walked over 100 times, drove in over 100 runs the same years and hit anywhere from 24 to 43 homers in those seasons. A lifetime .301 hitter with a .419 on base percentage, The Big Hurt was enshrined at Cooperstown in 2014.
Ozzie Smith – The Wizard
Picasso’s oeuvre was the canvas and Michelangelo’s the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. In baseball, there weren’t and aren’t many who had the artistry with his mitt at shortstop than Hall of Famer Ozzie “the Wizard” Smith displayed in his illustrious career. The slight native of Mobile, AL broke into the big leagues in 1978 with San Diego and over the course of 19 seasons and 2,573 games he would win 13 Gold Gloves for his superb play up the middle, along with 15 All-Star nominations. His career Defensive WAR of 43.4 percent is no. 1 all-time and he made just 281 errors on 12,905 total chances for a lifetime .978 fielding percentage. Smith was also a fair hitter (.262) and outstanding baserunner in his day, swiping 580 bases. The back-flipping middle infielder won a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1982 and was MVP of the 1985 NLCS with the Cards as well.
Randy Johnson – The Big Unit
It’s kind of alarming that even at 6’10”, Randy Johnson wasn’t the tallest man to ever take the mound in a MLB game. That honor belongs to Jon Rauch, who pitched for 11 seasons in the big league and stood 6’11”. And the tallest official professional baseball player is Dutch national Loek van Mil, who is a towering 7’1″. But, back to the aptly named “Big Unit”, Randy Johnson was by far the greatest tall man to toe the rubber. Johnson got his start in the big leagues with Montreal in 1988, where fellow Hall of Famer Tim Raines coined his nickname after running into him at practice, exclaiming “you’re a big unit!” Johnson used that lanky frame and huge wingspan to win 303 games, five Cy Young awards, strike out 4,875 batters and toss 37 complete games shutouts in 603 starts.
Willie Mays – Say Hey Kid
In our opinion, there might never be another five-tool, all-around player better than Willie “Say Hey Kid” Mays. In a lengthy career spanning 22 seasons, spent mostly with the New York/San Francisco Giants, Mays was a 20-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, two-time MVP, 12-time Gold Glover, four-time home run leader in the NL, and a batting champ among many accolades and awards. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1979, too. The fleet centerfielder was made forever famous for that astounding over-the-shoulder grab known as “The Catch” in game 1 of the 1954 World Series. His nickname was derived from the fact that despite his many athletic gifts, he couldn’t for the life of him in his early career remember the name of his teammates during spring training. He would always just utter things like “Say who?” and “Say what?”, and the alias stuck from then on.
Ted Williams – The Splendid Splinter
The inimitable Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game, had many nicknames including “Thumper”, “Teddy Ballgame” and “The Kid.” But, no moniker quite fit like “The Splendid Splinter” given that he hit the ball for great average (.344 lifetime, last one to hit over .400) and was an obsessive student of putting bat on ball. Williams played all 19 of his seasons as a left fielder — and a good one, too — for the Boston Red Sox, with a few years interrupted for military service in World War II and the Korean War. Of his many accomplishments, the Splendid Splinter was a 19-time All-Star, two-time AL MVP, six-time batting champion, two-time Triple Crown winner and owner of the highest ever on-base percentage at a thunderous .482. The only thing he never received, unfortunately, was a World Series ring, because we all know how long Boston went without winning it all.
Mordecai Brown – Three Finger
The nickname given Hall of Fame pitcher Mordecai Brown stemmed unfortunately from a farming accident in his youth. But, the wily righthander, who lost parts of two fingers on his pitching hand in the accident, used it to his advantage to perfect a near un-hittable curveball. Brown pitched during the “Deadball” era in the early 1900s, with most of his 332 starts and 481 total games pitched coming with the Chicago Cubs. In 1908, the second last time the Cubbies won it all, Brown was 29-9 with a now unheard of 27 complete games, including nine by shutout. In the World Series against Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers, Brown pitched a complete-game, four hit shutout in game 4, with four strikeouts, including a whiff on Cobb, who wasn’t easy to strike out. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1949.
Bill Lee – Spaceman
Bill Lee was far from the greatest pitcher of all-time, but the southpaw from Burbank, CA was definitely one of the loopiest characters to ever suit up. His love of the counter-culture, outspoken ways and being a Rastafarian made Lee kind of an odd-ball, especially around staid old Fenway Park in his early career, earning him the nickname “Spaceman.” Lee, who is in the Red Sox Hall of Fame, started 321 games for the team between 1969 and 1978 and another 95 with Montreal at the end of his career. He didn’t have a great fastball, so added to his repertoire a version of the “Eephus” pitch, or basically a very slowly thrown ball that catches a hitter off-guard. His was so special, it was called the “Leephus” pitch or “Space Ball.” Later in life, the Spaceman made a name for himself barnstorming and dabbling in politics. In fact, around 1988, Lee was the Rhinoceros Party presidential candidate running on a platform that included bulldozing the Rocky Mountains so the province of Alberta could receive a few extra minutes of sunlight and having a ban on guns and butter. His slogan was “No guns, no butter. Both can kill.” Quite a character, indeed.