Baseball is always associated with having great traditions. It is a sport full of little intricacies, values and "unwritten rules" that have always been a huge part of its charm. Dating back to the late 19th century, it took many years for baseball to develop and turn into the sport full of traditions that it is today. Of course, all sports have their own unwritten rules and traditions. NFL games on Thanksgiving Day. The handshake line at the end of a playoff series in the NHL. However, if there is one thing that has always been a part of every spot and particularly a major part of baseball, it is the tradition of players having great nicknames.
Nicknames in sports come in a variety of ways. Oftentimes, they derive from a player's physical appearance. William Perry, the massive 335 pound defensive lineman on the 1985 Chicago Bears was more commonly known as "The Refrigerator." They can come from someone's playing style. Tim Duncan is known as "The Big Fundamental" for his simple, yet efficient way of playing basketball. Nicknames can also simply be a result of how amazing a player they are. Wayne Gretzky, who is widely considered to be the greatest hockey player to ever play, is simply known as "The Great One."
What makes nicknames in baseball so great is that they have been a part of the sport since its inception over 100 years ago. It seems as though every baseball player in the early 20th century had a nickname. The list below contains players from multiple different eras. It factors in how the nicknames relate to players' talent, physical attributes, playing style, and, of course, how funny they are.
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15 Randy Johnson: "The Big Unit"
One of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game, Randy Johnson was a force on the mound. He was a power pitcher who got a lot of his strength from his imposing physical stature. At 6'10", Randy Johnson's height was unmatched by any other pitcher during his time in the big leagues. The story goes that one day during batting practice in 1988, he collided with his teammate Tim Raines, who then said "You're a big unit!" The nickname then ended up sticking with Johnson for the rest of his career.
14 Ted Williams: "The Splendid Splinter"
Most know Ted Williams as one of the greatest hitters of all-time. He is the last player to have a batting average over .400 in a full regular season. A 19-time All-Star, his amazing hitting ability is where the "Splendid" part of this nickname comes from. It refers to his "Splendid" swing. This is also a good indicator of the era in which Williams played, because I don't think many people use the word "splendid" nowadays. His long and lean stature is where "Splinter" comes from and together we get the alliterated nickname "The Splendid Splinter" for one of the greatest hitters to ever play.
13 Mike Hargrove: "The Human Rain Delay"
Mike Hargrove was a solid major league player in the '70s and '80s. He earned his only All-Star appearance while playing for the the Texas Rangers in 1975. A lifetime .290 hitter, Hargrove was one of the best in the league at fighting off tough pitches and generating long at-bats. This was one of the contributing factors to his nickname, "The Human Rain Delay." Aside from his ability to foul off pitches, the primary source of the nickname was his excruciating ritual of preparing for each pitch. After each pitch, he drove pitchers crazy by always stepping out of the batter's box to adjust his helmet, batting gloves, sleeves, and wiping his hands on his pants. That entire process happened between every single pitch.
12 José Bautista: "Joey Bats"
In an interview with AOL in 2015, Jose Bautista said that he got the nickname when he was a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. One of the workers at PNC Park who handed out snacks behind home plate made a sign for when Bautista came up to bat that read "Joey Bats" and once the television crews discovered the sign, the nickname began to stick. The name didn't become known nationally until Bautista joined the Blue Jays, where he's played in six straight All-Star games. "Joey Bats" sounds like the nickname of a hit-man or someone powerful, and it couldn't be a better name for a home run slugger like Bautista.
11 Rusty Staub: "Le Grand Orange"
Rusty Staub just seemed to be one of those guys who was a fan favorite no matter where he played. He is the only player to have 500 hits with four different teams. His greatest years were early in his career with the Montreal Expos, where he was an All-Star for the three years he played for them. Staub had bright orange hair and it didn't take long before the French-Canadian city dubbed him "Le Grand Orange." The nickname stuck throughout his career. The beloved orange-haired Staub played for 23 years and had his number retired by the Expos along with making the New York Mets Hall of Fame.
10 Frank Howard: "The Capital Punisher"
From 1958-1973, there was no one as physically imposing in baseball as Frank Howard. A 6'7", 255 pound slugger, he actually had a couple of nicknames. Some of them included the names "Hondo" and "The Washington Monument." However, I think his most suiting nickname was "The Capital Punisher." He was one of the best power hitters in the game and he had three consecutive seasons of 40 or more home runs with the Washington Senators from 1968-1970. "The Capital Punisher" derives from both his playing in the nation's capital and his freakish power that essentially sentenced the baseballs he struck to the death penalty.
9 "Shoeless" Joe Jackson
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson is one of the more infamous players in baseball history because of his involvement in 1919 Black Sox Scandal. He was a star player on the Chicago White Sox team that intentionally lost the 1919 World Series in exchange for $5,000. His nickname is unrelated to this scandal. He has explained that his nickname came from a minor league game in which he was wearing a new pair of cleats that were giving him horrible blisters. The pain was so intense that he decided to just remove his shoes and went to bat in just his socks. A heckling fan noticed this and yelled "You shoeless son of a gun!" Nowadays if you were to say the name Joe Jackson, most people would not know who you are referring to. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson is a prime example of how some nicknames can overtake your real name.
8 Lou Gehrig: "The Iron Horse"
There are not many people with more revered baseball careers than Lou Gehrig. All-Star appearances, batting titles, a triple crown; there is not much he didn't do. The thing that allowed him to accumulate such gaudy statistics was his ability to stay healthy. Lou Gehrig never took a day off from work. He played in 2,130 consecutive games, a record that was long thought of to be unbreakable until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it in 1995. What stopped Lou Gehrig's streak? A fatal disease called ALS that was not well documented at the time and ultimately took his life. The disease is now often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." His work ethic and love for the game earned him the nickname "The Iron Horse."
7 Fred McGriff: "Crime Dog"
The nickname "Crime Dog" was coined by one of the greatest nickname-givers of all time in sportscaster Chris Berman. The nickname is a play on the name "McGruff'," who was a cartoon dog created by American police as a way of informing children about the dangers of crime. Fred McGriff initially stated that he preferred the name "Fire Dog" in reference to a fire that happened in the Atlanta Braves' stadium the day they traded for him and the team subsequently "caught fire." However, the slugger later embraced the Crime Dog name and it became one of the most popular nicknames in sports.
6 Brooks Robinson: "The Human Vacuum Cleaner"
Brooks Robinson may be the greatest defensive infielder to ever play. A third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, he won a whopping 16 straight Gold Glove Awards from 1960-1975. His range at the hot corner was unprecedented,and his amazing ability to gobble up any ball that was hit towards him earned him the nickname "The Human Vacuum Cleaner." When I picture a ball being hit to Brooks Robinson, I imagine him literally sticking out his glove and the ball being absorbed into the webbing.
5 Frank Thomas: "The Big Hurt"
"The Big Hurt" is without a doubt one of the most popular names amongst fans. Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas was the inspiration for the 1995 video game Frank Thomas Big Hurt Baseball and other arcade games like Big Hurt Pinball. The name could not have been more appropriate for the player. He was the first true superstar in the American League's designated hitter position. He was a massive human being at 6'5" and 240 lbs. While playing for the Chicago White Sox, he won back-to-back MVPs and was one of baseballs most feared power hitters.
4 Pablo Sandoval: "Kung Fu Panda"
Pablo Sandoval is one of baseball's more popular players. He has proven to be an incredibly clutch hitter and helped the San Francisco Giants win three World Series. Other than his clutch play, Sandoval is popular for his chubby frame. At 5'11" and 255 lbs, Sandoval's weight is often a talking point amongst fans. He also plays the third base position, a position that is typically played by more agile and rangy players. His teammate Barry Zito gave him the nickname "Kung Fu Panda" shortly after the cartoon movie of the same name came out and the nickname was an instant hit.
3 Mariano Rivera: "The Sandman"
No one has ever made a career off of one pitch like Mariano Rivera. Widely considered to be the greatest closer of all-time, Rivera almost exclusively used his cutter to strike out opposing batters. If the Yankees were winning a close home game going into the ninth inning, you would begin to hear the song "Enter Sandman" by Metallica playing in the stadium. In comes Mariano Rivera, who almost automatically, would put all three hitters he faced to sleep. I don't think you could ask for a better nickname for a closer.
2 Babe Ruth: "The Great Bambino"
George Herman Ruth Jr.'s most popular nickname was clearly "Babe" because that is what everyone has called him to this day. He was infamously traded by the Boston Red Sox to their arch-rival New York Yankees and the rest was history. Many consider him to be the greatest player to ever play the game. His shattering home-run power was completely unprecedented at the time he played. The home run numbers he put up were astronomically higher than any other player in the league. He eventually earned the nickname "The Great Bambino." It is a nickname that you associate with all-time undisputed greatness and it will forever contribute to his legendary status.
1 Bartolo Colón: "The Big Sexy"
This may be the only list ever created where Babe Ruth is ranked second and Bartolo Colón is ranked first. "The Big Sexy" is the craziest nickname for a number of reasons. Bartolo has had a long career in the big leagues and has been an All-Star pitcher three different times in 1998, 2005, and 2013. However, he began to achieve a universal appreciation and cult following upon joining the New York Mets in 2014. At a massive 285 lbs, Bartolo never had to bat while playing so many games in the AL. Howeverm once he was playing in the NL for the Mets, his at-bats became a constant source of comedy with half-hearted swings and his helmet constantly flying off. That being said, on May 7th, 2016, Bartolo Colón became the oldest player to hit his first Major League home run at the age of 42. The irony of "The Big Sexy" nickname has become so popular that it turned into a very popular t-shirt. Colón's teammate Noah Syndergaard, who was less than a year old when Colón signed his first Major League contract, bought his entire family "Big Sexy" t-shirts last Christmas.
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