Lazzari’s Sports Roundup – 7/21/15

It seems like baseball nicknames are becoming extinct. Sure, names like “The Panda” and “King Felix” are currently recognizable, but clever monikers just aren’t as prevalent–or as FUN–as they once were. I thought I’d recall some of the more memorable ones I’ve come across since I started following baseball:

*Jim “Catfish” Hunter: A Hall of Famer who won 200 games before the age of 31; the 5-year, $3 million contract with the Yankees in the 70’s was HUGE NEWS at the time. A “money” pitcher who accumulated five WS rings. No real truth to the idea that his nickname may have had something to do with his rural upbringing on a farm and/or interest in fishing; A’s owner Charles O. Finley simply liked “Catfish”–and it stuck. Sadly, he died of ALS at a very young age……….
*Dick “Dirt” Tidrow: A former pitcher who began his career as a starter, then adjusted to the relief role. A member of two Yankees championship squads, the bushy mustache–along with NO desire to appear on the cover of GQ–earned him that nickname. 100 wins over a 13-year career……….
*Pete “Charlie Hustle” Rose: Regardless of what you think of the man as a human being, he left it ALL on the field–EVERY day. I mean–SPRINTING to first base on a walk? Head first slides? I truly believe if it weren’t for the way he played the game, we’d RARELY even HEAR the term “hustle” anymore–in ANY sport. People credit Whitey Ford for coming up with the nickname……….
*Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky: Is that a politically correct nickname? Regardless, he spent 13 years in the “bigs” and pitched in 307 games–all but ONE as a reliever. Was almost unhittable in 1975 while with the Cards–giving up 72 hits in almost 100 innings while pitching to a 1.66 ERA. Had the unforgettable routine of taking a deep breath, pounding the ball into his glove, and storming to the mound to face batters; if you saw it, you’ll never forget it. The Fu Manchu mustache just added to his wild presence; was given the nickname by a member of the Cards’ front office……….
*John “Boog” Powell: People tend to forget he won an MVP award in 1970 and hit 339 HR’s over 17 seasons. A four-time All Star, he supposedly received the nickname from his Dad–an offshoot of “buggers” (a term for kids who were familiar with mischief in the South). Also made a name for himself in retirement–running Boog’s BBQ at Camden Yards and making some AWESOME Lite Beer commercials (remember the one with Numazawa?)……….
*Mark “The Bird” Fidrych: Took the baseball world by storm in ’76 as a 21-year old–leading the league in CG, ERA, and also winning the Rookie of the Year award; that season did a number on his arm, as well–which would limit the length of his career to only parts of 5 seasons. He’d groom the pitching mound, talk to the ball, and sprint to the dugout–a man who OOZED enthusiasm. Received the nickname in the minors from a coach who thought he resembled “Big Bird” from Sesame Street. Sadly, he died in a farm-related accident in 2009; a TRULY unforgettable character……….
*Walt “No Neck” Williams: Played in the “bigs” from 1964-’75 with four teams–including the Yankees. Only 5’6″ tall, he had an incredibly muscular frame but a VERY short neck–reportedly the result of an injection he received as a child. .270 lifetime hitter who didn’t strike out much. “No Neck” was a good defensive player, too–who always had a smile on his face. Ended his playing career in Japan (1976-’77)………
*Lee William “Buzz” Capra: Spent 7 seasons with the Mets and Braves between 1971 and 1977; arm troubles caused his career to come to a halt before the age of 30. Braves fans won’t forget 1974, though: He won 16 games and led the NL in ERA (2.28) while being named to the All-Star squad. He pitched well over 200 innings that season–FIVE times as many innings as he had pitched in ANY previous season (umm–yes, a RECIPE for arm trouble/disaster). No, he did NOT acquire the nickname to due any perceived partying that he did; supposedly, he swung a baseball bat wildly as a kid–like a buzzsaw–and the nickname was ultimately shortened to “Buzz.” Spent time as a pitching coach after his career ended……….
*Jimmy “The Toy Cannon” Wynn: He was listed at 5’10 ” (NOT!) and maybe 170 pounds, but MAN could he hit the ball–and FAR. Hit 30 or more HR’s in a season three times and almost 300 in his career (during the 60’s/70’s). Once hit a HR in his hometown of Cincy that cleared a HUGE scoreboard and landed on Interstate 75 (some believe it’s STILL traveling). Given the nickname by a Houston sportswriter back in the 60’s (due to his frame/immense power); at first, Jimmy didn’t like it–not fully knowing its true meaning. He grew to appreciate the moniker when he realized it was originally coined to be very complimentary of his strength……….
*John “Blue Moon” Odom: A pitcher for 13 seasons (mostly for Oakland) who was fast on his feet, as well–sometimes used as a pinch-runner. Two-time All-Star (’68 and ’69) who won 31 games over that two-year span; was also a stellar pitcher in Oakland’s postseason runs in the early 70’s. He hated the nickname–given to him by an ex-classmate due to his round face; had a rough time (legally, etc.) following his baseball career……….
*Carlton “Pudge” Fisk: I guess he received the nickname due to being a bit chubby as a child; filled out, though, as an adult–actually looking very gangly to me when he played (was a tall catcher). The nickname didn’t bother him as he played a remarkable 24 seasons and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000……….
*Rich “Goose” Gossage: Another Hall of Famer (nicknames MUST help)–pitched 22 years. Led AL in saves three times and had over 300 in his career (not a one or two out pitcher, either). Seems like he was all “arms and legs” when delivering the pitch; former teammate Tom Bradley said he looked like a goose when taking signs from the catcher. Wrote a biography called The Goose Is Loose……….
*Larvell “Sugar Bear” Blanks: A very versatile infielder who played nine seasons between ’72 and ’80. A TX native, he was able to play one year in his home state with the Rangers in 1979. Was coined the nickname while in the minor leagues by former teammates Darrell Evans and Ralph Garr due to his approach at the plate; I guess he had a “sweet” swing at the time……….
*Sean “The Mayor” Casey: The man played 12 seasons (mostly in Cincy) and was a lifetime .302 hitter; hit .410 in four postseason series, too. Received the nickname due to his VERY sociable nature–being known to talk NON-STOP to base runners while playing first base. Having seen/heard him on telecasts following his career, he’ll STILL talk to anyone who’s willing to listen. I can only assume that he’s not into politics right now because he’s a guy who possesses a significant amount of integrity……….
*Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson: One of the tallest pitchers in history, he supposedly was given the nickname by former teammate Tim Raines after a collision in batting practice with the 6’10” pitcher. 303 wins over 22 seasons and one of the NASTIEST lefties (vs. lefties) ever. Just ask John Kruk……….
*Tom “The Blade” Hall: A very decent pitcher in the 60’s and 70’s who compiled a .612 W-L% over a ten-year career; went 10-1 for the ’72 Reds pitching mostly in relief. Nickname originated from his slender (I mean REALLY slender) build–he was 6 feet tall and “listed” at 150 pounds. Yes, it’s been said that he had to move around in the shower just to get WET; now THAT is skinny, folks……….

Many more great nicknames come to mind; I guess a follow-up column (or two) is in order. Ho

About the Author

Bob Lazzari

Bob Lazzari is an award-winning sports columnist for both Connecticut's Valley Times and NY Sports Day--where his "Sports Roundup" column is featured weekly. He is a member of the Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance and host of "Monday Night Sports Talk" --a cable television show on CTV/Channel14 in Connecticut. A Fordham grad, Bob is a regular contributor to ESPN Radio's "Inside Yankee Baseball"; he can also be heard weekly every Tuesday morning on WXLM/104.7 FM in New London, CT. He has a popular blog where many of his past columns have been archived.

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