It had a “Marvelous” beginning.
We’re less than ten days away from baseball’s “Player’s Weekend,” where each player has the option of wearing the nickname of their choice on their jerseys instead of their surnames. So when the Mets take the field the weekend of Aug. 25-27, we’re about to be introduced to the likes of Reno, Brown Bear, La Potencia, Scooter, Quaterrican, Lil D, and Goopy, in addition to the obvious or better known monickers such as Grandyman, Thor, Wheels, Harv, and Jake.
Yes, it’s a marketing ploy, a merchandising bonanza awaits, but nicknames are as old as the game itself, going back to the 1800s with ballplayers being labeled with references to their abilities or variations on their proper names. Adrian Anson (1871-97) is in the Hall of Fame as Cap Anson. Charles Comiskey (1882-94) – yes, they named the stadium after him – was known as “The Old Roman.” And of course, George Herman Ruth rated a slew of nicknames, from The Sultan of Swat to the Great Bambino, and the name he will forever be acknowledged as, “Babe.”
Mets history is filled with colorful nicknames, and if those players had the chance to re-address their jerseys, they might have entertained some quirky and memorable ideas along with the obvious.
It all goes back to “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, a Yankees castoff first baseman the Mets featured during their inaugural season in 1962. The “Marvelous” designation was half-derisive/half-celebratory as Throneberry wasn’t exactly a Gold Glover at his position, but in being labeled it made Throneberry one of the most popular Mets of his era, a living testimony to the futility and efforts of the team.
Many of those early Mets had great nicknames. Some of them were easily explainable, some, well…
The first Mets batter in the history of the franchise, Richie Ashburn, was often referred to as “Whitey,” and occasionally, Putt-Putt. Pitcher Sherman Jones was “Roadblock.” Infielder Rod Kanehl was “Hot Rod.” Jack Fisher was “Fat Jack.” There also was that “legendary” catcher who had a memorable moment on Kiner’s Korner, Choo Choo Coleman, whose real first name was Clarence.
Kiner asked, “What’s your wife’s name, Choo Choo?” “Mrs. Coleman,” the catcher answered.
And it bears noting their best power hitter that first season was Frank Thomas (34 home runs in ‘62). He was sometimes referred to as “The Big Donkey” But years later, he qualified for a better nickname. When a certain first baseman started making a name for himself in Chicago with the same name of Frank Thomas, the Original Met soon began signing his autograph accompanied by “The Original.”
A personal favorite to Mets nicknames in ‘62 referred to a pitcher who hailed from a Mayberry-type town in North Carolina. The congenial hurler and his roots will forever be linked as he became known as Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell.
Even the first manager had nicknames. Charles Dillon Stengel will forever be “Casey,” a longtime reference to being native to Kansas City. But his wily managerial ways also earned notations by the writers of the day as “The Ol’ Professor.”
In 1963, Duke Snider joined the team. But did you know his real first name was Edwin? Another seldom used nickname that was attached to Snider was “The Silver Fox.”
There was even a second “Duke” on the ‘63 Mets, Duke Carmel, whose real first name was Leon. Good choice going with the Duke monicker, Leon. And as an aside, Carmel was the first Met to become a Yankee after first being a Met. He was picked up by the Yankees for the 1964 season in the Rule 5 draft.
One of the many first basemen that season was Dick “Dr. Strangeglove” Stuart, also not a reference to adept defense. Elijah Green concluded his brief but somewhat noteworthy career as a Met in ‘63, but if the name is unfamiliar, you might know him as “Pumpsie.”
Pumpsie Green became the first African-American to play for the Boston Red Sox in 1959. The Red Sox were the last team in baseball to field an African-American, a full 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
As the Mets “matured” into a pennant winner in 1969, the nicknames matured a bit as well. Tom Seaver was “The Franchise,” and also “Tom Terrific.” But you might not be old enough to recall the name Tom Terrific was really a reference to an early television cartoon character. The 1957 cartoon that premiered on the Captain Kangaroo show featured a childlike character who wore a funnel for a hat and was accompanied by a big dog named Manfred as his sidekick. There was no real correlation to Seaver other than the fact that the pitcher was “terrific.”
The third baseman in that historic World Championship season was Ed Charles, The Glider, as he used to “glide” over to balls hit in the hole. The shortstop, Buddy Harrelson, who later went on to manage the Mets, has a birth certificate filled out with Derrell McKinley Harrelson. The outfielder who made one of the most famous catches in World Series history, Ron Swoboda, became known as “Rocky.” The closer, Tug McGraw, was really named Frank. The pitcher who finished with more strikeouts than anyone in baseball history, Nolan Ryan, but who earned his only World Championship ring in 1969, was later known as “The Express.”
Their third base coach, Ed Yost, enjoyed a career as “The Walking Man,” a reference to his propensity for working out a base on balls. And of course, their legendary first base coach, Yogi Berra, was born as Lawrence Peter, but somehow, his classic observations that have filled books might not sound as colorful coming from a guy named Larry.
As they worked their toward another World Series appearance in 1973 – led by Yogi – the Mets called on second baseman Felix “El Gato” Millan. That translates to “The Cat” and naturally, it’s a reference to another cartoon character, Felix the Cat. The first baseman was John “The Hammer” Milner.
Daniel Joseph Staub joined the club in ‘72, but you know him as Le Grande Orange, and of course, Rusty.
The swan song of the great Willie Mays, aka The Say Hey Kid (that would’ve looked pretty cool on the back of a jersey) occurred during the ‘73 season and Fall Classic as well.
The ‘70s also found Dave “Sky King” Kingman belting out monstrous home runs for the Mets. Sky King was the name of a 1951 TV series about the adventures of a small plane pilot, and Kingman sometimes hit balls that looked like they could knock down a small plane. He was also labeled “Kong,” and would you believe, “Big Bird.”
Another “bird” on the Mets was George “The Stork” Theodore. Named for his lanky frame (6’4”, 190 lbs.), the outfielder didn’t distinguish himself much on the field (two seasons, 1973/’74, 105 games, .219 avg.) but he sure was popular with the fans. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a stork headed their way.
Mets in the ‘80s were also well-nicknamed. Dick Tidrow, who pitched for the Mets in 1984, was called, “Dirt.” One can only imagine why. Lee Mazzilli was often just Maz, but also, The Italian Stallion, making a Rocky movie reference. Go ahead, cue the music in your head.
No one ever calls Mookie Wilson by his given name of William. Dwight Gooden quickly became Doc, a byproduct of his Doctor K strikeout prowess. Keith Hernandez is Mex, but ironically, his family lineage comes from Spain, not Mexico. Gary Carter was The Kid. Kevin Mitchell was collared with the handle of “World.” Lenny Dykstra was Nails, or Dude. Wally Backman was Cabbage Patch for some reason.
Howard Johnson’s nickname, or nicknames, evolved. First, he was naturally HoJo, then Hoji, then Haji, then, the Sheik, because Haji sounds like a sheik’s name.
The nickname game can go on forever. There are hundreds, and this is not a definitive list. Other Mets nicknames of note include…
Lance Johnson was One Dog. Mike Piazza was Pizza Man. Bernard Gilkey was Money. Bobby Abreu was El Come Dulce, or la Leche. Mike Pelfrey was Big Pelf. Billy Wagner was Sandman, or Wags, or Billy the Kid. And Mets fans were pining for a reunion with Bartolo “Big Sexy” Colon earlier this summer.
And there is the current crop which will soon adorn the backs of Mets jerseys. Here’s the list of who will soon be in your Mets lineup…
Noah Syndergaard – Thor
Matt Harvey – Harv
Zach Wheeler – Wheels
Jacob deGrom – Jake
Yoenis Cespedes – La Potencia (The Power)
Steven Matz – Reno
Jose Reyes – La Melaza
Michael Conforto – Scooter
Curtis Granderson – Grandyman
Wilmer Flores – Catire
Juan Lagares – Angelo
Rene Rivera – Moncho
Paul Sewald – Paulie
Josh Edgin – Edge
AJ Ramos – Junior
Travis d’Arnaud – Lil D
Rafael Montero – Fugarra
Robert Gsellman – G-Man
Seth Luco – Quaterrican
Matt Reynolds – Rey Rey
Jeurys Familia – La Fama
David Wright – D-Dub
Asdrubal Cabrera – Chiquitin
Jerry Blevins – Gordo
Hansel Robles – El Penaco
Josh Smoker – Brown Bear
TJ Rivera – T-Butta
Brandon Nimmo – Nimms
Erik Goeddel – Goopy