CINCINNATI -- The Reds along with all Major League teams will don jerseys with nicknames on the back Aug. 26-27 as part of Players Weekend. It’s MLB’s nod to the kids. Kids dig the nicknames apparently.
I did not know that.
But I do know that nicknames have been a big part of baseball since Abner Doubleday invented the game. What would baseball be without George Herman “Babe” Ruth?
Pretty much everyone in the baseball has a nickname. It’s rare to hear someone in a clubhouse refer to a player as Tom, Dick or Joe. If you don’t have a real nickname, your name is transformed into one. Winker becomes “Wink.” Schebler become “Scheb.” Cozart becomes “Cozie.” Duvall becomes “Duvy.”
My personal favorite nicknames in my years as Reds beat guy were “Clutch Man Monie” and “Bill.” Both take some explanation. Dusty Baker referred to catcher Ramon Hernandez as "Clutch Man Monie," for his ability to hit in the clutch. No one else referred to Hernandez as that. But it cracked up the writers.
Baker had his own name for a lot of players. Pitcher Logan Ondrusek was always “Big Ondrusek.”
Bill is what Scott Rolen called Billy Hatcher. After his first round of batting practice, Rolen would toss his bat at Hatcher’s knees. Hatcher was would jump away, cursing Rolen. After running the bases, Rolen would pick up the bat and say: “Bill, is this mine?"
I laughed at it every time.
Some players arrive in the big leagues with a nickname. Dwight David Bailey was “Homer” well before the Reds drafted him. Ryan Gennett named himself “Scooter” as a preschooler trying to dodge trouble.
Five Reds players' Hall of Fame plaques bear nicknames. Bubbles Hargraves was Eugene Franklin Hargraves. Noodles Hahn’s real name was Frank. Bid McPhee was christened John. Red Lucas was Charles on his birth certificate. Dummy Hoy’s name was William.
Hoy’s moniker is an example of the cruelty of some nicknames. He got the name because he was deaf. Pete Rose named Ron Robinson “the True Creator” because Robinson was not cover boy material.
Here’s a list of my favorite nicknames for Reds players. (Managers like Dusty Baker and Sparky Anderson were not included, and I limited it to players I saw play, thus no Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell):
The Old Left-Hander, Joe Nuxhall
Nuxhall hung the name on himself by signing off an early broadcast with “This is the Old Left-hander rounding third and heading for home.”
The sign-off and the nickname stuck.
Most people called him “Nuxy” and he was known as “Hamilton Joe” in his playing days, but mention the “Old Left-hander” and Reds fans young and old know who you’re talking about.
Charlie Hustle, Pete Rose
Legend has it that Mickey Mantle dropped this on Rose after he sprinted to first base on a walk in spring training. It was meant as a dig, i.e, why is this kid busting it to first on a walk? Such things were considered uncool to old-school baseball guys.
Rose made hustle fashionable and that drive propelled him to 4,256 hits.
The “hustle” part of the nickname carries different connotations these days.
The Cuban Missile, Aroldis Chapman
This one was pretty obvious. Chapman is from Cuba, the U.S. adversary during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Chapman threw harder than any human being even has.
It spurred a “Missile Crisis” headline anytime Chapman got lit up.
The Mayor, Sean Casey
No nickname ever fit better. To say Casey’s personality was outgoing is like saying Chapman has good velocity. Casey made a point of learning everyone’s name from the front office to the grounds crew to the media.
His sincerity and cheerfulness would have won a lot of votes had he actually run for office.
Jack McKeon gave Casey the nickname, and Casey loved it. He still uses it as his Twitter handle.
Big Klu, Ted Kluszewski
Kluszewski was indeed big and he hit big home runs. He was famous for cutting the sleeves off his uniform to accommodate his big arms.
How has the game changed? Klu was listed at 6-2, 225 pounds. Joey Votto is listed at 6-2, 220 pounds. In today’s game, no one considers Votto big.
Doggie, Tony Perez
Perez says he got the nickname for chewing gum at the plate. “Lee May said I looked like I was going to bite the ball, so he called me Doggie.”
Different people will tell different versions of how he got this nickname, but it stuck in early days of the Big Red Machine. His teammates still call him by it.
The Big Donkey, Adam Dunn
The nickname fit in one way. Dunn was probably the largest Red ever at 6-foot-6, 280 pounds or so.
But in another way, it did not. Donkeys are not known for their brightness. Dunn is a smart guy with a quick wit. He wasn’t above making fun of himself and wielded a great needle to his teammates.
Spuds, Chris Sabo
Rose hung this on Sabo his rookie year in 1988. It was a reference to Spuds McKenzie, the dog in the Bud Light commercials. The bull terrier had a slight resemblance to Sabo.
The name also fit. Sabo was a bit of character in a puppy dog sort of way.
Votto-Matic, Joey Votto
Perfect fit for the guy who comes as close to being automatic at the plate as anyone in team history.
Votto, oddly enough, is one player nearly always called by his name. His teammates simply call him “Joey.”
John Fay, a freelance columnist, answers to John Boy (high school nickname, the Waltons, you know), The Cincinnati Kid (his nickname at the University of Dayton) and Fayman (his nickname at The Enquirer). Email firstname.lastname@example.org