For Chicago Cubs, nicknames have always been a big hit
I'm standing on a windswept platform waiting for a Big Train or an Iron Horse to come rumbling in.
I'm scanning the plain hoping to see the Wild Horse of the Osage.
I'm digging on the days of Dizzy, Dazzy, Daffy and Ducky.
Yes, I am longing for some cool old baseball nicknames.
This weekend, Major League Baseball celebrates "Players Weekend," when those who play the game will sport nicknames on the backs of their jerseys.
The baseball nickname isn't what it used to be, not that there aren't a few good ones around. But most are just a lengthening or a shortening of a player's name, much the way it's done in hockey. On the Cubs, Anthony Rizzo is often "Riz," John Lackey is "Lack" and Pedro Strop is "Stropie."
During his forgettable one-year tenure as Cubs manager, Mike Quade was the Sultan of the Sobriquet, dubbing his players "Lopey" (Rodrigo Lopez), "Cassie" (for both Starlin Castro and Welington Castillo, and "Los" (Carlos Pena).
For this coming weekend, the back of Rizzo's jersey will read "Tony," which is what many of the players call him in the clubhouse.
That's OK if not overly inspiring, but I do like "Carl's Jr." for Carl Edwards Jr., the reliever formerly known as "CJ." I also like "El Mago" for infield magic man Javier Baez.
But I loved the multilayered nicknames of yore, such as the aforementioned Wild Horse of the Osage, the sub-nickname of Pepper Martin, whose given name was Johnny Leonard Roosevelt Martin, a pretty cool given name at that for a mainstay of the St. Louis Cardinals Gashouse Gang.
Better yet were the nicknames that had you looking up the players' real names, in the Baseball Encyclopedia back in the day or on Baseball Reference today.
Dizzy, Dazzy, Daffy, Ducky and Sparky were Jerome, Charles, Paul, Joe and George, respectively.
In thinking about similar nicknames in Cubs history, Turk Wendell is Steven, Tuffy Rhodes is Karl and Gabby Hartnett was Charles.
You could look it up. I did.
Along those lines, the Cincinnati Reds' Scooter Gennett is wearing "Ryan" on his back this weekend. You guessed it. Ryan is his real name.
The Cubs of my youth in the 1960s had the most-fitting title of all, "Mr. Cub," for the one and only Ernie Banks. Billy Williams was and still is "The Sweet Swinger," "Sweet Swinging Billy," or "Whis," short for his hometown of Whistler, Alabama.
Also in the '60s, Chuck Hartenstein was "Twiggy," and Bill Hands was "Froggy." Speaking of hands, but not of Hands, Mordecai Brown of early 20th Century fame was "Three Finger," the result of a farming accident. Maybe Antonio Alfonseca could have visited baseball Valhalla and lent Brown a hand, or a finger or two. Alfonseca was known as "El Pulpo" (octopus) because he was born with an extra digit on each hand.
The biggest throwback team I covered was the 1998 wild-card winning Cubs. Many in that group would sit around after games, crack open a cold one, light up a smoke and talk baseball. That group had "Shooter" (Rod Beck), "One Dog" (Lance Johnson), "Oh Henry" (Henry Rodriguez), "The Rat" (Gary Gaetti) and "The Dandy Little Glove Man" (Mickey Morandini, with credit to analyst Steve Stone for that one).
Tom Gordon, no flash in the pan, was "Flash." He was listed as "Tom" in the 2001 Cubs media guide. In 2002, he wanted it changed to "Flash." But when he ended up with the White Sox in 2003, he said he didn't know where that idea came from. Flash, er, Tom, was like that.
The Cubs have soared with a "Hawk" (Andre Dawson) and a "Vulture" (Phil Regan) and waddled with a "Penguin" (Ron Cey). It's not known whether "Vulture's" favorite player was onetime White Sox catcher Camilo "Cam" Carreon. Sorry.
Every dog, they say, has its day, and in addition to the "One Dog," the Cubs have unleashed the "Crime Dog" (Fred McGriff) and the "Mad Dog" (Greg Maddux).
Speaking of mad, Lou Novikoff was "The Mad Russian" in the early 1940s.
But we want to end this on a happy note, or for today, a Happ-y note. Last weekend, the Cubs' Ian Happ batted against the Blue Jays' J.A. Happ, who pronounces the "J.A." as "Jay," by the way. This weekend, both players will wear "Happer" on their uniforms. Strictly by happenstance, I'm sure.
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