We call ballplayers a lot of different things. For some, the last name is sufficient. DiMaggio, Jeter, and Mantle come to mind. The fact that they are all Yankees may have something to do with the impersonality of the big city. The Cardinals from Midwestern-friendly St. Louis have had Stan, Ozzie, and Albert. I suppose Reggie would also qualify, although he’s not purely a Yankee.
There are some players, regardless of their fame who often seem to be referred to with both of their names. Pete Rose would be an example. I assume that neither Pete nor Rose is distinctive enough. I would put Joe Morgan, Ted Williams, and Randy Johnson in this group. Ted Williams is one of the few with multiple nicknames, including The Kid, which shows up every generation or so (Gary Carter and Ken Griffey Jr.) making its use as an identifier somewhat suspect. Randy Johnson’s nickname, The Big Unit is often shortened to Unit, rendering that name pretty non-descript as well.
There are nickname guys, like Yogi, Babe, and Whitey. What’s odd is that the nicknames aren’t limited to the stars. Many Yankee fans will be able to instantly identify Scooter, Gator, Sparky, Goose, and Donny Baseball. I wonder how many can remember Stick, Hoss, Dirt, and No-neck. Abbreviated names are also used, such as A-Rod, Yaz, and Eck.
Not surprisingly, the Yankees murder the Mets when it comes to nicknames. While Tom Terrific may have looked good on the back page of the Post or Daily News, it hardly rolled off of the tongue. I don’t recall any of my friends ever using it while discussing baseball. It goes downhill from there.
Ed Charles – The Glider. Cool name, but what does it mean?
Ed Kranepool – Easy Ed. Maybe he was gliding with Ed Charles.
Sid Fernandez – El Sid. It might be better if he were from Spain rather than Hawaii. He is of Portuguese decent.
Keith Hernandez – Mex. Not Mexican. Spanish and Scottish-Irish.
John Milner – The Hammer. Stop. 624 fewer career homers than the real Hammer, Hank Aaron.
Lenny Dykstra – Nails. How about Jails?
Felix Millan – The Cat. So how come when Ed Ott gave him the Pile Driver at second base, he didn’t land on his feet?
Rusty Staub – Le Grand Orange. Sounds better in French, but what is a grand orange?
Howard Johnson – Hojo. I think this hotel chain is called Le Roof Orange in Quebec.
Kevin McReynolds – Big Mac. He wasn’t. Also, 372 fewer homers than the real Big Mac.
Dwight Gooden – Dr. K. Great nickname, but thankfully he was not able to write prescriptions.
Edgardo Alfonzo – Fonzie. Aaaay!
Zach Wheeler – The Wheel Deal. Oy vey!
Wally Backman – Cabbage Patch. Actually, this one I like.
My family and I moved from Northern New Jersey to South Florida in 2002. In 2003 the local team, the Marlins got off to a slow start. Dontrelle Willis (D-Train), Miguel Cabrera (Miggy), and Jack McKeon (Trader Jack) arrived and the team took off. My son was eleven years old and in Little League. We followed the team together throughout the summer.
I have a friend here in Coral Springs whose sister worked for the Diamondbacks in Arizona. She got him tickets to the July 30th game, here vs. the Marlins. My son and I were able to the bum a ride to the stadium expecting to buy tickets at the gate. The Marlins opened several sections in the upper deck and still, they were selling out while we waited on line. I noticed a guy inside the fence trying to sell two tickets. My son saved our place in line while I went over to see what he had to sell. The guy was with a group and two people didn’t show. He said I’d be sitting right next to him and that it was no scam. He just wanted to pick up a few bucks.
I bought the tickets for five dollars each. The game sold out, an extreme rarity for the Marlins, and the seats were great. We sat in the first row of the second deck behind first base. I found out later that we ended up with much better seats that my friend who had the freebies from his sister. It was a spectacular pitcher’s duel between Dontrelle Willis and Randy Johnson, where the Marlins scored two in the sixth to take the lead and added an insurance run in the eighth. The Marlins won three to one for their sixth straight, moving them to within a game of second place.
The place was electric, and my son was hooked. He played fall baseball that year, and his coach treated the team to one of the Marlins playoff games against the Giants. I was invited as well for helping out with the team. This time we were way up in the upper deck in the outfield, but it didn’t matter. It was another great game with the Giants taking a one run lead in the top of the eleventh. The Marlins won it on a two-out single in the bottom of the inning with Juan Pierre just beating the throw to the plate.
Now that we were fully engaged, we watched every minute of the games that followed. The Marlins finished off the Giants the next night with Jeff Conine throwing out J. T. Snow to end the game. Pudge Rodriguez got up after being flattened first by Snow and then by his teammate Ugueth Urbina (Middle name Urtain, nickname Oogie) and held the ball up to the crowd. On TV, you could clearly read his lips saying, “I got the fucking ball right here.”
All of this is leading up to our greatest postseason family memory. This would not be the incredible Bartman game six against the Cubs. Nor would it be a young Josh Beckett finishing off the hated Yankees. The epic event took place in the National League Championship Series Game Two in Chicago against the aforementioned Cubs. This was a Wednesday afternoon, but was late enough for my wife and son to both be home watching with me.
The Marlins squeaked out a Game One victory in the eleventh inning after blowing a two run lead in the ninth. Brad Penny started Game Two and looked shaky giving up two runs in the bottom of the first. Facing Mark Prior, this was not a time to let the game get out of hand. Prior was eighteen and six for the season and was 3rd in the Cy Young voting. He had also pitched a complete game two-hitter against the Braves in the Divisional Series. The fireworks came in the bottom of the second after the Marlins stranded two runners in the top half. They had also left two on base in the first.
Paul Bako, batting eighth, led off with a single and Prior sacrificed him to second. Kenny Lofton singled to center, scoring Bako. After Lofton stole second base, Mark Grudzielanek grounded to second with Lofton moving over to third. Sammy Sosa came to the plate with two outs and a runner on third with a three run lead.
Now, I’ve never been a Sosa fan. Every time he did that hop-skip thing out of the box after hitting another home run, I would say to whomever was in earshot, “If I’m pitching, the next one is going in his ear.” I probably even said it out loud when watching a game by myself. I have softened slightly over the years regarding Cadillacing a homer, but not much. And for some reason, Sosa’s little dance frosted me more than any bat flip.
My wife would be considered a “casual” fan. She watched from her hospital bed as Gary Carter hit two home runs on the day in 1986 that our oldest daughter was born. She lived and died with me during the Mets postseason run that year. I wasn’t even sure she was paying attention when Penny worked the count on Sosa to one and one. On the next pitch, Sosa hit a rocket to center field. It traveled about 500 feet in a couple of seconds, only stopping when it hit some sort of TV structure built well beyond the centerfield wall. The centerfielder, Juan Pierre, didn’t move an inch and the baserunner, Kenny Lofton was seen shuddering on camera.
I was still wincing myself when I heard my wife shout out, “Why are they pitching to Sammy Fucking Sosa with first base open and two outs?” The look of shock on my son’s face is etched in my memory. His mother is not what I would call laid-back, but she certainly can be called controlled. She’s gets just as inflamed as the rest of us in a crisis, but she’s the one who keeps her head and prevents the rest of us from getting arrested or expelled. Also, foul language is an extreme rarity for her, particularly the F-word.
Needless to say, from that moment on, no one in the family could ever mention Mr. Sosa’s name without including his first and new middle name. It’s in the family lexicon for good. You can blame Brad Penny’s lack of control, or a bad call by Pudge Rodriguez. You might even question Jack McKeons’s strategy. The real culprit here is baseball. In the most subtle of ways, it can mix strategy and passion for even the casual observer. By the way, if you were wondering from before, it’s Gene “Stick” Michael, Horace “Hoss” Clarke, Dick “Dirt” Tidrow, and Walt “No-neck” Williams.
© Copyright 2014 – Robert O’Connell. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Bob O’Connell is the author of Flash Mob, a comedy-romance-mystery set in Montclair, New Jersey. He is a career educator and humorist. He has three children and currently lives with his wife in South Florida. You can find his book through www.flashmobthenovel.com.