In terms of nicknames, we’re living in the most boring era in baseball history. At a time when creativity should be at an all-time high, what do we get? V-Mart, A-Rod, and J-Roll. Those aren’t nicknames as much as they’re grammatical laziness.
Long gone are the days when the greatest stars in the name had majestic nicknames like “The Splendid Splinter”, “Joltin’ Joe”, and “Hammerin’ Hank”. Or when colorful names were bestowed on baseball characters: “Stormin’ Norman”, “”Catfish”, and “King Kong”.
Few of the 2012 Tigers have nicknames at all, let alone good, memorable monikers that honor their skills or characteristics. So, I guess it’s up to me to remedy that situation. I’ve gone back — waaaaay back — in baseball history for inspiration for these nicknames, and imagined what our Tigers might be like if they had played in an era when sportswriters or teammates (the two groups who most often bestowed nicknames) had given them a nickname. Keep in mind that in the early days of baseball folks were less sensitive and less politically correct – nicknames were often given based on physical characteristics, ethnicity, and the like. I do not intend to offend anyone with these nicknames, all of which have been used in some form in the past.
Jim Leyland – “Smoky”
There are fans today that call the Tigers manager by this name, but it’s not common. It’s appropriate for two reasons: Leyland smokes cigarettes and he has a hot temper. Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston also had this nickname.
Austin Jackson – “Deerfoot”
Another option I considered was “Octopus” because it seems as if the center fielder has eight arms as he tracks down flyballs. A few speedsters from other eras, including Chief Sockalexis and Clyde Milan, were called “Deerfoot”.
Miguel Cabrera – “Moose”
He’s the big man in the Tigers lineup, the #3 hitter, a big run producer, and BIG physically. In the past, many big players and sluggers, like Bill Skowron of the Yankees and Dale Alexander of the Tigers, were called Moose. Sometimes, players who were expected to carry a large load of the offense were called “Donkey” or “Mule”.
Prince Fielder – “Fats”
In the Deadball Era if a player was especially “round about the middle”, he might be called “Fats” or Fatty”. Not nice, but a fact. Tiger outfielder Bob Fothergill, who starred for the team in the 1920s, was more commonly known as Fatty Fothergill. Pitcher Fred Fitzsimmons, a bulldog of a hurler in the 1930s, was known as Fat Freddie. It’s a nickname that goes especially well for a player with a last name that starts with an “F”. Batting cleanup for the Tigers… “Fats Fielder!”
Delmon Young – “Twinkletoes”
Young has a short, tip-toe style of running around the bases and in the outfield. This one seems appropriate.
Alex Avila – “Bama or Inside Out”
At one time it was quite common for players to get nicknames based on where they came from. As the country has gotten smaller in a sense, that’s less common. Avila attended the University of Alabama, where he starred for the Crimson Tide. “Inside Out” is a nickname based on his penchant for hitting the ball to the opposite field.
Brennan Boesch – “The Yankee Killer”
When players would have particularly good success against a team, they would get a reputation for that. Boesch has a career .429 batting average against the Yankees. Former Tigers pitcher Frank Lary also had this nickname because he had a stellar record against New York.
Ramon Santiago – “Scoots”
Like Young, Santiago’s nickname comes from the way he moves on the field. He sort of scoots across the infield, barely seeming to pick up his feet, but moving quickly. Sounds good too: “Scoots Santiago”. Could also be “Scooter” like famed Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto.
Jhonny Peralta – “Jhonny Bhaseball”
If this one doesn’t take off, I’ll be disappointed.
Andy Dirks – “Babyface”
Just look at a picture of him, he looks like he should be a batboy. Also serves as a nice 1930s gangster reference.
Ryan Raburn – “Rebel or Mr. August”
Before the 1940s, many players from below the Mason/Dixon Line were known as “Rebel” or “Reb”. Raburn was born in Florida. If you follow the Tigers at all, you’ll get the “Mr. August” reference (Raburn has a career average above .325 for that month while barely batting .200 in the first three months of the season).
Gerald Laird – “Piano Mover or Gee”
Back in the early part of the 20th century, if someone was said to have “piano legs” it meant that he had short legs and a squat body. Like he’d spent a lot of time carrying a piano on his back. That describes Gerald Laird’s frame quite well. Other players named Gerald have been called “Gee” for short – notable Gee Walker, an outfielder on the 1935 World Series champion Tigers.
Brandon Inge – “Swish or Braggo”
Well, we just have to pile on Detroit’s favorite whipping boy. “Swish” for his frequent and frustrating strikeouts, and “Braggo” for his unbelievably confident proclamations. Such as “I feel I’m a batter catcher than he is,” when the Tigers signed Pudge Rodriguez in 2004, or “I’ll have no trouble playing second base, I played it in high school.” Or how about “I’m hitting the ball hard, even though the stats don’t show it. I don’t worry about outcomes.” Come to think of it, “Windy” would work too.
Don Kelly – “Irish”
Our first ethnic reference, “Irish” was a common moniker for Irishmen in the Deadball Era.
Victor Martinez – “Buck”
In many sports, but in baseball in particular, there was a time when “Buck” was a nickname given to the main go-to guy on the team. If you were the clutch guy, the ace of the staff, the big shot, you were “Buck”. Victor was instrumental as an RBI man for the Tigers in his first year with the club in ’11. There was a catcher named Buck Martinez who played in the 1970s and 1980s and also later managed. Baseball people love to name players after others who came before them. (Such as Pudge Rodriguez for Carlton Fisk, and the multiple Dixie Walkers and Dutch Leonards.)
Justin Verlander – “The Dutch Master or The Monarch Missile”
The first nickname is appropriate for a few reasons: JV is a Dutch American, he is a master on the mound, and a pitcher named Johnny Vander Meer was known by that label. Vander Meer, like Verlander, threw two no-hitters. I hope the “Monarch Missile” gains steam – Monarchs are the nickname of Old Dominion, where Verlander pitched his college ball and first topped the 100-MPH mark.
Doug Fister – “Slim or The Fresno Fireball”
Some skinny Fister jokes: “Doug Fister is so skinny that if he turns sideways the Tigers mark him absent”; “Doug Fister is so skinny that if the baseball rolls into the sewer they use him to get it out”; “Doug Fister is so skinny you can save him from drowning by tossing him a Cheerio.” And so on. On the second nickname, Fister hails from Fresno College.
Rick Porcello – “Handsome”
The chicks dig him. Could also be “Baby Doll” for the same reason, like 1020s outfielder William Jacobson.
Drew Smyly – “Peek-a-boo or The Deacon of Maumelle”
One of the great things about old nicknames was the formality. At any one time in say 1915, you’d have Deacons and Knights and Princes in the ballpark. Drew was born in Maumelle, Arkansas. As for “Peek-a-boo”, watch him pitch, especially if you can see him from behind home plate. Smyly peers over his right (lead) shoulder as he delivers the ball in a peek-a-boo fashion. That nickname works on another level, as in the game that we play with babies to make them smile. (Smile, Smyly, get it?)
Max Scherzer – “Devil Eyes”
The dude has one blue eye and one brown eye, and I have to admit, it’s a little creepy. For the record, the blue eye is his right and the brown eye is his left. I hope you win a bar bet on that one.
Jose Valverde – “Jumbo”
No fewer than seven big league players have been known as Jumbo, for fairly obvious physical reasons. The most famous was probably Walter “Jumbo” Brown, a 255-pound pitcher who was a relief specialist back in the 1930s, before relief specialists were in vogue. Apparently he spent a lot of time in the bullpen eating hot dogs.
Joaquin Benoit – “Slowpoke”
There was a Hall of Fame pitcher named Eddie Plank who was famous for being “fidgety” on the mound. Prior to every pitch he tugged at his cap, wiped his brow, swiped at the dirt with his spikes, and so on. That’s Joaquin Benoit too, except he’s not a Hall of Fame pitcher and it gets frustrating to watch his slowpoke antics on the hill. He’s effective much of the time, but Benoit’s stalling tactics seem to grate on many Tigers fans.
Octavio Dotel – “Suitcase”
Either this or “Globetrotter” because the Tiger reliever has been on 13 teams – a major league record.
Phil Coke – “Wagon Tongue”
Back in the old days, when the west was still wild, and cowboys and wagons still traveled the uncharted roads of America, if someone was called “wagon tongue” it was because they flapped their jaws a lot. It meant they had a long tongue like, the one on a wagon. Of all the current Tigers, Coke is probably the best interview, the most colorful, and the most verbose.
Adam Wilk – “Schoolboy”
In the 1920s and 1930s, almost every big league club had a “Schoolboy” on their staff – the fresh-faced phenom who looked like he was in 7th grade. The two most famous were Waite Hoyt, a Hall of Famer who pitched for the Red Sox and Yankees, and Lynwood Rowe, who helped pitch the Tigers to their first World Series title in ’35.
Duane Below – The Britton Bazooka”
Below was born in Britton, Michigan. There was a time when players would get names like this based on their hometowns, such as “The Reading Rifle” (Carl Furillo from Reading, PA) and “The Donora Greyhound” (Stan Musial from Donora, PA).
Collin Ballester – “High Pockets”
This was a somewhat common label bestowed upon tall people back in the day. Hall of Fame first baseman George Kelly was known by this nickname. Ballester is 6 feet, 5 inches tall.
Thad Weber – “Rube or Bootnose”
If you were a young pitcher from out in the sticks back in the Deadball Era you might be called “Rube”. And back then Nebraska (where rookie Weber hails from) might as well have been Alaska. Weber also has a nose that looks like it was broken by a Joe Frazier punch, hence “Bootnose”. (Sorry, Thad)
What do you think of these nicknames? Do you have some ideas of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.