Our town has a great history of nicknames. The Dipper. The Hammer. The Minister of Defense. The Polish Rifle. Tojo.
Wait, you never heard of “Tojo?” Why, that’s the self-titled alias of Phillies flailing first baseman Tommy Joseph. Don’t confuse it with “Toco,” (Spanish for “I play”), the moniker shortstop Freddy Galvis wore on his back this past weekend.
Major League Baseball just hosted Players Weekend, the highlight of which was dressing players in bright colored soccer tops and letting them choose their own nicknames.
What a horrible idea. First off, nicknames are not something you pick for yourself. They are bestowed on you. Second, this is MLB aiming to connect with a younger audience by being hip. Baseball is many good things – hip is not among them. This was grandpa trying to impress the kids by spinning his cap around backwards.
So Cesita (Cesar Hernandez), Compa F (Maikel Franco) and Nicky Dubs (Nick Williams) took the field. To dredge up the cliché, you truly couldn’t tell the players without a program. My favorite was Aaron Nola, who put “NOLA” on his back, apparently a conscientious objector to the nonsense.
The saddest part was how poorly the players picked their own handles. Not to abuse Jerad Eickhoff, but the best you could come up with is “Eick?”
Clearly, this town deserves better. And we’ve had better.
Concrete Charlie. Dr. J. Chocolate Thunder. Lefty. Crash. Kangaroo Kid. The Boston Strangler. The Voice of God. Gang Green. The Legion of Doom.
Philadelphia fans grew up with those guys. They earned those evocative titles through greatness. Of course, not all were meant as compliments.
Wild Thing. Skates. The Rat. Dirty Waters. The Fog. Bottom Line Braman. Toast. Fat Joe. And, alas, the Dream Team, which didn’t start out being sarcastic.
Some guys got nicknames who didn’t deserve them. Nick Foles, briefly, was Nicky Six. Michael Martinez, the most inept player I’ve seen in a Phils uniform, was Mini-Mart. And I’m sure Freddy Mitchell still refers to himself as Fred-X.
Others never got the worthy title they deserved. E-Train for Eric Lindros? Never caught on. Calling Donovan McNabb by his uniform number – 5 – felt lazy. Same thing with just G for Claude Giroux. On the other hand, Bernie and Clarkie really never needed more than that.
Whitey. The Round Mound of Rebound. Nails. The Answer. Charlie Hustle. Shady. Some guys came to town with a built-in alias – although I don’t know a single Philadelphian who referred to Charles Barkley by his rotund handle.
I could go on all day. The Phillies once had a pitcher named Frank Mulcahy, career record of 45-89, who picked up the tag “Losing Pitcher” because those words always appeared next to his name in the box score.
But let’s limit it to the past 30 years or so. Staying within the memory of most fans, here are my favorites:
Darren Daulton got the nickname as a kid because his initials matched the jump rope game of Double Dutch. RIP, Dutch.
Frank the Animal.
The Flyers farmhand played just four NHL games, but he’s on this list because he averaged 325 penalty minutes per 80 games in the minors. As a lifelong fan of wrestler George Steele, I admire anyone using this sobriquet.
Weapon X and Wolverine.
Brian Dawkins was a huge Marvel Comics aficionado, stuffing his Eagles locker with action figures. Before games he fired himself up by morphing into the comic book warrior. It was an amazing sight to see.
Roy Halladay got it in reference to the Wild West gunslinger. Of course, Julius Erving owned it before Halladay, from his high school days when friends marveled at how surgically brilliant the kid “operated” on the hardwood. For Dr. J, it was a nickname within a nickname. How many guys can be identified by one syllable?
An apt name for hard-hitting linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. And a tribute to his dad, who taught him to chop wood to earn cash as a child in Hooks, Texas. Trotter punctuated every hard tackle with that great axe-swinging gesture.
Every boxer worth his belt requires a decent ring name. Philadelphia boasted Smokin’ Joe, Willie the Worm and Stanley the Kitten. But the one that best threw fear into opponents belongs to Bernard Hopkins.
Joel Embiid embraces in tribute to the dream of Sam Hinkie, the GM who drafted him. This one, of course, has the chance to go either way. A Sixers title and it’s an all-time great nickname. Injury or failure and it’s a sorry reminder.
Carlos Ruiz’s endearing appellation is actually shortened from a Spanish obscenity, which our favorite catcher muttered under his breath often enough that teammates assigned it to him. Whatever, it become a term of love.
Chooch is my favorite from a championship team (our last, of course) that boasted many: Big Piece, Flyin’ Hawaiian, Hollywood. Lights Out. J Roll (ugh), Pat the Bat (double ugh).
I’m sure I didn’t include every nickname, and perhaps I missed your favorite. I would bet, however, that it does not include Tojo, Toco or any other lame attempt worn by a Phillie over the weekend.