Pro Sport Nicknames Are Important And Silly

Nicknames are not real names. For example Tesla’s Elon Musk and his girlfriend (no known first name) Grimes just had a baby girl. Did they name her Ellen after him or Grimmy after her or the bull terrier in the Mother Goose cartoon? No, they named the newborn X AE A12. That’s right, little X AE A12 will be toddling off to kindergarten before you know it and crawling into her own lunch box to escape the catcalls from other kids.
Ah Elon, Mary Musk is a real name. I believe X AE A12 is either Martian for “I come in peace” or the chemical symbol for Xanax which is great if you’re depressed which I’m quickly becoming because weakass nicknames and simply stupid real names make me crazy!
Last week, baseball legend Steve Dalkowski died at age 80 after contracting COVID-19. The wildest but fastest pitcher anyone had ever seen including the great Ted Williams, Dalkowski inspired the role of the lunatic speedballer played by Tim Robbins in Bull Durham, the best sports movie ever! Ever! Dalkowski’s nickname was “Nuke” and in the movie “Nuke La Loosh.”
Last month the much-loved, legendary Harlem Globetrotter, Fred Neal died at age 77. Few knew Neal’s first name was Fred because he was as bald as a cue ball and fans and teammates alike only knew him as “Curly.”
Last summer Olympic gold medalist boxer Pernell Whitaker died after he was hit by a car. “Sweet Pea” was just 55. Days later the first black to play for the Boston Red Sox died at 85. Once again, old sports fans were confused. “Elijah Green? Oh you mean Pumpsie.” Green himself could not remember why his mother called him “Pumpsie,” the name that stuck with him for a lifetime.
Nuke, Curly, Sweet Pea and Pumpsie–original pet names of endearment and humour that gave each player an added measure of mystique.
Nobody knows how the great Willie Mays got the nickname “The Say Hey Kid” but it’s still very cool. “Tiger” Woods, a ferocious competitor who devoured his opponents made fans forget his real first name is Eldrick. Wayne Gretzky was gifted “The Great One” moniker by fans who could not have seen Bobby Orr play or watched ‘Slava’ Fetisov in the wonderful documentary Red Army.
Like a lot of other important elements pro sports have lost like player loyalty, fan allegiance and real characters–great nicknames have also bit the dust. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, “Clipboard Jesus” Whitehorse, “Air Jordan” and “Big Papi” Ortiz.
Nicknames used to mean something. NBA star Karl Malone was called “The Mailman” because he always delivered when it mattered most. Yankees Lou Gerig, “The Iron Horse” played in 2,130 consecutive games. Fellow Yankee “Joltin Joe” Dimaggio still owns a 56-game hitting streak record that will never be touched. Cal Ripkin beat Gerig’s record by playing 2,632 games. His nickname? “The Iron Man.” How very unoriginal, speaking of which…Toronto professional athletes.
Former Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman’s nickname was “Stro” while current phenom Vladimir Guerrero’s nickname is “Vladdy.” Ashtone Morgan, the longest serving FC footballer’s handle is “Ash.” And the Leafs! Mitch Marner, the league’s offensive magician is known to his teammates as “Marns.” Frederik Anderson responds to either “Freddy” or “Andy.” Good Gawd. And Auston Matthews goes by “Matty.”
Marner’s tag should be “Magic’” Anderson’s size and coolness under pressure should make him “The Refrigerator” and Auston should be known as “Moon” Matthews. Definitely not a fighter, he still likes to drop ‘em on occasion.
To be clear nicknames are just fun labels of affection for teammates and friends. For instance Maurice Richard, the greatest scorer in NHL history was nicknamed the “Rocket” for his explosive speed and short fuse. On the other hand Rocket Rodriguez is the real name given him by his film-making parents Robert Rodriguez and Elizabeth Avellan. In a riot of alliteration Rocket’s brothers are named–not making this up–Racer, Rebel and Rogue. Those names–Rocket, Racer, Rebel and Rogue would look great painted on the side of a homemade car in the Soap Box Derby but not so much on your driver’s license.
By the way, Maurice’s brother Henri Richard died four months ago at the age of 84. Winning 11 Stanley Cups, at 5’7” in height, he should have earned a nickname like the “Giant de la Glace” or “Henry the Navigator.”. But because he was the “Rocket’s” little brother he was forever known as the “Pocket Rocket.” Henry’s younger brother Claude just missed making the Montreal Canadiens roster. His nickname? “The Vest Pocket Rocket.” Not kidding. Had Mr. & Mrs. Richard kept producing hockey players, fans might have been treated to a Hab’s backup goalie with the nickname “The Back Pocket,” a fancy-skating, puck-stealer known as “The Pick Pocket.” A penalty-killer even smaller than Henri would have been known simply as “The Pouch.”
The Leafs at their best with “Red” Kelly and “The Big M” for Mahavalich will never beat the Montreal Canadiens with “Newsy” Lalande and “Boom Boom!” Geoffrion (his slap shot made that noise!) in the game of great nicknames.

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