Mark Clark: Great athletes must have a nickname
I guess my all-time favorite nickname belongs to a fictitious athlete – Roy Hobbs. Hobbs was known as “The Natural” in the movie of the same name.
The dumbest nickname was one that Ted Turner tried to hang on Andy Messersmith when he played for the Atlanta Braves. Turner gave the pitcher the number 17 and then put “Channel” on his nameplate – “Channel 17” the then number for Turner’s Super Station TBS Channel 17. Major League Baseball frowned on that one and ordered it removed.
Turner was just trying to live up to his own nickname – “Captain Outrageous.” He was that, if nothing else.
Sports have always been filled with nicknames. Babe Ruth was the “Big Bambino.” Jake LaMotta was the “Raging Bull.” Muhammad Ali was “The Greatest.” Bob Uecker was “Mr. Baseball.” Ted Williams was so special he had two nicknames – “Teddy Ballgame” and “The Splendid Splinter.” If you are a special athlete, you get a nickname.
NASCAR fans know the nickname “Smoke” belongs to Tony Stewart – but why? Well, legend has it that Stewart was not very good about not slipping the right-rear tire when he began racing, eventually earning the nickname “Smoke.” I thought it was because he won so many races that he got the nickname for all the smoke his tires churned out during celebrations. I am sure Stewart fans like my story better.
The nickname “Joey Bats” was given as an illustrious representation of everything that Jose Bautista is or ever was when it came to hitting. Bautista has always been known as a pure hitter.
New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter earned the nickname “Mr. November” back in 2001 when the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers delayed the World Series. In Game 4 of the series, played on October 31, went into extra innings and past midnight, Jeter ended the tied game with a home run on November 1 and became “Mr. November.”
David Ortiz Of the Boston Red Sox had a habit of calling everyone Papi – a word commonly used in Latino countries for pal, buddy or perhaps more recently bro – in his early days with the team. At 230 pounds and with huge solid gold wrists, “Big Papi” became his nickname.
When the fastest man in the world has the last name Bolt, Usain Bolt’s nickname was an easy one to come up with – “Lightning Bolt.”
What nickname could you possibly give to a sprinter who runs on artificial metal blades? Oscar Pistorius of South Africa was known as “Blade Runner.”
A magical 67-yard touchdown run during the 2011 wildcard round of the NFL playoffs, where he broke eight tackles and leveled Tracy Porter with a violent stiff arm, earned Marshawn Lynch the nickname “Beast Mode.”
Karl Malone was one of the NBA’s all-time great power forwards, but found himself overshadowed by other all-time great players – such as Michael Jordan – during his career. But when things really mattered, you could look forward to Malone delivering – thus, the nickname “The Mailman.”
People really do not know why Willie Mays was given the nickname “The Say Hey Kid,” but a scan of his career lets you know he deserved to have one.
Joe Jackson earned his nickname by playing during a scouting session without shoes. He was one of the all-time great hitters and known as “Shoeless.”
One look at former defensive tackle William Perry and you understand why he was known as “The Refrigerator.” Perry was a monster on the field on the defensive side of the line. He was not bad as a running back when his team got close to the goal line as a nimble 380 pounds.
Randy Johnson was known as “The Big Unit” because of his size – 6-foot-10. It had to be horrifying to bat against a guy with one of the best fast balls in baseball and who could step so close to the batter’s box as he threw his pitches.
Perhaps the two nicknames that are most appropriate belong to two of the greatest athletes to ever play their respective sports – Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan. Gretzky was known as The Great One” during his hockey career. He will forever be the face of that sport and it is doubtful his scoring record will be broken in the next 50 years – maybe never. Jordan was known as “Air Jordan” because of his ridiculous athleticism and his furious finishes around the rim of a basketball goal.
I am sure you could easily add to this list of nicknames of famous athletes. I know I could, but space is limited in a newspaper. Otherwise, I would still be writing this column today.
Mark Clark is a local sports writer for
The Citizen of East Alabama.