Saturday, December 06, 2008

My dumb city: Philadelphia nicknames

Here in Philadelphia, fans and media have for decades conspired to confer on the city's athletes the lamest, most pathetically unimaginative collection of nicknames in all of sports.

Steve Carlton, a star lefthanded baseball pitcher, was called — get this — Lefty. And that's as creative as Philadelphia's sports minds get. Beyond that, Mike Schmidt was called Schmitty. Bobby Clarke was Clarkie. John Kruk was, if you can believe it, Krukker.

Just this week, an article about Flyers (hockey) forward Jeff Carter took the trouble to note that his teammates call him "Carts." Basketball's Julius Erving was Dr. J, but he got that evocative nickname before he came to the Philadelphia 76ers. Had he started his career here, he no doubt would have been called the Juler.

Where have you gone, Yankee Clipper, Splendid Splinter, Galloping Ghost, Night Train, Rocket? Sure as hell not to Philadelphia.

Hell, if Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known the world over as Pelé, had played soccer here, Philadelphia would have called him Edsie and been pleased with itself for doing so.

What are the lamest, feeblest, least creative, most Philadelphia-worthy nicknames, sports or otherwise, that you can think of?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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28 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

I was lamenting this unfortunate lack of imagination a few years ago.

The Big Train. The Commerce Comet. The Splendid Splinter.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That was a good post, and you picked some good names. And Big Unit may be the best of the modern-day baseball nicknames.

Little All Right. Dazzy. Dizzy. And my favorite of all, though I'd have to flip through the Baseball Encyclopedia because I can't remember the player's real name, Death to Flying Things. I think his last name was Ferguson.

The thing about Philadelphia, though, is that even its old-time stars had boring nicknames, unless you count Chief Bender. Well, I guess Home Run Baker was pretty good, if obvious. I wonder if Wilt Chamberlain, who played high school and professional basketball in Philadelphia, got his nickname of the Big Dipper when he was at college.

Bill James (the great baseball thinker, not the great crime novelist) had a theory that nicknames declined as the social and economic distance increased between players on the one hand and writers and fans on the other. Nowadays, he said, players have private nicknames that they use among themselves, their exclusion of writers a sign of contempt.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

... the Juler ...

Hee, hee ...

December 06, 2008  
Blogger hard barned said...

Hi Peter,
This may be from left field (har-har), but
I prefer The Tingler, not really a nickname as much as the title of an old Vincent Price movie. The Tingler was this killer thing that looked like a giant crap that crawled around and attacked people. Around the same time, theaters were test-marketing a kind of interactive seat that actually shocked and vibrated the person sitting on it, syncing the on-screen action with the on-seat stimuli. Don't know why your nickname post made me think of it.

Anyway, I found your blog via Adrian's, and Marco suggested I contact you for advice about finding work as a freelance writer. I have looked for copy writer/editor work for quite a while, but there isn't much of that around Nashville. I am quite interested in finding a way to write and edit from home and just thought I'd ask for advice from a fellow writer

Cheers,
C

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Loren, it was either that, Julie or Julesie. That's the Philadelphia name game: Pick a name, then make the lamest nickname from it that you can.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Brian O'Rourke said...

Peter-

You're right on the whole about Philadelphian sports sobriquets. The only decent one I can think of was a combo. When Barkley and Mahorn played for the Sixers at the same time, they were affectionately known as "Thump and Bump."

Oh, and Mike Gminski was called "The G Man."

-B

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I had forgotten Thump and Bump if I ever knew it. That would make two good combo nicknames for Mahorn, who was part of the nasty Boys with Bill Laimbeer in Detroit.

I remember G Man. I even saw him play a few times. The nickname is effective, if obvious. I wonder if he got it before he came to Philadelphia. He played his collee basketball at Duke, if I recall correctly, which is well known for its clever fans. Maybe he got the name there.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

And Philadelphia even gave the entire hockey team the lame nickname,. "Broad Street Bullies." Hmmm, I wonder what style of game they played?

I think the whole ending of the movie Slapshot when the opposing team is introduced - each one with a nickname - is a desperate attempt to make up for bad hockey nicknames.

There's a good documentary about Native guys in hockey, "They Call Me Chief," because every single Native player in the history of hockey has been nicknamed Chief. I think it's a rule.

Oh, for the days of La Grande Orange...

(my V-word is "redsmsh" which could almost be a nickname, or the lisence plate abbreviation for Red Smash - a tennis player with red hair, I guess)

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

("my V-word is "redsmsh" which could almost be a nickname, or the lisence plate abbreviation for Red Smash - a tennis player with red hair, I guess")

Red Smash could also be the new, more ethnically sensitive name of a U.S. college football team, perhaps one formerly called the Chiefs.

The Leafs had George "Chief" Armstrong, didn't they? I'm not sure the Canadiens had any prominent Native players.

I can assure you that I thought of Le Grand Orange when making this post. And, in re team nicknames, Broad Street Bullies can't hold a candle fo the Flying Frenchmen.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

HB, I don't know if the Tingler qualifies for the simple reason that it's not a bad nickname.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Brian, a correction. Mahorn and Laimbeer were McFilthy and McNasty, I think. This would be instead of or maybe in addition to the Nasty Boys.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Brian O'Rourke said...

Peter-

I thought the Pistons in that era were known as the "Bad Boys"? Not the greatest name, but very fitting for their style of play.

And you're probably right about the G Man acquiring his moniker at Duke. I got to see him play (in person) once, and many times on TV, back in the days when I still dreamed of being an NBA star.

Then, after Barkley, there was Clarence Witherspoon, affectionately known as "Spoon."

-B

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You could be right about the Pistons. And I always liked Mahorn when he was here.

'Spoon. There's a true Philly sports nickname for you.

Barkley had a nickname that out-Grantland Riced Grantland Rice: The Round Mound of Rebound. Quite naturally, he got that name in college. His Philadelphia nickname? Sir Charles. Hey, it could have been worse. He could have been Chucksie.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I remember thinking how lame Bush's nicknames for his staff were. Here's a list below. (Uncreative and totally crap are the words that spring to mind, except when we get to the United States Senate. There it starts to get good):

Former President Bush: "41"
Barbara Bush: "No. 1"
Donald Rumsfeld, defense secretary: "Rummy"
Colin Powell, ex-secretary of state: "Baloonfoot"
Michael Brown, ex-FEMA director: "Brownie"
Paul O’Neill, ex-Treasury secretary: "Big O"
George Tenet, ex-CIA director: "Brother George"
Mitch Daniels, ex-budget director: "The Blade"
Michael Gerson, ex-speechwriter: "The Scribe"
Rob Portman, budget director: "Robby Bobby"
Rep. Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House (R-IL): "Speak"
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): "Hogan"
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA): "Ali"
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA): "Frazier"

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

By an exceedingly odd coincidence, Bush was in Philadelphia today (Philadelphia is Greek for "City of Crappy Nicknames"), where he:

"also received the Union League’s Gold Medal, one of only 37 recipients since 1863. Others include Vice President Cheney and former Bush cabinet members Donald Rumsfeld and Tom Ridge.

"Bush, however, said he was “especially proud to be a co-recipient with a guy I call ‘41.’”


I like "Hogan", though most of the cabinet names are thoroughly Philadelphian.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I used to love watch Peter Gammons talking to John Kruk and Joe Morgan. It was like seeing Henry Kissinger trying explain something to Dan Quayle and George W Bush.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And Joe Morgan is not even considered among the stupider of baseball announcers.

Around these parts, Kruk is best known for playing on the Phillies' 1993 pennant-winning team, a group beloved -- supposedly -- by fans, but universally regarded by anyone who ever had any contact with it as a bunch of miserable sociopaths. I hadn't heard anything about Kruk, though, until a couple of months ago. One of our photographers overheard me talking about the team, and he said Kruk was a real shit toward reporters -- until he decided he wanted to go into broadcasting, whereupon he started sucking up to the very same people he had abused. He has a great corporate future, in other words.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Wasn't Kruk the guy who said, "Lady, I'm not an athlete, I'm a baseball player."

In Toronto, of course, we remember the '93 Phillies for Mitch "Wild Man" Williams - another Philadelphia-worthy nickname.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Thinking back to Montreal, though, some lame nicknames. Jacques Plante may be my favoutite hockey player of all time, but Jake the Snake? Patrick Roy is St. Patrick? Yvan Cournyer is The Roadrunner?

What about the little brothers, the Pocket Rocket and the Little M?

And no list of nicknames could really be complete without Georges "The Chicoutimi Cucomber" Vezina. See, because he was cool as a... oh never mind. He and his one and only wife did have 21 kids, though.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, that was Kruk, though the line seems calculated by a marketing specialist.

Williams was the Wild Thing here. I'm not sure if he had the name when he pitched for the Cubs before coming to Philadelphia. (Apparently he did, if a Wed site I consulted is correct.)

In any case, we part ways slightly in this one. If the average Philadelphia nickname deserves a D-/D grade, Wild Thing might make it to D+/C-.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Whoa, you're back. I always liked the Pocket Rocket and was thinking of citing it in my original comment.

Interesting that even in Montreal, the nicknames got lamer as time went on. "The Chicoutimi Cucumber" is a priceless nickname, and if Vézina really did have 21 children, may refer to more than just his demeanor. For an alternate, less exciting version of his reproductive history:

”Vézina married Marie-Adélaïde-Stella Morin on June 3, 1908 in Chicoutimi.[1] After Vézina's death, it was reported that he fathered twenty-two children. This rumour was started when the Canadiens manager, Leo Dandurand, told reporters that Vézina "speaks no English and has twenty-two children, including three sets of triplets, and they were all born in the space of nine years." In actuality, the Vézina's only had two children and Georges spoken broken English.[5] In 1912 they had their first child, a son named Jean-Jules. A second son was born the night of the Montreal Canadiens first Stanley Cup win in 1916. To honour the event, Georges named the child Marcel Stanley.[6] When not playing hockey, Vézina operated a tannery in Chicoutimi, living a quiet, clean life.[7]”

I always liked Le Gros Bill (Jean Beliveau), which may be prosaic, even Philadephia-worthy in French, but to my Anglo ears sounded down to earth and exotic at the same time. And this brings up another interesting topic for Montreal and any other bilingual cities: Did French fans and sportswriters bestow as many nicknames as English ones? Fewer? More? Were the nicknames better? Worse?

Worse -- reminds me lf Lorne "Gump" Worsley. That's not a bad name.

December 06, 2008  
Blogger Ed said...

Broad Street Bullies was a great nickname. "Flying Frenchmen"?? Only a Canadian would like a name like that. And most of the Bullies had cool nicknames. Moose. Big Bird. The Hammer. The Hound. Cowboy. I imagine most sports nicknames originate early in a player's career. And fans don't usually come up them (unless you count sportswriters as fans), but teammates do. Fans only "support" a nickname.

And Philly's a hard-boiled town. Nicknames here need to be spare, either blunt or with a sharp edge, as long as they're succinct. Names like Concrete Charlie, Whitey, The Bull, Wham Bam and all those Bully nicknames above. It's not that Philly fans like boring nicknames, but rather they like them stripped down and tough. Splendid Splinter? Flying Frenchmen? Those names are the products of literate sportswriters. Philly fans are too tough to like names like that.

December 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Broad Street Bullies was a great nickname. "Flying Frenchmen"?? Only a Canadian would like a name like that."

Drop the gloves, buddy.

Actually, you get partial credit. "Hound" came up in discussions that led to this post, but I'd forgotten about it. I also love "Concrete Charlie," thought I'd tend to place it among the literary nicknames rather than the quick one-worders that you defend so eloquently. It's more akin to "The Splendid Splinter" than to "Babe." Same with "Wham Bam."

"Whitey" would tend to lend credence to the anti-Philadelphia side of the argument, since all players in the 1940s and '50s who had light-blond hair were called Whitey.

In any case, the point is moot, since all thse names, from Philly and otherwise, are part of the past. The larger point is that good nicknames are dead. Now, all we get are the cloying, false camaraderie of ball-park scoreboards and TV announcers referring to players by their first names.

And fans may not come up with nicknames, but they do give them currency, so they're part of the equation.

December 07, 2008  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

well, I'm going to stick with Georges Vezina and the 22 kids - it was certainly plausible in Chicoutimi at the time.

What do you think of the "Black Aces," the line of three black hockey players in Quebec in the 50's? That's a pretty lame nickname, and unlikely what got yelled at them from the stands.

December 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, but 22 including three sets of triples, and all within nine years? I will say that the account makes me curious about Leo Dandurand, who previously was just a name to me out of Fifty years of Hockey. The man apparently was quite a quipster.

By the way, the Ed who so strongly and eloquently defended Philadelphia sports nicknames in the comment above attended Sunday's Noir at the Bar reading. No blows were exchanged.

December 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I missed the "Black Aces" question.

If they played in Quebec City, they might well have played for the Quebec Aces/Aces de Québec. Given the team name, the temptation to call the three the Black Aces might well have proved irresistible. One trembles to think what must have been yelled at them from the stands, though I'm not sure that particular odious racial insult was current in Canada, much less in French-speaking Canada. It may well have been, but I just don't know.

Then there was the Boston Bruin's Kraut Line of Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart and Bobby(?) Bauer, whose nickname became the safer Kitchener Kids or something similar during World War II. That's another chapter in the sociology of North American sports nicknames: the decline of ethnic and racial names. I'm not even sure there are any Chiefs anymore.

December 08, 2008  
Blogger Kent Morgan said...

You mentioned that Bobby Clarke was nicknamed Clarkie. That goes back to his days growing up in Flin Flon, Manitoba. I know his brother-in-law well and I have never heard him call Clark by his first name, Bobby or Bob as he now likes to be known. He always calls him Clarkie. I worked as an official when Clarke played junior and his teammates always referred to him as Clarkie. The opposition wasn't as nice.

For some unknown reason "ie" or "er" gets added to the surnames of hockey players. Last week Scott Arniel, the coach of the our local AHL team, the Manitoba Moose, was quoted where he called his top centre Jason Krog, Krogger, and another centre Mark Cullen, Cullie. That's just the way hockey players and coaches speak about each other. Even Wayne Gretzky was called Wayner by his teammates and occasionally Whiner by the opposition.

When I think about nicknames, I'm reminded about some of the guys I played hockey and other sports with and against while growing up in northern Canada: Steamboat, Prune, Goon (not because he was tough), Wad, Bunhole, Dizzy, Slab, Itchy, Fuzzy, Mousey, Ticky, Jazzboy, Hook, Cobra and Gardenia. I did play with a guy whose first name was Clarke, but no one called him Clarkie. My favourite nickname was Seagull for a hockey player who didn't do much other than swoop in near the net and pick up what is known as "garbage goals." Two brothers who I went to school with were hunters. The older one got nicknamed Big Game because he hunted deer and moose. The younger brother was called Chicken as he went after partridge aka prairie chicken.

My slo-pitch softball team, the Touring All-Stars, had a few good nicknames. One pitcher was called Panther because he was so slow fielding the ball. An outfielder who tended to let his mind wander was called Wrist Alarm. A third baseman named Bilodeau was called Bad News after the hockey player. A first baseman was called Motts because he sold Motts Clamato juice. We had players named McKenzie, McLarty, McTaggart and McDonald and McDougall, none of whom were known as Mac. Instead they were called Boomer, Double Zero, Taggie, JM and Mad Dog. We also had Sweet Lou, Downtown, Ball Don't Come, Arms, Bozo and Medium. The last guy was Eddie, but when he first came out, a player called Cass looked at him and quickly said he's no Fast Eddie and immediately nicknamed him Medium. His nephew later downgraded him to Dead Ed. We did have a Jones on the team and he, of course, was Jonesy.

December 08, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for one of the more unexpected, entertaining and educational comments this blog has received. Those northern Canada nicknames is so good that I suspect you're really a scriptwriter or novelist trying out ideas for character names.

I attended a summer camp outside Montreal when I was young. Nicknames there included Smedley, Ekra, Hack, Ankles and Goblow. A few summer later, I worked at a camp outside Ottawa, where I was crushed and deflated to find that nicknames tended to be abbreviations and diminutives of last names a la Clarkie and Schmitty. Maybe my anger at lame nicknames is a holdover from that youthful disappointment.

Seagull is a fine nickname, too. I wonder if Phil Esposito had a similar nickname. Some people used ot praise him for his tenacity in the slot. Others used to accuse him of sitting in his rear end and collecting garbage goals.

December 08, 2008  

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