What’s in a name? More accurately, what’s in a nickname ? Let us be honest; “A-Rod” is not a nickname. It is simply a condensed version of two names, given by his parents to a stellar ball player. If there are athletes currently playing who sport the colorful nicknames of which I speak, I’m unaware.
Hammerin’ Hank Aaron — now that’s a nickname. Or the Say-Hey Kid (Willie Mays). It seenms to me that, in my youth and before, professional athletes were given names that had character, color, and an element of admiration.
Elroy Face, relief pitcher par excellence, was the Baron of the Bullpen. Vernon Law was the Deacon. Sal Maglie acquired the name The Barber from his habit of brushing back opposing batters who crowded the plate, and Sudden Sam McDowell- well, that seems obvious for a fastballer, even if he was pitching for the Indians.
The last truly colorful nickname which I remember was William “The Frig” Perry, the awesome offensive lineman of the ‘81 Chicago Bears. My disclaimer- I don’t know enough about basketball to say who is currently sporting a colorful nickname, but if there’s anything that tops Wilt “the Stilt” or Walt “Clyde” Frazier, I don’t know what it is offhand.
This seems, to me, a symptom rather than a disease. Perhaps I have always been occupied with the subject of nicknames because I always wanted one, and was never given a suitable one. That is, by the way, not an open invitation for readers to come up with one...
Put yourself in my place, though. Your given name is Clyde, and since they named you after your dad, you really don’t want to change it, but...My high school wrestling coach saddled me with Badger, and my college coach hung the moniker Rattler, but those were both very contextual nicknames and never left the wrestling venue-facts for which I am pretty grateful.
The symptom of nickname deficit for professional athletes indicates, I think, one of the pieces which is missing in professional sports today. There seems to be very little, if any, fan loyalty or identification left, and the reverse is also true. In the area where I grew up, we were loyal Pirate fans or, in some cases, Cleveland Indians fans, with an occasional Phillies family thrown in the mix.
Either way, they were your team, and they were your players. People were traded, that is true, but it was not an open market system, wherein players hopped around at a rate which made it impossible for fans to know them, or much care.
The goal was to win with your team, not play musical players until you found a winning combination.
We use fancy words like “depersonalization,” but what we are really getting down to is a view of too many pieces of society that treats human beings like commodities. Sports is not the primary area, simply one which reflects a disturbing trend.
Yes, I hope I can take my grandson to a Rockies or Rangers game this summer. Can anyone tell me the names of some of the players?
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and a college instructor. He can be contacted at: email@example.com