Every professional sport has produced great nicknames. Football has lined their nickname history with “the Fridge”, “the Bus”, and “Mean” Joe Greene. Basketball has dubbed some beauties like “the Black Mamba”, “Magic”, and, “Dr. J”. But no sport has had a better nickname history than baseball. In its 150-year existence, baseball’s newspaper writers, TV analysts, and die-hard fans have laid down so many nicknames it seems impossible to narrow it down to just a few. But, that’s exactly what I did.
- Stan “the Man” Musial
This one is a little questionable. It felt wrong to leave out names like “Catfish” Hunter, and “Charlie Hustle” but put in this one. Musial’s nickname isn’t very creative and it’s a little too simple. But, on the other hand, maybe that’s why it’s so great. It says everything you needed to say about the Cardinals outfielder in two words. The fact is: Stan was the Man. In a baseball period dominated by Joe Dimaggio and Ted Williams, the Cards best player quietly out hit them both. When all was set and done, Musial walked away with 3 rings, 3 MVPs, a 128.2 career WAR, 7 batting titles, and a whopping 24 All-Star appearances. In 25 seasons in the majors, Stan cemented his place as not only the greatest Cardinal ever, but possibly one of the greatest players ever. No one has ever been more of “the Man” than Stan Musial.
- Lou “Iron Horse” Gehrig
This nickname correlates specifically with one of Gehrig’s many accomplishments. From 1925 to 1938, Gehrig didn’t miss a game. He played 2,130 straight times in those years and refused to be benched once. He played through all sorts of aches, pains, and injuries during that time but was unfazed. He was then dubbed the Iron Horse, to imply that he was “made of Iron” and was “as strong as a Horse”. And that in itself is a pretty darn cool nickname. But it also fits to the rest of his career as well. Gehrig not only played 2,130 straight games, he played really well. Well enough to be considered the greatest 1st baseman of all time. His 2 MVPs, 340 lifetime average, and the 1934 triple crown deserve a really good nickname. And the “Iron Horse” fits the bill perfectly.
- Pablo “the Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval
Sandoval is the first example of a player on this list who has a nickname so good it doesn’t need to be backed up with a Hall of Fame career. And it isn’t like Sandoval is a bad player. The chubby, lovable and weirdly athletic 2-time All-Star was a key piece to the Giants World-Series runs in 2010, 2012, and 2014 before a trade to the Red Sox and health issues derailed his career. The best part of Pablo Sandoval will forever be his nickname. You see, around the height of Pablo Sandoval’s success, the Kung Fu Panda movies premiered. These movies were about a chubby, lovable, weirdly athletic Panda who defeats villains with karate. Noticing a similarity? So was San Francisco. Sandoval was dubbed the Kung Fu Panda and people loved it. Panda hats could be seen in the Giants stands and Sandoval’s popularity skyrocketed. And it wasn’t hard to make the connection:
No nickname has ever fit someone better.
- Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd
This is another player who was defined by their nickname. Boyd pitched 10 season in the MLB in the 1980s and was never that good. He only won over 15 games once and only twice had an ERA lower than 3.70. But is nickname was god-tier. Announcers and journalists never even referred to him as Dennis. His nickname was so cool it became his name name. He wasn’t Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, he was Oil Can Boyd. Boyd was dubbed Oil Can by his teammates in his hometown of Mississippi, where beer was referred to as Oil. Sadly, the other significant part of Oil Can’s career was his infamous drug use during the 1986 season. Although the scandal put a damper on a solid career, his nickname will forever live on.
- Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown
Mordecai Brown was a terrific pitcher. One of the Cubs best pitchers during their 1907 and 1908 World Series runs, Brown finished his career with 239 wins and a 2.02 ERA. Even in the dead ball era that was impressive. Oh, and he had three fingers. When the pitcher was five, his right index finger was cut off in a farming accident. From that day on he was “Three Finger” Brown. Not only did he pitch, he pitched well. Mordecai and his three fingers were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1949. And although it might have seemed like a disability, opposing hitters claimed the opposite. According to certain hitters, the lack of an index finger gave the ball a lot more spin.
- David “Big Papi” Ortiz
This is, and forever will be, the greatest nickname of the 21st century. In 2002, the Minnesota Twins released a young DH named David Ortiz. 5 weeks later, the Red Sox picked him up in was a seemingly insignificant move. In the following 15 years Ortiz became one of leagues most feared hitters, winning 3 World Series, 7 Silver Sluggers, and appearing in 10 All-Star games. He finished his career with 541 homeruns, and with league-wide recognition of being the best DH of all time. When he first got to Red Sox camp in 2002, he had trouble remembering names. So, instead of calling people by their first names, he just called them Papi. It didn’t take long for teammates and coaches to start calling him Papi back, and then Big Papi. In a couple of years the name had been popularized by NESN’s Jerry Remy, when he begun calling Ortiz Big Papi on air. He was also the clutchest hitter of his time period, leading the Red Sox to 3 World Series including the one in 2004 that broke the 86-year curse. But, the other thing that came out of his career was the best nickname of his generation: Big Papi.
- Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson
Reggie Jackson was arguably the best player of the 1970s. After starting his career as an Athletic, Reggie signed with the Yankees in 1977. Already one of the league’s best hitters and former MVP, the larger-than-life right fielder fit in perfectly with the clubhouse named the Bronx Zoo. In the 1977 World Series, during Game Six, Jackson took the plate in the 4th inning against Burt Hooten of the Dodgers. On the first pitch, Jackson took Hooten deep. The very next inning, Jackson did the same thing. On reliever Elias Sosa’s first pitch, Jackson hammered one into the seats. Then, to a standing ovation in the eighth, Jackson sent Charlie Hough’s knuckleball 450 feet on the first pitch. From then on, he was Mr. October. And in a game where a player’s career can be defined by his performance in the MLB’s most important month, that’s not a half-bad nickname to have. Jackson’s career was top-notch, but his nickname was legendary. There will never be another Mr. October.
- James “Cool Papa” Bell
MLB nicknames are pretty darn good. But, there is something to be said for the nicknames of the Negro League. The league was established in 1920 as an alternate league for blacks who were denied a spot in the majors. And the nicknames were as talented as the players. So it’s only fair they be represented on this list. And no nickname of the Negro League is better than “Cool Papa” Bell. Bell joined the league in 1922 as pitcher. Not long after he was dubbed “Cool” after striking out the great Oscar Robinson. His manager then added the “Papa” because it sounded cooler. He was very much right. The name stuck and Bell started going by Cool Papa rather than James. And it only got better as he did. Bell eventually switched to centerfield and became a legend. Tales of Bell’s incredible speed only added to that. Satchel Paige, among others, claimed that Bell was so fast he could turn off a light and be under the covers before the room got dark. Others said he once was struck by a ball he hit while sliding into second. Whether or not the stories are true, they do make for a great story about a great player with a truly top-three nickname.
- Joe “Shoeless Joe” Jackson
One of the most popular baseball stories ever told is that of Joe Jackson. The story goes that while playing a game in Greenville, North Carolina, Jackson had gotten several blisters on his feet as he broke in a pair of new cleats. The pain had become so great that he decided to not wear shoes his next at bat. From then on he was “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. And Jackson played at the same legendary level of his nickname. In a 9-year career cut short by the Black-Sock Scandal, Jackson had a .356 career average and totaled 1772 hits. There will never be a more classic baseball nickname than Shoeless Joe except…
- George “The Babe” Ruth
There is no argument here. Say what you want about rankings 10-2, there is no question for the #1 spot. I know there are no rights or wrongs in opinionated writing, but this is right. Babe Ruth was larger than life. He led baseball out of the dead ball era, he was one of if not the face of the 20s, and was the most famous, and the best, baseball player of all time. Throw statistics around all you want, he was the best. And the greatest deserves the greatest nickname, and the greatest nickname he got. Now you could argue that Ruth had a whole platoon of true nicknames with the Great Bambino, the Sultan of Swat, the Colossus of Clout, or the King of Crash. And all those would surely make the top three and probably number one. But when it comes to Ruth, he really only has one nickname: “the Babe”. And it’s more than just that. The Babe represents baseball more than just about anything. One could argue that Ruth and his charming play, personality, and name are more iconic to baseball than George Washington is to America. Cause when it all comes down to it, “the Babe” represents baseball just as much as it represents Ruth. What he did for America’s pastime will never be matched, and the cornerstone to his legend will forever be his true nickname.