"Whoever came up with it was pretty creative," said Jacoby Ellsbury, a rookie who already has a World Series championship and now a nickname for the ages. "It's pretty funny. I got a great kick out of it."
The Say Hey Kid. The Splendid Splinter, aka Teddy Ballgame. The Iron Horse. Walter "Big Train" Johnson. Big Hurt. "Bullet" Bob Feller. "Joltin'" Joe DiMaggio, aka the Yankee Clipper. Big Unit. Roger "The Rocket" Clemens.
All across America between 2-5 p.m. ET on Tuesday, a day when the Red Sox celebrated their latest World Series championship, people gobbled up their free tacos thanks to Taco Bell's national "Steal a Base, Steal a Taco" promotion that was advertised this month. There were three stolen bases, and the one that got a free taco into America's hands was in the fourth inning of Game 2, when Ellsbury drew a walk off Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez and then stole second on catcher Yorvit Torrealba.
"The situation of the game dictated it," Ellsbury said before collecting his own free taco on the Boston University campus. "I wasn't going to try to steal if the situation didn't. But the situation dictated it and I went."
The Wizard of Oz. Lefty. Mr. October. Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky. Mark "The Bird" Fidrych. Orlando "Baby Bull" Cepeda. Carl "Meal Ticket" Hubbell. Bill "Spaceman" Lee. Jimmy Wynn, the Toy Cannon. The Ryan Express.
Nicknames used to be a big deal in baseball, in life in general. When did baseball lose that romantic part of its game? Was it when the art of the cliché was cast aside by media? Life got a little serious at some point, and the creativity of baseball nicknames took a beating. Rarely do you find a really good one today -- or more likely, rarely do media have an interest in conveying them so collegiality to the public.
The Red Sox, for some reason, tend to defy this trend more than most clubs. David Ortiz is known to one and all as "Big Papi." You don't even need to say the word "Big." Sometimes the reasons are practical. That is how "Dice-K" became the standard New England nickname for Daisuke Matsuzaka when he was signed from Japan for 2007.
This newest one has a lot of time to sink in. Ellsbury is just starting. How much can happen to one rookie so quickly? It seems like just yesterday that he was a student at Oregon State, eating tacos on campus. "I had Taco Bell quite a bit," he said, citing an affinity for the "Fire" sauce, seemingly fitting for his Fall Classic.
"It's pretty funny to think about. I've got a ton of text messages," he said of this taco sensation, which resulted in TV spots in just about every market in America and even more personal attention. "It was funny to be on the [Duck] boats today and see all the signs that said, 'Thanks for the free taco.' It's been enjoyable."
Dizzy Dean. Harmon "The Killer" Killebrew. Rajah. Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd. Mr. Cub. Stretch McCovey. Enos "Country" Slaughter. Will "The Thrill" Clark. Rock Raines. Greg "Mad Dog" Maddux. Donnie Baseball. Fred McGriff might not have made it to 500 homers, but he made us say "Crime Dog" a lot.
If a free taco makes you happy, then chances are that a great baseball nickname will as well. There aren't enough around anymore. What pass off as "nicknames" around clubhouses today too often tend to be simply shortened names or use of initials, such as "A-Rod" or "Mags" or "D-Lowe." Craig Biggio just made it through an entire glorious career, and the best nickname anyone came up with was just a shortened sound of "Bidge." There's a Prince Fielder, but attempts to make up a "Prince Albert" for Pujols generally meet resistance as too jargony in today's ever-so serious world.
Tacoby Bellsbury just might fit. Maybe it will last as long as "Big Poison" and "Little Poison" -- the nicknames given to legendary brothers Paul and Lloyd Waner, who played together with the Pirates from 1927-40. Legend has it that a Dodgers fan, in typical Brooklyn accent, was referring to "person" and it sounded like "poison." He was supposedly saying something to the effect of: "There they go again. Every time that big poison is batting, that little poison is on base."
Here's to spontaneous creativity and a nickname that has early potential among the great ones.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less