MLB.com Columnist

Joe Posnanski

(Nick)name dropping: 25 best in MLB history

(Nick)name dropping: 25 best in MLB history

When you talk about the greatest nicknames in baseball history, you are really talking about more than one thing. A baseball nickname can be a description of a player. They called Don Mossi "Ears" because he had big ears, and they called Walt Williams "No Neck" because he didn't have much of a neck. These don't strike me as particularly clever (Williams hated the nickname), but they are a big part of the game. Mordecai Brown, you probably know, was called "Three Finger" because he lost two fingers in a farm machinery accident.

There are nicknames that describe the player's game. Brooks Robinson was "The Human Vacuum Cleaner" for the way he devoured any ground ball that happened to be near him at third base. Rickey Henderson, the all-time stolen-base leader (probably forever), was and always will be "The Man of Steal." Nolan Ryan hummed a 100-mph fastball past hitters for so many seasons that people started calling him, simply, "The Ryan Express."

• Players Weekend gear available at MLBShop.com

Then there are just goofy nicknames that stick. Bill Lee is "Spaceman" for the spacey out-of-this-world thoughts that never stop filling his mind. Catfish Hunter got his nickname from Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley, who thought all players should have nicknames. Mark Fidrych was called "The Bird" because he sort of resembled Big Bird on "Sesame Street."

And finally: There are the classics, the nicknames that transcend, the ones that replace players' names and become a part of baseball lore. So when a subjective list is compiled of the 25 greatest nicknames in baseball history, we are really paying homage to all those nicknames through the years, whatever their purpose, wherever they came from.

Starting Friday and ending on Sunday, MLB will celebrate the first Players Weekend. And as part of the festivities, the athletes in uniform will be allowed to wear nicknames on the back of their jerseys. (Josh Donaldson will have "Bringer of Rain" on his back, for example.) With that in mind, here are the 25 greatest nicknames in baseball history (along with a few honorable mentions we'll sprinkle in throughout):

Honorable mention: Mr. Smile (Francisco Lindor)
Lindor will wear this on his uniform during Players Weekend, and it's close to a great nickname because it does reflect the joy of Lindor. But it's a little bit awkward. Perhaps "Mr. Blue Sky" would have been better.

Lindor's two-run homer

No. 25: The Penguin (Ron Cey)
Well, he did walk like a Penguin. Cey, by the way, is one of the most underrated players in baseball history. He smashed 316 homers, walked 1,000 times and put up more career WAR (53.5) than several Hall of Famers.

No. 24: Scrabble (Marc Rzepczynski)
An homage to two players named Doug (Gwosdz and Mientkiewicz), who were both called "Eye Chart." Rzepczynski is worth 31 points in Scrabble, plus whatever you can get for double- and triple-letter score.

No. 23: The Human Rain Delay (Mike Hargrove)
Hargrove got the nickname for the many time-consuming adjustments he would make between pitches.

No. 22: Joey Bats (Jose Bautista)
Bautista once did a very funny sketch that was a version of the baseball bat scene in "The Untouchables." This nickname has gotten better and better as Bautista has embraced his role as one of baseball's tough guys, and he'll have this one splashed across the back of his Jays jersey this weekend.

Bautista on jersey nicknames

No. 21: Oil Can Boyd (Dennis Boyd)
He might have been Oil Can because he drank a lot of brew at one time -- beer being called "oil" in Merdian, Miss. Whatever the reason, he was as reliable for miles and miles, like a beloved vehicle.

No. 20: The Big Hurt (Frank Thomas)
It was probably Chicago's boisterous announcer Hawk Harrelson who came up with this marvelous nickname, which needs no explanation.

Honorable mention: The Big Unit (Randy Johnson)
There's only limited room for "The Big" nicknames … and we have two on the list. Too bad, because Big Unit was a fantastic description of Johnson at work.

No. 19: Kung Fu Panda (Pablo Sandoval)
It hasn't been great for Sandoval the last three years with injuries and struggles, but the nickname is still there as a reminder of his fun and happy days hitting like mad and winning World Series with the Giants.

Sandoval's solo home run

No. 18: The Secretary of Defense (Garry Maddox)
He was sometimes called "The Minister of Defense." … Maddox's magnificent center-field defense inspired awe and overwhelming tributes, my favorite being Harry Kalas' "Two thirds of the Earth is covered by water, the other third is covered by Garry Maddox."

Honorable mention: Mr. Cub (Ernie Banks)
It's a really good nickname for Banks, but it is provincial. Tony Gwynn was sometimes called Mr. Padre, Al Kaline is Mr. Tiger, Tim Salmon is Mr. Angel, Jeff Conine is Mr. Marlin, OK, there's nowhere really to go with all this.

No. 17: Turkey Stearnes (Norman Stearnes)
Stearnes is in the Hall of Fame for his astonishing play in the Negro Leagues; records show he hit more official homers than any other Negro Leaguer, including Josh Gibson. They called him Turkey for the way he ran with his arms flapping.

No. 16: The Say Hey Kid (Willie Mays)
The question with Secretariat has always been, "Is Secretariat a great horse name or was he just such a great thoroughbred that it seems that way?" Same thing with "The Say Hey Kid" -- the nickname is fine (it comes from Mays' habit of saying "Say Hey!"), but it is Mays' brilliance that infuses it with life.

Honorable mention: The Splendid Splinter (Ted Williams)
I go back and forth on this nickname. It is clever and has nice alliteration. But it never seemed to fit Williams' difficult and uncompromising personality. It would have better fit Stan Musial, though he already had "Stan the Man."

No. 15: Thor (Noah Syndergaard)
It looked like Matt Harvey's "The Dark Knight" nickname would become a classic, but his injury woes have left the great Mets nickname to Snydergaard, who does indeed control lightning and is the only one who can lift the hammer of Thor.

Syndergaard as Thor Bobblehead

No. 14: Sandman (Mariano Rivera)
To be honest, more people simply called him "Mo," but the combination of the nickname Sandman and his perfect entry song of "Enter Sandman" is breathtaking. And Sandman did put teams to sleep for 19 years.

No. 13: Double Duty Radcliffe (Ted Radcliffe)
Another great one from the Negro Leagues; Double Duty got his name from a 1932 Negro Leagues World Series doubleheader. He caught the first game, then threw a shutout in the second. "He is worth the price of two admissions," the writer Damon Runyon wrote when he coined the legendary nickname.

Honorable mention: Nuke Laloosh (Ebby Calvin Laloosh)
This one is from the film "Bull Durham."

Ebby (to manager): "You think I need a nickname? I think I need a nickname. The great ones have nicknames, somethin' like Oil Can or Catfish …

Manager (looking ready to retire): You got three minutes.

No. 12: Corey's Brother (Kyle Seager)
It's not quite a nickname, but this is what Kyle is wearing on the back of his jersey for Players Weekend, and it is fantastic. Kyle is a terrific player, an All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, a slugger who has hit 30 homers in a season. And by choosing to pay homage to his younger brother Corey Seager, he also shows he's funny and charming (and realistic, because Corey is a force all unto himself).

Seager's solo home run

No. 11: Toy Cannon (Jimmy Wynn)
It is probably the perfect baseball nickname, because in two words it captures Wynn's diminutive stature (he was listed at 5-foot-10) and his great power (he hit 291 home runs despite playing in pitcher's parks almost his whole career). And it's so much fun.

Honorable mention: Crime Dog (Fred McGriff)
The reason people of our generation love this nickname so so so so much is that you could wind yourself into a pretzel trying to explain to someone how he got it. You see, there was a cartoon dog named McGruff who was constantly reminding us to "take a bite out of crime." and McGriff sounds something like McGruff, and there was a guy named Chris Berman who came up with funny nicknames for players and … well, what's the point? Theories pass. The nickname remains.

No. 10: All Rise (Aaron Judge)
"All Rise" is not exactly a nickname -- nobody calls Aaron Judge "All Rise." But "All Rise" has become the clarion call of the 2017 baseball season. It's rare that things come together so sweetly. You get a charismatic baseball player who hits monster home runs, and his name happens to be Judge. He will wear "All Rise" on the back of his jersey for Players Weekend, and it's the perfect symbol of this year in baseball. All rise, indeed.

No. 9: Mr. October (Reggie Jackson)
Reggie Jackson slugged .755 with 10 home runs in five World Series appearances. That's impressive for anyone, but Reggie did it with the style and boldness and arrogance that marked his whole career. He loved the big stage. If Twitter had been around in Reggie's time, he would have blown it up numerous times.

No 8: The Wizard (Ozzie Smith)
It is not the most original of nicknames -- Ozzie Newsome was also called "The Wizard of Oz" -- but it perfectly describes the way Ozzie Smith played defense. He didn't just make great plays, he made magical ones.

No. 7: Shoeless Joe Jackson
He took his shoes off his before an at-bat in Greenville, S.C., because the cleats he had been wearing were giving him blisters, and that was that. "Shoeless Joe" remains very much alive in the minds of baseball fans, in part because of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal that cost him his career, and in part because of that indelible nickname.

No. 6: Satchel Paige (Leroy Paige)
The nickname may have come from his job of carrying people's satchels at a train station (he supposedly fashioned some invention that allowed him to carry several at once, inspiring someone to yell, "You look like a walking satchel tree!"). It also might have been that he tried to steal a bag, got caught and was teased relentlessly as "Satchel Paige" forever after. Either way, the nickname is so fitting that you probably didn't even know his first name was Leroy.

No. 5: Charlie Hustle (Pete Rose)
It was an insult. Mickey Mantle saw the young Pete Rose playing like the Tasmanian Devil, and he shouted, "Oh, look at Charlie Hustle over there running around." Rose wore it as a badge of honor, sometimes running to first on walks, often diving headfirst into bases for no apparent reason, smashing into catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run in an All-Star Game. He was, in all ways, on and off the field, "Charlie Hustle."

No. 4: Yogi Berra (Lawrence Berra)
He was given the nickname as a child when a friend said he looked like a Yogi as he sat around and moped after his baseball team lost a game. He was indeed baseball's Yogi, for the brilliant way he played catcher, his astonishing hitting prowess (he struck out just 414 times in his career -- Aaron Judge will probably pass that number next year) and, of course, for the countless bits of wisdom he bestowed on the world such as: "You can observe a lot by watching."

Honorable Mentions: The Commerce Comet (Mickey Mantle) and The Millville Meteor (Mike Trout)
This sort of nickname, where you use a player's hometown as a jumping-off point, has sort of disappeared. Bob Feller was the "Heater from Van Meter." Amos Rusie was "The Hoosier Thunderbolt." Spec Shea was "The Nagatuck Nugget." And so on. This stuff has largely gone away because it sound old fashioned … but then you have Mike Trout, a great player in desperate need of a nickname. And "The Millville Meteor" does have a ring.

No. 3: Big Papi (David Ortiz)
People often complain that baseball nicknames ain't what they used to be, and that's probably so. But there are a few great ones of recent vintage, and Big Papi is right there. Ortiz got the nickname for his habit of calling everybody Papi, but over time, as Ortiz established himself as a one-of-a-kind ballplayer and leader, "Big Papi" began to take on a whole new meaning.

Ortiz's number is unveiled

No. 2: Cool Papa Bell (James Bell)
It's the most musical nickname in baseball history, and sports history. People would sometimes ask Buck O'Neil, the great Negro Leagues player and manager who was Bell's friend, "What does Cool Papa mean?" Buck would shrug. "If you have to ask what it means," he told me once, "then you will never know what it means."

No. 1: Babe Ruth (George Ruth)
What if he had gone by George Ruth? It's hard to even imagine. He was called Babe as a young player when he was all naiveté -- he was like a babe in the woods. Over the years, he was called many other things -- "Bambino," "The Sultan of Swat," "The Big Bam" and "Jidge" -- but at heart, he was always Babe, and 100 years after he began, everyone still knows him that way.

Joe Posnanski is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, an Emmy Award-winning writer and has been awarded National Sportswriter of the Year. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.