The blog is going to be a little slow over the next week or two, partly because I'll be out of town for a few days, but mostly because I'm devoting my writing time to another project these days. Don't fret - I'm still writing about the Royals. I'm just writing about them for our special Baseball Prospectus project that's slated to come out next spring. I don't want to give away too many details just yet, but suffice it to say that instead of writing about Greinke and Gordon, I'm writing about Saberhagen and Brett...and UL Washington and Pat Sheridan too. Writing about good Royals teams - this is a new experience for me. I'll try to adjust.
In the meantime, I wanted to launch an idea I've had since I started the blog three months ago. Call it the Nickname Project. While the experience of being a baseball fan is, in so many ways, the best it's ever been, one of the small things we've lost over the years are the evocative nicknames for players of generations past. Gone are the days of King Kong Keller and The Barber and The Mad Hungarian, to say nothing of Death to Flying Things or the nicknames that stuck to their player so strongly that most fans didn't even know what their real name was, like Cy Young or Dizzy Dean or, of course, Babe Ruth.
Today, few players have nicknames that uniquely identify them, and of those who do, most of them were either created by Hawk Harrelson (i.e. they're really dumb) or they are simply a diminutive of their real name. If I ever get a Hall of Fame ballot, I'm tempted not to vote for Alex Rodriguez in his first year of eligibility simply because "A-Rod" unleashed an avalanche of "first letter-first syllable" nicknames on the sport. One of Justin Upton's teammates recently referred to him as "J-Up". Upton is the most exciting young player to hit the sport in years - is that the best you can do? Please.
The dearth of good nicknames is, I think, a casualty of the fact that baseball reporting has become so splintered since the advent of cable TV, regional sports networks, and of course the internet. Many of the nicknames of years past were penned by sportswriters, who had such a monopoly on reporting about the game that someone like Red Smith could single-handedly anoint any player he felt worthy of a nickname. No one has such power today.
Baseball-reference.com lists Babe Ruth with two nicknames, in addition to "Babe", and there were probably a dozen other names that were used in Babe's era that fans understood referred to him. Ted Williams has four nicknames: The Kid, Teddy Ballgame, The Thumper, and The Splendid Splinter. Barry Bonds, who has towered over the game like a colossus for the past two decades, has no nickname.
I can't help Barry Bonds, but I can do my part to help our Kansas City Royals. I did so for the first time a few years ago, when I walked into the visitor's clubhouse at U.S. Cellular after the Royals had lost another one-run game. The reporters quickly gravitated to Andy Sisco, who in the midst of a promising rookie season had lost the game in the eighth on a couple of cheap hits.
I knew Sisco was 6'10", the tallest pitcher in team history, but no number can prepare you for the sight of this enormous man-child, with the build of a defensive lineman (a 6'10" defensive lineman), standing a full head taller than any of the reporters in the room. He had this timid, deer-in-the-headlights look in his eyes even as he answered questions as politely as possible, and it called to mind Lefty Gomez's famous line about the hulking Jimmie Foxx, "He wasn't scouted. He was trapped." (Foxx, whose nickname was "Beast", is listed at 6' even and 195 pounds. Mark Teahen is 6'3", 210. They sure don't make 'em like they used to. They make 'em a lot bigger.)
And suddenly it came to me. "Sisco? This guy should be called Sisquatch."
Now, as nicknames go Sisquatch didn't exactly catch on like wildfire, probably because Sisco himself has let his career go in reverse pretty much from that exact moment on. But a number of people - okay, a number of my fellow BP authors - started using the name, which was a small moral victory for me.
But I can come up with all the nicknames in the world and it won't matter if I'm the only one using them. The Epic (Gil Meche) and The Baseball Jonah (Zack Greinke) have yet to set the blogosphere aflame, though I remain optimistic. But today I am here to ask you, the gentle RotR reader, to suggest nicknames for your favorite (and even not-so-favorite) Royals. Here are the rules:
1) Be nice. We're looking for nicknames that can appear in your family newspaper - more precisely, nicknames that will appear in the Star at some point. So no fair calling Greinke "ProZack." You know who you are.
2) Try to avoid puns on a player's name, unless they're really, really good. Nicknames should tell you something about the player, not just rehash his name. Sisquatch works (well, I think it works) because it evokes Sisco's physical dimensions; it just happens to resemble his name.
A few months ago, reader Breck suggested that we call our third baseman "Splash" Gordon, which I like, because it mocks the typical "Flash" Gordon name and says something unique about Gordon. Plus, it's a name that only works in Kansas City and a few other parks that have water beyond the outfield fence. But otherwise, try to avoid using their real name. If anyone suggests calling Butler "B-But" again I will have you banned from the internet, so help me God.
3) Give feedback. The point here is to come up with nicknames that we all agree on, so we'll all use them, in the hopes that eventually the names will spread into the vernacular of the casual Royals fan. So feel free to comment on other people's suggestions. I'm hoping to engage my fellow Royals bloggers out there to take part as well.
If we can pin a nickname on every player on the roster, wonderful. But if we can just come up with five good, solid, catch nicknames, that's fine too. Quality over quantity. Fire away.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Gil Meche: Gilgameche is both too obvious and name-derived, which is why I call him The Epic. Plus, it refers to his contract, the biggest one the Royals have ever given to an outside free agent. Do you like? Not like?
Zack Greinke: The Baseball Jonah. Read here for details. Do you like? Not like?
Brian Bannister: How about Rodin?
Joakim Soria: Bob Dutton called him Captain Zero today, which isn't bad, except his ERA will
eventually be a positive number.
Luke Hochevar: Cool Hand Luke is all I've got. I've never seen the movie, though I remember an episode of "Cheers" when Dr. Frasier Crane referred to it as the "sweatiest movie of all-time." That sounds pretty manly. I think.
Leo Nunez: "The Blade" is taken, but something that refers to his slightness of build ought to work.
Joel Peralta: Victorinox? He's the swiss army knife of the Royals' staff - he can mop up, he can be used as a righty specialist, he can even close in a pinch.
Billy Butler: Last summer I wrote a piece comparing Royals players to Harry Potter characters, and no comparison was more obvious than calling Butler "Hagrid." Are we cool with this, or would the joke be lost on the 0.3% of the population that hasn't read the books?
Joey Gathright: Dash. "The Incredibles" is, for me, the best of the Pixar movies.
And then there are nicknames we can pin on groups of players. I referred to the collection of Soria, Nunez, and Ramirez as "The Hispanic Panic," although that might be construed as offensive. Better ideas, anyone? The 1927 Yankees lineup was Murderer's Row; the 2008 Royals lineup is...Shoplifter's Row? Jaywalker's Row? Double-Parker's Row?
Alright, that's just off the top of my head - if I think of more, I'll add them in the comments section. Just like everyone else.
So send in your suggestions, and hopefully I'll come up with a way for everyone to vote on their favorites at some point.