Everybody loves a good nickname. Here in Pittsburgh we’ve had a wide array of nicknames for our beloved Steelers, Penguins and Pirates. They range from great names like Jerome “The Bus” Bettis to considerably less stellar monikers like Nyjer “Tony Plush” Morgan. When you don’t know what you’re getting, it’s generally a bad nickname. “Dr. Strangeglove” Dick Stuart is great because it’s a then-current reference to a movie, and you can infer he’s not a good fielder — double win. Generic nicknames referring to the player’s name, like “J-Hay” Josh Harrison, or size (“Big” Ben Roethlisberger), or a rhyme (Sid “The Kid” Crosby) are OK in a pinch but not much on the creative side.
Before we get to the really good ones, let’s pause and honor the worst nickname of all time. That honor belongs to an unremarkable Pirate outfielder in the late 1930s named Johnny Dickshot. I’m not even sure if we can print the name Dickshot. He was a true blue-collar guy who worked in a steel mill during the off-season. But Johnny Dickshot not only had the stigma of an unforgiving surname; his nickname compounded what must have already been a superior inferiority complex. Yes, Johnny “Ugly” Dickshot was a real person. You think Russell “Rusty” Kuntz had to endure ridicule. Kuntz had nothing on Dickshot.
The Steelers have always had great nicknames. The best three in team history all tell you everything you need to know about their owners — Chuck Noll, “The Emperor”; Art Rooney, “The Chief”; and “Mean” Joe Greene. From Jack “The Hammer” Ham and “Blonde Bomber” Terry Bradshaw to “Big Snack” Casey Hampton, the Steelers churn out great nicknames like they win Lombardi trophies. Even the players we don’t like get good names. Sure most people hated Kordell Stewart while he was here, but the name “Slash” is pretty awesome. Sure we littered his lawn with garbage and booed him relentlessly, but Tommy “Gun” Maddox is a cool name, too.
Hockey is full of nicknames as well. Former Penguins Bob “Battleship” Kelly and Ron “Franchise” Francis are beneficiaries of really good names. And while “Real Deal” James Neal might seem like a lazy, rhymey nickname, Pitttsburghese makes it a good one —“Rill Dill James Nill” is just fun to say. Mario Lemieux is the anti-Johnny Dickshot; he’s a great player with a last name that actually means “the best.” But he’s also known as “Le Magnifique,” a worldly moniker befitting the greatest player in the team’s half-century history.
Over to the Buccos. Willie “Pops” Stargell and Phil “Scrap Iron”’ Garner lead the “We Are Family” era for great nicknames. That was a club with a Cobra (Dave Parker), a Candy Man (John Candelaria), and a Hit Man (Mike Easler) — all good players with equally good names.
Pirates teams in the past 10 years have had the odd distinction of having bad players with decent nicknames. “Eye Chart” Doug Mientkiewicz and Casey “Hits” McGehee fall into that category. Jose “Joey Bats” Bautista and “Brock Star” Brock Holt got their names after leaving town. But for every Mike “Spanky” LaValliere, there is a Harvey “Kitten” Haddix to balance it out. Matt Stairs had the honor of having a good nickname and a bad nickname. The all-time leader in pinch home runs in Major League Baseball history was known as “Professional Hitter.” That’s much better than his other alias, “Wonder Hamster.”
I’m sure I missed a lot of good ones. If you want, tweet your selections with the hashtag #CPNicknames, and we’ll pick a couple at random to win a City Paper T-shirt.