Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Where have all the Cool Papa Bells and Oil Can Boyds gone?

It is common practice to look at one tiny little aspect of American life and claim that it is a harbinger of doom, Fox News has basically turned this into an art form. I am not immune from this practice, I just choose to focus on things that most people never spend more than a second considering. After a few long hours and a significant amount of whiskey I determined that there is one place where all of the creativity and ingenuity from the past have been lost more than any other; the nicknames we give our athletes.

Once upon a time every star athlete had a completely badass nickname. Cool Papa Bell. Three Finger Brown. Night Train Lane. The Raging Bull. There's just something about a cool nickname that makes a player's legacy even greater, something that the majority of superstars now a days are lacking. What raises the previous list I gave of nicknames to the epic level is the creativity behind them. Jake LaMotta was a fierce boxer who was always coming at you when he was in the ring, like a raging bull. If his highlights were running on tonight's Sportscenter I'm pretty sure they would call him something lame like J-Mott. Finding an athlete with a nickname that isn't based on his name is difficult these days with all the A-Rods, LTs, K-Rod, and even Gronk. If that isn't bad enough one of the better monikers for a current athlete, The Black Mamba, is guilty of the number one sin when it comes to nicknames. Do you know who gave Kobe Bryant the name Black Mamba? You guessed it, Kobe. YOU CAN'T GIVE YOURSELF A NICKNAME. This is completely unacceptable.

America used to be the land of ingenuity. Hell, we had so much spare creativity in the early half of the twentieth century that George "Babe" Ruth and Ted Williams each had 3 or more nicknames better than any current major league players. Ruth was known as Babe, The Big Bam, The Colossus of Clout, The Sultan of Swat and The Great Bambino. Williams was called The Kid, The Splendid Splinter, Teddy Ballgame, The Thumper and The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived. I would kill to have any of those nicknames, the coolest nickname I've obtained is Charizo because of my penchant to eat chorizo at 2 am, by any measure this is far less dignified than The Colossus of Clout.

Part of the reason that nicknames were so much better back in the day has to be because of the hero worship that was far more common in sports pages of yesteryear. The cynicism that is prevalent when sports is covered in a 24 hour news cycle takes away the desire to elevate athletes to heroes, and it is when they are given this status that the best nicknames tend to come out. Players aren't going to end up with nicknames like The Great One, Duke, Sweetness or Magic when the media is constantly trying to tear them down by exposing their flaws or arguing about whether they are worth their contract in their daily columns. I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with exposing these flaws or covering sports so heavily but I do think that it definitely kills the innocence that was once there.

Another factor for the decline in nicknames is what is probably the greatest innovation to happen to sports in the last 100 years: television. The best old nicknames were born in a sportswriters attempt to describe the player for all the people who could not witness the actual games. The Galloping Ghost and Crazy Legs Hirsch are two nicknames that are taken directly out of the newspapers and would never be thought of today. When every person with any interest in sports can easily access every game there is no need for heavy description in sports columns and sadly we lose out on some of the most creative names.

While I think the cynical attitude today hurts the creation of notable nicknames there is a flip side to that coin. Not every nickname has to be positive. In fact, some of the best nicknames focus on either a negative trait of the player or at the very least a peculiarity about them. Spaceman Lee is one of the best examples of this. He loved his drugs and loved speaking his mind about anything and everything, one couldn't think of a more fitting nickname. Charles Barkley and Robert Traylor were infamous for having weight problems while they were in the NBA, so they were called The Round Mound of Rebound and Tractor Traylor respectively. Chubbiness also lead to what may be my all time favorite, El Guapo. As we learned in the Three Amigos El Guapo means "The Handsome One." So when the chubby Red Sox reliever Rich Garces was ironically given the nickname El Guapo it probably stung a bit, but that's what makes it so great. And when El Guapo was coming out of the pen and throwing bullets in 1999 I thought he was the most handsome man in the world. OK, maybe that's stretching it a little bit, but you know what I mean.

As fans I think we need to pick up the slack and start to come up with some creative nicknames for our athletes. We need to reject every name involving shortening a player's name. We need to eliminate every recycled nickname, there's only one Pudge and his last name ain't Rodriguez, sorry. And more than anything we need to come up with goofy names for our favorite players. I feel that Bulls fans have been upping their game this year in this department. Rarely used bench player and notable Ginger Brian Scalabrine has been given the brilliant nickname The White Mamba. Sorry, Kobe, Scalabrine has bested you here. Sure, there is no actual snake called a white mamba but that's beside the fact, good nicknames are bestowed upon you. All hail White Mamba.

1 comment:

  1. I am in total agreement with you in the nickname debate. I have recently been paying way more attention to sports than I ever have and I think it's partly because of the fascination I have with players back stories. This fascination usually leads me to come up with my own hilarious nicknames which makes watching sports extremely entertaining for me. My focus recently has been the Bulls/basketball and Yes! White Mamba is a great one. Here are some more that I have recently yelled at a TV screen:

    Kyle Korver: Neanderthal Leo or K2
    (He looks like the a cross between a neanderthal and Leonardo Dicaprio. The guy who talks on the TV likes to call him Hot Sauce when he scores, I don't understand this but it's fun.)

    John Lucas III: Carlton (Obviously he looks like Carlton from Fresh Prince. I think that Ronnie Brewer actually called him that in a tweet, so I considered my nickname confirmed)

    Joakim Noah: "Sponsored by Scuunci" or "I liked it when you dunked on that dude, it was awesome when you dunked on him" (These are pretty obscure and may not even be considered nicknames, but Scuunci is the company that makes ponytail holders and that quote is from a letter he got from some kid that he hung up on the wall at his house. I discovered this in a random youtube video.)

    Luol Deng: Long Arms (This is not creative at all but it's what I call him)

    Dwayne Wade: Dwayne Wayne (of 80s sitcom fame, it's just easier to say and I also knew Dwayne Wayne first)

    Chris Bosh: Baby Dino (I think this one has been in the works before I thought of it)

    Tyler Hansbrough: Chicken Little (Have you heard him try to read????

    Some I didn't make up:
    Ronnie Brewer: Chicago's Finest Brew (I approve)
    Taj Gibson: Tajie-woo (Given by Joakim Noah)
    Derrick Rose: The Great Poohdihni (I think this came from his family somehow but it totally weirds me out, I'll stick with the uncreative D-Rose)