Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Whither the nicknames?

Why don't ballplayers have nicknames like this anymore?

Worth considering on the matter is this article by Devin Gordon in Newsweek.

While the article is interesting (especially to a naming whore like myself), I'm not sure what the point is. Maybe this: America is lazy and uncreative, and George "Dubya" Bush is at the front of it (but not really). There's a bit of good observation, a few mistakes, one sin of omission, and really no explanation as to why or how this decline in nickname quality might have happened.

I could write an article that's about why band names are now so much more specifically referential and say only that once The Beatles was a clever name, but now it'd just go unnoticed, but a band like Fire on Your Sleeve might have immediate cred because of an obscure (but admittedly hilarious) pop culture reference (I know they did with me), but never say why that is or why it's significant in any way. That's kinda what Devin Gordon does here.

I will give props to Gordon for these things:

1) Identifying Cleveland Indians DH Travis Hafner's nickname, Pronk, as one of the few (perhaps the only) good nickname in Major League Baseball (or pop culture in general) today, and one that ranks high on my all-time list. Below is a picture of Hafner, so those of you who are unfamiliar can start to get a sense of why it is so great.

2) Pointing out that Dubya calls first class douchebag Karl Rove "Turd Blossom," which is actually just as good as anything that I could think to call him.


3) I generally agree with him that sports nicknames like AI, A-Rod, T-Mac, and even The Big Unit are witless. At the same time, nobody's claiming they're great.

But I will also contest him on these points:

1) While Dice-K is a weak nickname in that it is basically just a contracted version of Boston Red Sox hurler's Daisuke Matsuzaka's first name, it is not really how his name is pronounced, which Gordon claims. There's a "u" in there, and while that "u" is said in a way that most Americans can't hear or pronounce, that doesn't mean we can just say it's something that it's not. It's like pronouncing the "h" in hola, bro. And actually, of these kind of nicknames, Dice-K is not that bad: not only does it the image of dice evoke living-on-the-edge bad-assedness, it also lets you know that he strikes out a lot of mofos, right? You're at risk to K with Dice-K on the mound.

2) "Pudge" is not a "perfectly good nickname" for Detroit Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, because there's already a Hall of Fame catcher who used that nickname: Carlton Fisk. This is America at it's laziest if you ask me: Hey, we need a nickname for a really good stocky catcher, so let's just call him what we called the last really good stocky catcher. This seems to be the exact thing that Devin Gordon wants to argue against. He goes on to propose (though somewhat in jest) that we call Matsuzaka "Cool Papa" Matsuzaka. Recycling nicknames from the Negro Leagues (which had some great nicknames that I have paid homage to) is not bringing back the glory days, it's just a new form of nickname sloth. Maybe, though, Devin Gordon just never heard of Carlton "Pudge" Fisk, in which case, you're fired, Devin.

Here's my take on the matter: it's not Dubya's fault that our pop culture nicknames suck, it's the fault of the athletes and celebrities. Maybe if they weren't such a collection of vapid trogledytes we'd be inspired to give them better nicknames. Long gone are the days of the Say Hey Kid and Bill "Spaceman" Lee. A guy like Lee would be ostracized for being a communist and probably be called a fagot by his teammates. Negro all-stars like Turkey Stearns had personality; Barry Bonds (although a great, great player) is just a dick.

On that note, here's another quibble with Mr. Gordon's article:

3) Ignoring one of the most unique and amusing personalities in the public eye, and a nickname to match: Washington Wizards shooting guard, Gilbert "Agent Zero" Arenas. He's probably one of the few guys worth a nickname in pro sports, and he's got one. It could be better, but it could be worse. (I thought there was something about him being called "The Black President," but according to the internets I checked with, I'm thinking of Fela Kuti.) Click here and here for some Gilberty goodness.

So if athletes want a kick ass nickname, I got the skills to dole 'em out, and they can come get one. But they gotta earn it first.


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