MLB has a problem: There are no good nicknames in baseball anymore

3:18 | MLB
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Friday June 16th, 2017

As you've likely heard by now, MLB is going to let its hair down a little and hand over the game to the youth for a weekend, allowing players to—among other things—put nicknames on the backs of their jerseys for games on Aug. 25–27. As expected, announcement of that plan has spurred folks to determine which players have the best nicknames around the sport and, thus, would make for the best jerseys; the fine folks at Sporting News picked the 25 they'd most like to see that weekend.

But while the league should be applauded for doing something outside the box (albeit something that another sport already beat it to years ago), there is one problem with MLB's plan: There are few, if any, good nicknames in baseball in this day and age. Of the 25 that Sporting News collected, I count no more than half-a-dozen that are creative, funny and original. Some, like "Baby Giraffe" for Giants first baseman Brandon Belt (a reference to his long and ungainly gait), are accurate but awkward; others, like "Sparkles" for Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, aren't ones that anyone actually uses.

The sin of most of these nicknames is that they're trying far too hard. Take Mike Trout's "Millville Meteor" moniker. First off, it was made up by an aspiring jokester, upon which it took a life of its own; it's not even sincere. Second, it's not original, instead trying to play off an already established nickname—in this case, Mickey Mantle's "Commerce Comet" sobriquet. Alliteration and location are solid components for a nickname, but in the case of the Millville Meteor, it just comes up flat.

Now, there are some good nicknames currently in baseball. Some are simple and easily understood, like the long-haired Noah Syndergaard's "Thor" mantle or Marc Rzepczynski's "Scrabble." Others, like "Big Maple" for large Canadian Mariners pitcher James Paxton or "The Final Boss" for Cardinals closer Seung-hwan Oh or Yoenis Cespedes' "La Potencia," are excellent descriptors of origin or performance. But the league as a whole doesn't have too many of those. My fear is that, on nickname weekend, we're going to get dozens of dudes who will follow Joe Girardi's naming convention and sport jerseys with a shortening of their last name and a "Y" attached to the end (cf. Brett Gardner as "Gardy" or Aroldis Chapman as "Chappy").

Sports Illustrated

A good nickname is hard to come up with or find. The best are either a combination of job and place (see either of Jazz center Rudy Gobert's terrific nicknames, "The Stifle Tower" or "The French Rejection," which perfectly sum up what he does best and where he's from) or are well-done pop culture references (Kent Bazemore, for example, can pick from any of "Just Baze," "The Bazed God" or "Purple Baze"). That, or they capture something distinctive about the player. Mordecai Brown is a Hall of Famer, but you'll always know him as "Three-Finger" because, well, he had three fingers on his pitching hand. Ken Griffey Jr. is one of the greatest players of his time, but his permanent youthfulness made him "The Kid." Stan Musial was the man, so he became "The Man" (plus, it rhymes).

How many current MLB players have something special about them that you can sum up in a nickname? Trout is a god made flesh, but his lack of personality makes it hard to throw something catchy on him. Ditto Bryant, who is brilliant at the plate but rather forgettable when not hitting baseballs a mile. A truly good nickname is an amalgamation of so many important things: personality, excellence, time, how easy it is to turn your name into a pun. They can't be forced, and sometimes, they never come about.

That last point is what makes this issue so complex. It's not like you can just start referring to Trout as "Magic Mike" or something like that and hope it sticks (sidenote: I really hope that sticks). Maybe this generation of MLB stars will never earn those nicknames, or maybe we're at a crucial point in nickname history when we've just run out of good ones. (I would argue that the best era of MLB nicknames was pre-World War II.) But either way, don't be disappointed if, when nickname weekend comes around, you look around the field and see a whole bunch of nothing. It's a good idea, but it might be one ahead of it's time—or maybe too late.

(That said, if Bartolo Colon takes the field wearing a "Big Sexy" jersey, you can throw this entire argument out the window.)

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