TEMPE, Ariz. — People like Justin Bour. You might say he is a fungus. Still, the first days with a new team can be fraught. The former Marlins and Phillies slugger spent his first days at Angels spring training taking his physical, organizing his locker and introducing himself to his teammates. I’m Justin, he’ll say, or Call me J.B. He stops there. He does not reference the other term by which he is sometimes known, the phrase that has made it to the most official of sources (his Baseball-Reference page), perhaps the most magnificent moniker ever conferred upon an athlete: Bourtobello Crushroom.
Bour laughs. “That’s a fan-made nickname that literally no one has ever called me,” he says. “But it’s pretty funny.”
This happens more often than you would imagine. For every A-Rod, there are a dozen Minotaurs (the nickname bestowed by fans upon a minor-league Clayton Kershaw and used by precisely no one in his life). The most famous recent example can be found two lockers to the right of Bour’s, in the form of the Millville Meteor.
Mike Trout expressed surprise in 2012 when writers began asking him about the phrase. He had never heard of it. Yet there it was, on Wikipedia and on SportsCenter and on Baseball-Reference the summer of his rookie year, listed as his nickname. The origin remained a mystery until ESPN uncovered a member of a forum on SomethingAwful.com who went by Weed Mouse and got the whole thing started. He jokingly coined it as a nod to Mickey Mantle, the Commerce Comet. Other forum members added it to Trout’s Wikipedia page, citing as their source a series of unrelated links. As other outlets picked it up, the pranksters replaced the original links with these new, legitimate ones. Within weeks, life was imitating art.
Bour’s Weed Mouse is a 27-year-old in Fort Lauderdale named Stephen Chichelli who does data acquisition for SmartProcure. He never intended to fool anyone, though; he just loves The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on ESPN Radio. In June 2017, with the All-Star Game about to be held at Marlins Park, the hosts decided to start a campaign for Bour’s participation. So they put out a call on Twitter for a catchy cognomen to help their case.
“We weren’t just looking for a nickname for Justin Bour,” explained producer Billy Gil the next day on air. “It dawned upon me and Stugotz yesterday that in a trying time this country’s in, there’s division everywhere—class, race, gender, everywhere, religion—we need a unifying force, and yesterday we realized it’s Justin Bour! So we want to get him to the Home Run Derby, ’cause America needs more Justin Bour. But he’s gonna need a nickname to get him to the Home Run Derby.”
Chichelli loves wordplay, so he got to work. “I knew it had to be original,” he says. “That show likes ridiculousness. A lot of people were saying Justintime and Bournado—that’s generic.”
He was looking for rhymes with Bour when Portobello popped into his mind. When he considered Bour’s 18 home runs to that point, he knew just what to do with mushroom.
The show ran through some contenders the next day. The Bourtician. The Cybourg. MOAB: Mother of All Bours. Chairman of the Bourd. The Bourbarian. Bourmese Python. Bour God of Thunder. The Great Bourbino. Carnibour. Bour Score and Seven Homers Ago. The Bourty-Bourty Club. Zsa Zsa Gabour. (“Is this segment as bouring as it feels to me?” Le Batard interjected at one point.) But the Bourtobello Crushroom suggestion was by far the most popular. Bour did make the Home Run Derby, although he fell in the first round to eventual winner Aaron Judge.
Since then the nickname has only grown more popular. Enough fans tweeted it at Bour that he took note, and it achieved legitimacy when Baseball-Reference picked it up. He gets a kick out of it.
“Most people just call me J.B.,” he says, “But if you want to call me Bourtobello Crushroom, you’re more than welcome to.”
Chichelli was delighted to learn his joke had amused its subject. None of this will solve the game’s stagnant free-agent market or pace-of-play issues or declining market share among young fans. But in an often-anonymous world, it’s nice when people can connect. That’s the morel of the story.