Baseball season might be over, but now come the tough choices—whether free agents stay or go, managers keep their jobs, and, for a select few retirees, how they will want to be presented in the Hall of Fame.
Dizzy, Dazzy, and Ducky may sound like characters out of classic comic strips but, in fact, they are three of the 237 player-members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Having your name added to the wall in Cooperstown is the ultimate reward for a major leaguer: only 1.4% of all major league players have been voted into the Hall. Yet many of these exalted players have chosen to enter baseball immortality with offbeat names like Whitey (Ford), Goose (Goslin and Gossage), the Fordham Flash (Frisch), Ducky Wucky (Medwick), Big Poison (Paul Waner), Little Poison (Lloyd Waner), Pudge (Fisk) and Pee Wee (Reese).
Nicknames are such a longstanding tradition in baseball that the odds of a Hall of Fame player having one on his plaque are 1 in 1.95 (51%). But despite the fact that these names are etched into history, they often have nothing to do with a player’s talent. Consider Yogi Berra, known to his mother and father as Lawrence Peter Berra. He got his nickname from a friend who thought Berra looked an awful lot like a Hindu yogi they had seen in the movies. Or take the case of Reginald Martinez Jackson whose moniker “Mr. October” was originally a phrase of derision. It seems the name came from Reggie’s teammate Thurman Munson during the 1977 postseason in which Jackson put on a historic batting performance. Spurning a reporter’s interview request, Munson steered him toward Jackson and said, “Why don't you ask Mr. October over there?” The name found lasting fame.
The people who coin baseball nicknames are as varied as the monikers themselves. Usually bestowed upon players by teammates, friends, family members, or sportswriters, at least one nickname was invented by the team owner.
Jim Hunter’s parents christened him James Augustus Hunter in 1946. Nineteen years later he made it to the big leagues and his colorful new boss, A’s owner Charlie Finley (nickname: Charley O), took it upon himself to give his future star a more memorable tag, complete with back-story. As a boy growing up in rural North Carolina, the tale went, young Jim returned home from fishing with a very impressive catch—thus earning him his famous nickname. Almost no baseball fan (or, very likely, any of his teammates) ever knew Jim Hunter as anything but Catfish. The name and the fable followed him throughout his career and all the way to Cooperstown.
When the time came for his induction into the Hall of Fame, Catfish was so torn between his allegiance to his two former teams, the Athletics and the Yankees, he chose to enter the Hall of Fame with a cap bearing no team insignia at all. In the end, his baseball nickname was so enduring that it outlasted his uniform.