Special to the Tribune-Star
You may or may not know I’m a baseball fan. My favorite team resides in St. Louis, but the one thing in baseball we have yet to touch on is the propensity for nicknames. The Hoosier State has always had a question or 40 raised about the state’s name. Something about a crew working on the Canal from southeastern Indiana to Cincinnati and the hard-working crew was called Hoosiers. I don’t think it’s because of the Indiana slang of “Who’s your mama?” But I don’t think anyone has proven definitely where our state nickname comes from.
The motherload of nicknames comes from baseball. Pee Wee Reese, Dizzy Dean, Slats Marion, and of course my favorite of all time, The Yankee Clipper that Joe DiMaggio was tagged with. What a class act. His 1941 record of getting a hit in 56 consecutive games still stands, and my bet is it will stand for a long time, maybe forever.
George Herman Ruth was called The Babe, even though there was nothing small about Babe Ruth. Mostly his nickname stuck around because he, more than anybody else in his time frame, was just a great big kid. It wouldn’t be anything for Babe to drink a case of beer and eat a dozen hot dogs before a game. He had a huge appetite, not just for eating, but for all of life’s experiences. Babe lived life at the speed of a locomotive.
They called Hank Aaron Hammering Hank, Pee Wee Reese because he may have been the shortest man on the team. And of course there was Stan the Man because he was, from the first time he picked up a bat with the St. Louis Cardinals until he retired in the 1960s. Stan Musial was definitely The Man. Ted Williams was called the Splendid Splinter, but I don’t think anyone with any brains used that nickname in front of him. My younger brother, at about the age of seven or eight, was dubbed Horsefly by the people who did business or shopped around the Square at Newport. I don’t believe he liked the nickname then, or now, but has learned to take it with a smile.
The new crop of Cardinals has added to the nickname bonanza … David Freeze is Freezer, Adam Wainwright is Waino, utility outfielder Shane Robinson is Sugar Shane, and utility infielder Daniel Descalso, is Double D. Albert Pujols, while in a Cardinal uniform, was called El Hombre. And I believe in Spanish speaking circles it means more than the literal translation.
We could go on forever but I think nicknames in general, baseball in particular, has added to our country’s sports and to the atmosphere and love of the sports. My dad was a pretty handy baseball player in his time, but his nickname lived under his baseball cap … Skinhead, for obvious reasons. His oldest son didn’t get a nickname from baseball but it could have been “Can’t hit a curve.” Oh well, so life goes.
Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.