The Top 20 Nicknames in Baseball: Analysis of Player Nicknames, Part II
Part 1, found here, looks at trends and genres of baseball nicknames as well as explains how I got my list of nicknames.
The goal today is to rank the best nicknames in baseball. I have a list of 934 active players, 565 of them have a nickname on Baseball Reference and 105 of them have multiple nicknames. That’s a lot to whittle down. You may think ranking such a thing is arbitrary and biased, however, I would like to point out that it’s also silly and pointless.
So let's get to it.
20. The Big Maple - James Paxton
The 6’ 4” lefty from British Columbia is as big as a tree and the maple leaf tattoo on his forearm makes him look so much like a Big Maple that a Bald Eagle even tried to roost on him.
19. Mini Yadi - Christian Vazquez
Christian Vazquez is the only active player with a nickname that includes another player’s name. “Effectively Wild” fans may remember the famous, “Babe Ruth’s Legs” who was so nicknamed because he often pinch-ran for Babe Ruth during his career. Christian Vazquez’s nickname is a bit less embarrassing as he earned the nickname from his defensive abilities constantly being compared to the 8-time Gold Glove winner, Yadi Molina.
18. Fun Police - Brian McCann
The Undersecretary of Unwritten Rules. The Czar of Zero Tolerance.
Perhaps the most damning of any nickname on this list. McCann has received a reputation for enforcing when a player is allowed to celebrate. Like when he had a little chat with Jose Fernandez after he stared at a homer for too long.
Hopefully when McCann’s long career is finally over he can put pen to paper and write down some of these rules. Playing the Game the Right Way By Brian McCann.
17. Cuban Missile - Aroldis Chapman
Aroldis Chapman was part of the early wave of players to defect from Cuba and come to the major leagues. The Cuban Missile came on the scene in the 2009 World Baseball Classic when Chapman, at just 19 years old, was throwing 100 MPH. He defected a year later and Chapman has been breaking velocity records ever since.
16. Big Sexy - Bartolo Colon
Colon has made plenty of headlines throughout his extremely long career. He’s tested positive for steroids, he’s won a Cy Young award, he even became the oldest player to ever hit his 1st career home run(42 years old). However, it’s the highlights and humor that keeps him so popular among baseball fans.
At 5’11 and 285 lbs and a ripe age of 44 it’s easy to delight in seeing him compete at the highest level.
15. Corey’s Brother - Kyle Seager
Self-deprecation always scores big with me and Kyle Seager pulled it off perfectly with his 2017 Players Weekend nickname. Kyle has always been unheralded throughout his long, consistent career. An All-Star only once, he’s never hit less than 20 homers but never more than 30. Add to that, he plays in the forgotten corner of the US for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in his whole career.
Typically, it’s the younger brother that is overshadowed but the Los Angeles media market doesn’t allow for that. As Kyle's brother, Corey Seager, started flying up prospect ranking lists in the Dodgers organization he was commonly attributed with the tag, “like Kyle, but even better.” The rest was history when Corey came up in 2016 and won Rookie of the Year and finished 3rd in MVP voting.
14. Swipe Right - Chad Pinder
This one is pretty obvious, right?... Right...Right...Right....Left!!
13. Thor - Noah Syndergaard
Not the highest ranked superhero nickname. Not even the highest Norse Mythology nickname. Some may argue that this should be higher on the list but for me, I’m not so sure Thor is a good fit for Noah Syndergaard.
Neil Gaiman’s book, Norse Mythology, has this description of Thor, “Huge he is, and red bearded, and strong, by far the strongest of all the gods.”
But Noah Syndergaard doesn't have red hair.
Ahh, but maybe whoever gave Noah his nickname got Thor mixed up with his wife, Sif. Here is Sif’s description. “Long hair, the color of a field of barley at the end of summer.”
He sure looks like more of a Sif to me.
12. The String Bean Slinger - Carl Edwards Jr.
Of all the nicknames in baseball this one sounds the most like an unsolved criminal case.
The String Bean Slinger is not, however, famous for slinging string beans at unsuspecting victims. He’s famous for being a string bean that slings baseballs. Carl Edwards Jr. earned this nickname in the minors when he was 6’3” tall and only 150 pounds.
The nickname doesn’t really fit anymore as he was last weighed at a portly 170.
11. The Strikeout Factory - Jacob Lindgren
Sadly, the Strikeout Factory has been mothballed as Lindgren is currently out recovering from his 2nd Tommy John surgery. Doesn’t make this factory any less spooky for hitters as Lindgren struck out over a quarter of the batters he faced when he was last healthy.
Lindgren is hard at work hoping to get the factory back up and running for the 2019 season. Hopefully his recovery is successful so we can see more of this:
10. The Dark Knight of Gotham - Matt Harvey
Sadly, the Dark Knight wasn’t around for long as injuries and partying turned our hero into Two-Face. His downfall doesn’t take away from the The Dark Knight of Gotham being one of the most badass nicknames in sports during Matt Harvey’s peak.
9. Bringer of Rain - Josh Donaldson
Even inside the domed Rogers Centre ponchos and umbrellas are needed when Josh Donaldson comes to the plate. A founding father of the Airball Revolution, Donaldson’s career took off after altering his launch angle. He’s been hitting mammoth home runs ever since.
8. Mayor of Ding Dong City - Travis Shaw
Travis Shaw’s strange nickname combines two of my favorite Home Run euphemisms: dong and dinger. It’s got just enough immature flavor to be a big hit among baseball fans as this nickname was started and cultivated through social media. Travis Shaw has even started playing it up to the fans as he packs the bus with Hostess Ding Dongs before road trips.
7. Sheriff of Swattingham - Mark Reynolds
A classic style nickname with a fantasy twist. Mark Reynolds may not resemble the Sheriff of Nottingham in anything other than ineffectiveness. The Sheriff of Nottingham is ineffective when it comes to capturing Robin Hood while the Sheriff of Swattingham is ineffective at making contact. Mark Reynolds is the single season strikeout record holder(223 strikeouts in 2009). He may be approaching 300 career homeruns but his strikeout problem has made him little more than a league average hitter throughout his career(104 OPS+).
FanGraphs doesn’t track stats for fictional sheriff's but I can’t imagine the Sheriff of Nottingham grading out too well either.
6. The Kraken - Gary Sanchez
When your general manager refers to you by your nickname, you know it’s a good one. When he refers to you by your nickname before you’ve even reach the majors, it must be a really special nickname. Here’s Yankees GM, Brian Cashman back in 2015, “I’d like to release the Kraken, which is Gary Sanchez, on our roster in 2016 if I can.”
5. The Federalist - Jon Jay
John Jay was an author of the Federalist Papers and a key negotiator in the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War(Treaty of Paris). His ideas and writings shaped our government and helped ratify the constitution, yet many would probably list him last when naming the Founding Fathers(if they remember him at all).
In the sports world a figure like John Jay would be known as a “glue guy” and that brings us to the baseball version, with the best historical nickname on the list, Jon Jay.
Jon Jay has never been an All-Star and yet his long career has been full of winning baseball games. He was the starting centerfielder for the Cardinals for five straight playoff seasons and has played in 67 post-season games in his career.
Jon Jay was the John Jay of the Cardinals dynasty and John Jay was the Jon Jay of the Founding Fathers.
4. Kung Fu Panda - Pablo Sandoval
Perhaps the most recognizable nickname in baseball. The brand of Pablo Sandoval as the Kung Fu Panda was born and cultivated in San Francisco as his athleticism continued to defy his appearance. It’s the best animal nickname and best look-alike nickname all rolled into one.
3. Scrabble - Marc Rzepczynski
Marc Zarpssrschriztski has quite the last name and it’s much easier to simply refer to the famous word scoring game than to attempt a pronunciation.
Rzepczynski would be worth 40 points in scrabble(30 if you consider there isn’t actually two “Z” tiles). That’s the highest point total of any name in my database of players(Christian Vazquez comes in at 37 but he also has two Z’s). Sadly, you can’t use pronouns in scrabble so this is a pretty worthless exercise.
2. The Millville Meteor - Mike Trout
Mike Trout is a meteor of a man. Fast, powerful and he hails from Millville, New Jersey. If you have your doubts, here he is being a meteor.
And here he is catching a meteor.
According to Trout, the nickname appeared on wikipedia one day and it took off across the sky from there. What makes this nickname especially great is Mike Trout’s obsession with weather, as discovered by reddit user, RexGrossboy. In recent years he’s been more outspoken about his love for weather and respect for meteorologists, and he even called into the Weather Channel during a particularly fun storm that hit Millville.
1. The Final Boss - Seung Hwan Oh
Hopefully you didn’t expect to finish this list without facing the Final Boss. The best nickname in baseball belongs to the most dominant closer in Korean Baseball history. In video games the final boss represents the strongest, toughest and most intimidating challenge of the game and that’s what Oh represents when he takes the mound in the 9th inning.
Seung Hwan Oh spent most of his prime in the Korean Baseball Organization(KBO) and is the league's all-time saves leader with 277. If you want to get in the mood, here was his entrance music while in the KBO.
It’s a shame we didn’t see more of his prime in the major leagues as he didn’t come over until 2016 when he was already 33 years old. However, even at his age, he was instantly one of the best relievers in baseball with a 1.92 ERA in his first season.