In fact, he recently sang at the memorial service for his former Twins teammate Harmon Killebrew, and he just appeared in HBO’s documentary about Curt Flood.
Mudcat and his wife are delightful people, and we look forward to seeing them again soon, even if our conversations spend far too much time focused on sports for some of the people at the table. That said, when I see Mudcat or get a call from him, I am reminded of the same thing — they don’t give out nicknames in sports like they used to. And that is a shame.
I love a good nickname, so much so that I may actually root for player just because I like his nickname. If the Titans had a wide receiver named Bob Jenkins, I couldn’t care less. But if they had a wide receiver named Bob “Red Top Hammer” Jenkins, he’d be one of my favorites. And I don’t even know what “Red Top Hammer” could possibly mean.
Pro football has had some great nicknames that have helped define the sport.
Red Grange was “the Galloping Ghost.” I never saw him play, but I can say with 100 percent certainty that I would have rooted for someone nicknamed “the Galloping Ghost.” You would have, too.
The same is so for Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch.
And Lou “the Toe” Groza.
Lance Alworth was “Bambi.” If you ever watched him darting down the field after catching a pass for the Chargers, you understood why. That is, if you understood that “Bambi” was the name of a deer in a Disney movie, and that deer are fast and graceful.
The Cowboys’ Ed Jones was never just “Ed Jones.” No, he was “Too Tall Jones.” And it was true. He was not just tall. He was too tall. You could always pick him out on the field.
Kenny Stabler was “the Snake.” I don’t know why, and I don’t want to know why. The nickname just seemed to fit.
Joe Namath was “Broadway Joe.”
Chiefs running back Christian Okoye was “the Nigerian Nightmare.”
Dick Lane was “Night Train Lane.”
The Steelers’ Joe Green was “Mean Joe Greene.”
The Oilers’ Billy Johnson was never just “Billy Johnson.” No, he was “Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson,” and shall always be “Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson.” He wore white shoes, and he danced in the end zone after scoring like the insides of his thighs were on fire.
Ted Hendricks was “the Mad Stork.” If you saw him play, you knew why.
Thomas Henderson was “Hollywood Henderson.”
Dolphins running back Eugene Morris was never, ever, “Eugene Morris.” He was “Mercury Morris.” I’ll bet even his family didn’t know his real first name was “Eugene.”
And then there was Walter “Sweetness” Payton and William “the Refrigerator” Perry, teammates on the 1986 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears.
Those nicknames make the game more fun for me and virtually everyone I know.
Chris Berman of ESPN has single-handedly screwed up the nickname-giving business for the better part of two decades. The nicknames he bestows upon players are not nicknames, but puns. Calling Frank Tanana “Frank Tanana Daquiri” isn’t cute or clever, and it isn’t a nickname.
We need to bring back real nicknames, and we need to do it now. In fact, can we agree that starting immediately, Steelers linebacker James Harrison will be known as James “Bigmouth” Harrison. And if you don’t know why, you should take a look at the latest issue of Men’s Journal.