Next weekend, Aug. 23-25, is baseball’s annual “Players’ Weekend” when major leaguers get to wear their nicknames on the back of their jerseys. As Peter Abraham stated in last Sunday’s Globe, Red Sox players did not get particularly creative with this. Nathan Eovaldi will be “Nitro,” Sam Travis is “Dr. Chill,” and Chris Sale went with “The Conductor” (like the railway man; a conductor gets a lot of punchouts).
Where’s Oil Can Boyd when you need him?
Sports and nicknames go together like mashed potatoes and gravy. If you ever played on a team, you know.
The obvious ones are abbreviated versions of a guy’s name. Dennis Eckersley: Eck. Carl Yastrzemski: Yaz. Andrew Benintendi: Benny. Alex Rodriguez: A-Rod. Gerry Cheevers: Cheesie.
Some of the greatest of our greats — Bobby Orr, Larry Bird, Tom Brady — never really had a nickname that stuck.
No harm. And no fun.
Fun would be Johnny “Way Back” Wasdin. Fun would be late Orioles/Red Sox hurler Sammy Stewart, who hailed from Swannanoa, N.C. Stewart was “The Throwin’ Swannanoan.’’
A single small moment from one’s past can give you a nickname for life. This happened in my hometown in Groton in the mid 1960s. At the end of basketball practice, the coach made players do the full-court three-man-weave layup drill. Up and back. They had to make 20 straight layups to bring practice to a close.
After 19 successful but exhausting runs, a kid named Dave Martin missed the 20th layup, which would have sent everybody home. This meant they had to start over. At the moment Dave’s shot clanged off the rim, a teammate screamed, “Jesus, Martin!’’
It became his name. All over town. Forever. Jesus Martin.
A few years ago after a Bruins games, a young man introduced himself and his father to me at a crowded saloon near the Garden.
“Dan, we’re from Groton,’’ said the thirtysomething man. “I’m John Martin. This is my dad, David.’’
I looked into the eyes of the sixtysomething man and asked, “Is that you, Jesus?’’
I was thrilled to meet the guy who missed a layup at basketball practice 45 years earlier. I think I asked him for his autograph.
When you are around any team for a length of time, you get to know the nicknames. This happened to me when I covered the Celtics in the 1980s. Rick Carlisle was “Flip” (big feet). Chris Ford was “Doc’’ (I think he tried a Julius Erving move). M.L. Carr was “Froggie’’ (don’t know why). Oh, and Cedric Maxwell was never “Cornbread” to his teammates, just “Max.”
Covering the Orioles in Baltimore, I learned that Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer is “Cakes.’’ It had to do with a photo of a 20-year-old Palmer in front of a stack of pancakes before he beat Sandy Koufax in the 1966 World Series. He’s been Cakes ever since. For 53 years.
So if you see any of these men in a crowd, try those nicknames. It will get their attention. They will think you are an insider.
Here in the Toy Department, we sometimes give players nicknames. Joe Jackson was “Shoeless Joe.’’ Ted Williams was “The Splendid Splinter,’’ “Teddy Ballgame,’’ “The Thumper,” and “The Kid.’’ Joe DiMaggio was “The Yankee Clipper,’’ Whitey Ford “The Chairman of the Board,” and Reggie Jackson “Mr. October.’’ A Lansing State Journal sportswriter famously anointed young Earvin Johnson “Magic.’’
The late Will McDonough believed Roger Clemens was “The Texas Con Man.’’ Former Globe writer Peter May characterized a latter-day Artis Gilmore as “Rigor Artis.”
Boomers? We’ve had a few. But not too few to mention. Try George Scott, Norman Esiason, Chris Berman, and David Wells.
Michael Jordan was not a big fan of Bulls general manager Jerry Krause and named him “Crumbs,’’ in honor of food evidence that traditionally adorned the face and clothing of the rumpled executive.
New Celtic Robert Williams, who has trouble with alarm clocks, is “The Time Lord.’’ It’s one of the better nicknames of the modern era.
Our Kevin Paul Dupont dubbed Al Iafrate “The Planet” and Blaine Lacher “Let ’Em In” Lacher. I borrowed from this to name Red Sox third base coach Wendell Kim “Send ’Em In” Kim.
Back in the ’80s, I suggested that Red Sox reliever Steve Crawford was as useful as a sack of doorknobs. This made him angry, and it didn’t help when his teammates started calling him “Knobby.’’ Years later, when the late Nick Cafardo bumped into Crawford at Home Depot, the pitcher was shopping for . . . doorknobs!
“He didn’t even understand how funny that was,’’ Nick reported to me. “He was actually carrying a sack of doorknobs in the store!’’
What goes around comes around. Globe baseball writer Clif Keane called me “Baby-Faced Assassin.’’ My “Shank” moniker, so popular with the gang at WEEI, actually started out as a term of endearment when I covered the Celtics.
“Hey, Shank,’’ Kevin McHale would tease. “Is your shoulder sore from driving pipes through everybody on our team?’’
Carl Everett did McHale one better. When I dubbed him “Jurassic Carl,’’ after learning that Everett did not believe in dinosaurs, Everett fought back. In September of 2000, while I was in Australia, Everett addressed a Globe reporter in harsh terms, then added, “That goes for your curly-haired boyfriend, too!’’
CHB. Pretty good, I have to admit. Maybe I’ll put it on my press credential on Players’ Weekend.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org