The 25 Best Sports Nicknames of All-Time

#25 — Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown

Origin: Remember how your parents told you to be careful around power tools? They weren’t kidding. When future MLB pitcher Brown was a young man he accidentally put his hand in his family farm’s feed chopper. The chopper’s blades cut off most of his index finger, and a later fall on the same hand permanently mangled the middle finger on his pitching hand.

His maimed fingers, though, turned out to be a blessing when they enabled him to put massive amounts of spin on his pitches. Hitters couldn’t get balls in the air against Brown, and he won 239 games on his way to the Hall of Fame. So, the lesson here is clear: if your Major League dreams are looking improbable, try sticking your hand in a woodchipper. Can’t hurt! (Outside of the excruciating pain.) This is the look you’ll want to go for:

#24 — “The Flying Housewife” Fanny Blankers-Koen

Origin: The track events at the 1948 Summer Olympic Games in London got a bit more interesting when Dutch runner Fanny Blankers-Koen tied on her spikes. She was 30 years old, a mother of two children, and ready to kick some serious tail. Blankers-Koen ended up winning four gold medals at the games, which propelled her to international fame as the wife and mother who outran everyone else.

And while the picture of Fanny below may not suggest it, she was a confirmed MILTF. (A mom I’d like to do track and field with. Duh.)

#23 — Meadowlark Lemon

Origin: The longtime clown prince of the Harlem Globetrotters desperately needed a nickname in order to spice up his otherwise forgettable and girlish birth name: Meadow Lemon. Instead of suffering through life with an assemblage of random nouns for a name, Lemon picked up the “Meadowlark” tag, which honored his leaping ability and — we’ll just assume — his love of roosting on fence posts and the bright red feathers on his underbelly.

#22 — Stu “The Grim Reaper” Grimson

Origin: When you’re a 6’6″ hockey enforcer whose last name begins with “Grim-” you really have no choice; you have to be the Grim Reaper. Grimson earned his moniker, though, by racking up over 2100 penalty minutes throughout his career. His career peaked with his 1997–98 season with the Carolina Hurricanes when he recorded 7 points, 204 penalty minutes, and 14 murders. Despite being a left wing, he only scored 17 goals in 729 career games — and those goals likely came by shoving the puck up the goalie’s ass, and then hurling him through the back of the net.

#21 — Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy

Origin: Despite making an All-Star team in 1940, National League hurler Hugh Mulcahy never enjoyed a season in which he won more games than he lost, including 20 losses in 1938 and 22 losses in 1940. As further evidence of his good luck, Mulcahy was the first MLB player to be drafted in the run-up to World War II. His career record of 45–89 underscores his futile efforts on the mound. It’s just a shame he never got to play for the Houston Astros.

Here is Mulcahy when he played with the Phillies who are, not coincidentally, the only team to lose 10,000 games. Stop smiling, Hugh. We’re laughing atyou, not with you.

#20 — Phil “Lefty” Mickelson

Origin: What? He’s a right-handed guy who swings a golf club left-handed. These aren’t all going to have super-complicated origins. Plus, the “Lefty” nickname draws attention away from the fact that Mickelson’s full name is “Philip Alfred Mickelson,” which might even be too aristocratic even for golf. Technically, since Mickelson is ambidextrous, his nickname should probably be something like “Ambidex.” But that sounds a lot like “Valtrex.” And that’s a better nickname for Tiger Woods.

#19 — “Old Bootnose” Sid Abel

Origin: Abel, a centre, played for both the Red Wings and the Blackhawks during a pro hockey career that spanned from 1938 to 1954. He won the Hart Trophy in 1949 and hoisted the Stanley Cup three times en route to the Hall of Fame. He also got hung with arguably the least flattering nickname of all time.

Abel allegedly got the nickname following a fight with NHL legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard. Abel struck first, knocking Richard to the ice, but Richard quickly jumped back up and broke Abel’s nose with a crushing blow. Abel then lived out the rest of his days with a boot-shaped schnoz. The lesson, as always: don’t pick fights with guys named Maurice. They’re just too tough. Ha! Your nose looks like footwear!

#18 — Eric “Sleepy” Floyd

Origin: The journeyman point guard received his odd nickname because his hooded eyelids made him look sleepy. Floyd was also known for occasionally dozing off during particularly boring games. Some purists might criticize Floyd for taking a drowsy approach to his work on the hardwood. Others would point out that Floyd actually spent two separate stints as a member of the New Jersey Nets during his NBA career, so it’s only natural that he wanted to make it seem like his career was all just a bad dream.

As you can see, “Sleepy” Floyd was the kindest of two nickname options. The other being “Ugly” Floyd.

#17 — Ickey Woods

Origin: Elbert L. Woods is a fine name for a losing vice presidential candidate from the 19th century. For an NFL running back, though? Not so much. The rotund running back, who became famous for his “Ickey Shuffle” touchdown dance, got his nickname from his brother, who had trouble pronouncing “Elbert” and his mispronunciation sounded like “Ickey.” Sparing you from a terrible first name? Now that’s a good brother. Years after his career, Woods became the president and head coach of the Cincinnati Sizzle of the Women’s Football Alliance, which just goes to show you that a good nickname can only take you so far.

#16 — Orlando “Tubby” Smith

Origin: “Tubby” is not fat. He actually earned the nickname when he would spend hours in the galvanized wash tub he and his siblings bathed in each night. His family started calling him “Tubby,” and he couldn’t shake the nickname. Although he no longer has to use a galvanized tub, Smith no doubt still needs to spend hours bathing in order to wash off the slime accumulated in coaching Division I men’s basketball.

#15 — Tiger Woods

Origin: Eldrick Woods was given the “Tiger” nickname by his father, Earl, in honor of a fellow Vietnam soldier. (Apparently the U.S. had a brigade of tigers in Vietnam. So awesome.)

#14 — Magic Johnson

Origin: Earvin Johnson received his famous nickname when he was just a high school sophomore. He dropped a triple-double of 36 points, 18 rebounds, and 16 assists in a game, which led a Lansing State Journalsportswriter to dub him “Magic.” What most fans don’t know, though, is that the nickname also honors Johnson’s formidable abilities as a wizard. His most notable feats as a magician include transforming teammate James Worthy into a Hall of Famer and making the entire English language disappear with just one or two spoken words.

#13 — Chris “Disco” Hayes

Origin: How did an undrafted minor league pitcher who spent years in the Kansas City Royals’ farm system become an Internet folk hero? With an odd throwing motion and a catchy nickname. Hayes pitches with a unique sidearm motion that slows his pitches down but discombobulates hitters. Fans gave him the nickname “Disco” because his slow repertoire “maxes out in the 70s.” Coincidentally, this is also where the Royals’ annual win totals max out.

#12 — “Butterbean” Eric Esch

Origin: Rotund boxer and MMA fighter Esch is what’s known in technical jargon as “a big ol’ boy.” Although he’s not quite six feet tall, he frequently tips the scales at well over 400 pounds. This girth became a problem in the mid-1990s when he was fighting in Toughman boxing contests around the South. The matches usually had a maximum weight limit of 400 pounds, so the lard-laden Esch would have to go on diets to make weight. He often ate only chicken and butterbeans when he was trying to trim down, and the nickname was born. He chose “Butterbean,” of course, because a fighter named “Chicken” is not wildly intimidating.

#11 — “The Chief” Robert Parish

Origin: Historians will tell you that Parish got his “The Chief” nickname from teammate Cedric Maxwell, who thought the stoic, quiet Parish reminded him of Chief Bromden in Ken Kesey’sOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But that’s absurd. From the basketball players we’ve met, the only literature they’d be getting nicknames from is Maxim.

Oh, that’s right. They made that book into a movie. They’re like books for professional athletes.

#10 — “The Golden Bear” Jack Nicklaus

Origin: When Nicklaus was in his early 20s his future agent, IMG founder Mark McCormack, gave an interview in which he talked about the up-and-comers in the American golf scene. He was especially taken with Nicklaus, who he referred to as “large, strong, and blond.” The writer began referring to Nicklaus as “the Golden Bear,” and by the time Nicklaus knocked off Arnold Palmer in a playoff to win the 1962 U.S. Open, the name had stuck. A hell of a nickname. Not good enough to keep casual fans from referring to him as “Jack Nicholson,” but still, a pretty good nickname.

#9 — Minnesota Fats

Origin: This pool hustler’s nickname is only half accurate. Rudolf Wanderone, Jr. wasn’t from Minnesota; he was born and raised in New York City. He was, however, very fat, so that part of the name checks out. During the 1940s and 50s fellow players called him New York Fats in honor of his lardy posterior and his hometown. When the Paul Newman pool-shooting movie The Hustler came out in 1961, though, New York Fats decided to start referring to himself as Minnesota Fats, the name of the ace hustler portrayed by Jackie Gleason in the film. Way to go, you tubby nickname thief.

According to this CBS News obituary, Fats once tipped the scales at … 245 pounds. Hmm. By today’s standards, he would be named Minnesota Slim.

#8 — Pele

Origin: When Pele was a boy in Brazil, he and his buddies loved cheering for the local football club Vasco da Gama, which was led by a goalie named Bilé. Young Edison Arantes do Nascimento had a hell of a time trying to pronounce the goalkeeper’s name, and his friends would taunt him every time he got tongue tied. Eventually they started calling Edison “Pele” in an impression of his mangled pronunciation, and the nickname stuck. It was the cruelest thing anyone would do to Pele until the Academy snubbed him for a Best Actor Oscar for Victory.

#7 — Paul “Bear” Bryant

Origin: Back when men were men, you didn’t just get a nickname. You had to earn it. Just ask legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant. He wasn’t called “Bear” because he was ferocious. Oh, no. He was called “Bear” because when he was just 13-years-old he wrestled an honest-to-God bear in a carnival promotion to earn $1. One. Dollar. The bear bit Bryant’s ear during the fight, but the boy got a lifelong nickname. Of course, after wrestling a bear he could also have nicknamed himself, Paul “Everyone Else is a Total Pussy Compared to Me” Bryant and nobody would have argued.

#6 — “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair

Origin: Flair began referring to himself as “The Nature Boy” in the late 1970s to help advance a burgeoning feud with longtime wrestling star “The Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. As if stealing Rogers’ nickname wasn’t bad enough, Flair also swiped Rogers’ signature finishing move, the figure-four leg lock. Now that Flair’s a living legend, it’s easy to remember how much he swiped from Rogers. Give Flair full credit for his own innovations, though: it was solely Flair’s idea to wrestle the last 15 years of his career while sporting a luscious C-cup.

#5 — Niels “The Excellent Dude” de Ruiter

Origin: Dutch darts star de Ruiter got his “The Excellent Dude” nickname from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. How can that not make you want to watch professional darts? (Well, if nothing else was on TV, it could be interesting.) But you can’t just give yourself a nickname like “The Excellent Dude.” You have to earn it by starting out as “The Adequate Lad,” advancing to “The Reasonably Skilled at Darts Fellow” to “The Above Average Chap” to “The Guy Whose Game is Approaching Excellence” and then, finally, becoming “The Excellent Dude.”

Worth mentioning: de Ruiter is also known for playing air guitar to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” as he enters his matches. Really. We’re not including a photo or video of him because it would likely exceed the site’s douchewidth.

#4 — Bryant “Big Country” Reeves

Origin: He was gigantic (7’0″, 275 pounds) and from the country. It should be self-explanatory. Reeves’ Oklahoma State teammate Byron Houston started calling Reeves “Big Country” after Reeves took his first-ever plane ride to New York. Luckily for Reeves the flying metal bird finally landed in New York, where he was able to go coon huntin’ in Central Park.
Reeves talk real nice:

#3 — Rod “He Hate Me” Smart

Origin: When running back/kick returner Rod Smart took the field for the Las Vegas Outlaws during the XFL‘s one season, he went by the name “He Hate Me,” a moniker that made several English teachers die of massive heart attacks brought on by subject-verb disagreement. Smart explained the nickname by saying, “Basically, my brother’s my opponent. After I win, he’s gonna hate me. It is what it is.”Indeed it was what it was. Smart’s explanation actually made more sense than 95% of what happened in the XFL, and he eventually made the jump to the NFL, where he earned the new nickname: “He Hate Leaving Me On Active Rosters.”

#2 — Deacon Jones

Origin: Not only did Jones create the term “sack,” he also created his own nickname. When David Jones was a young defensive end he was already known for dropping QBs and delivering monstrous head slaps. He had a problem, though. He didn’t think anyone would remember a player with a boring name like David Jones, so he started calling himself “Deacon Jones.” It worked; now we remember him as arguably the greatest defensive end of all-time. Although it’s also why church attendance continues to decline. People are terrified of getting the crap kicked out of them by a deacon.

#1 — Shoeless Joe Jackson

Origin: Jackson started toting this nickname around years before he ever helped throw the World Series. When Jackson was a teenager he tried to play a game while breaking in a new pair of cleats. The cleats started giving him a blister, so Jackson decided to finish the game barefoot. A heckler called him a “shoeless son of a gun” — which in those days was probably way worse than insulting somebody’s mama — and the name stuck. Today he would just be a guy who got dropped for breaking a shoe endorsement contract.

Thanks for reading. And enjoy your foot-based nightmare tonight:

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