Top 10 MLB Player Nicknames
Last week, TAUNTR went through the All-Time Top 10 MLB Freak injuries. Today, we’re going to stick with the top-10 theme and focus on the best individual player nicknames among active major leaguers.
Let’s get to it.
1. Zorilla, Ben Zobrist: According to Wikipedia, a Zorilla is a striped polecat, essentially a weasel that looks like a skunk. After the 2009 breakout of Tampa Bay Rays infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist, though, the word took on a whole new meaning. Rays manager Joe Maddon began calling Zobrist Zorilla in spring training, and the nickname quickly caught on. Even before that nickname, the switch-hitting All-Star already had a few noteworthy ones, including Benny Zo, and Benny Boo Boo, given to him by the excellent site Rays Index.
Zorilla, for my money, is best the best nickname in the game. Plus, Zobrist is a great guy and a fine player. He was incredible for Tampa Bay in 2009, batting .297/.405/.543 with 27 home runs and solid defense at multiple positions. Perhaps surprisingly to the casual fan, he was the most valuable player in the game according to the metric Wins Above Replacement. Clearly, then, the guy is more than just a player with a sweet nickname and Christian-singing wife.
2. Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval: I must say, this nickname was a close second. Sandoval, despite his best efforts to lose weight this offseason, has a round face but is still extremely athletic. Hence the Kung Fu panda nickname. The 22-year-old San Francisco Giants star has a bright future, too, as he can really mash. He had a fine debut full season for the Giants in ’09, hitting .330/.387/.556 with 25 home runs and a 142 OPS+. With that kind of nickname and offensive upside, he should become a national star in the near future, competing with teammate Tim Lincecum, the Freak, for most popular player on the San Francisco roster.
3. The Greek God of Walks, Kevin Youkilis: The story of Euclis, the Greek God of Walks, was one of the most interesting passages from the bestselling Michael Lewis book Moneyball. Youkilis’ excellent minor league walk rates became a thing of legend, and, despite his body type and other concerns by scouts, enabled him to go onto tremendous success with the Boston Red Sox. His other nickname, “Youk,” isn’t in the same category, though, since it’s not really all that original. The Greek God of Walks is one of the primary bats expected to carry the Red Sox’s offense this upcoming season as the team was built on the newest inefficiency, or Moneyball if you will, defense.
4. The Mexecutioner, Joakim Soria: There’s not a lot for Kansas City Royals fans to cheer for outside of Zack Greinke and Soria, one of the best closers in the game. As good as he is on the mound, though, his nickname is even more impressive. The right-hander is a dirty pitcher, too, coming off a season in which he posted a 2.21 ERA and 11.7 K/9 rate in 53.0 innings pitched. Thus, that’s saying a lot.
5. Big Puma, Lance Berkman: The nickname Big Puma makes a lot of sense for Berkman. He’s a big dude, weighing in at 220 pounds. The switch-hitting masher (a lot of switch hitters have cool nicknames, huh?) moves like a cat around the bag, though, and actually gets around the bases pretty well, too; he stole 18 bags in 2008, adding a huge boost to his fantasy value. Above all else, Berkman is an excellent hitter. He raked at a .274/.399/.509 clip with 25 homers in 562 plate appearances last season.
6. The Flyin’ Hawaiian, Shane Victorino: Victorino, one of a handful of active major leaguers from Hawaii, has been a tremendous asset for the Philadelphia Phillies since taking over in center field. As a result, the Phillies locked up the talented outfielder to an extension earlier this offseason. Since he flies around the bases and is from Hawaii, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how he was given the nickname.
7. Bossman Junior, B.J. Upton: Most baseball fans know the elder Upton brother as B.J. His legal first name, however, is Melvin. He was actually given the nickname Bossman Junior by his father, a one-time ACC basketball ref, when he was growing up; dad was Bossman Senior. The name stuck as he established himself as one of the top high school baseball players in the country while starring at Chesapeake Academy in Virginia. I may be biased here, since I’m such an Upton fan, but I love the Bossman Junior story. As a player, I feel that Upton gets a bad rap. Even with his offensive struggles last season, he still played an elite center field. Plus, he should rebound at the plate in 2010.
8. Pronk, Travis Hafner: Hafner has been a disappointment since signing a four-year, $57-million contract in July of 2007. Injuries, of course, have been the culprit, limiting him to just 616 plate appearances combined between the past two seasons. However, despite not living up to the dollars, he still has a sweet nickname, Pronk. According to Hafner, this is how the nickname came to be.
“It was last Spring Training. Bill Selby kind of came up with it. Some called me "donkey," some called me "project" and it got shortened up to "Pronk."
9. Everyday Eddie, Eddie Guardado: I’ve always liked this one, too. Guardado, currently in camp with the Washington Nationals, was used to taking the ball everyday during his hey day as a closer.
10. The Holland Hammer, The Incredible Hurk, Rick VandenHurk: VandenHurk, a 24-year-old right-hander from the Netherlands, gets on the last for both of the names. I was going to go with another Hammer nickname, the Hebrew Hammer given to Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun, but the combination of the two gives VandenHurk the final spot. The Florida Marlins hurler was limited to 11 starts in the bigs last year, posing a 4.30 ERA in 58.2 innings pitched.
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