One major change in 21st century professional sports is the use and implementation of analytics.
These nerdy statistics tell us how to position defensive players in baseball, where the most valuable shots are in basketball and whether a football team should go for it on fourth down or kick a field goal depending on probability and field position. (If Patrick Mahomes is on your team, always go for it.)
I’ve always like stats, which means I’m a regular visitor to sports-reference.com and its dedicated sites for all sports. One nifty thing the sites have is biography information for any player you can think of, including nicknames you’ve never heard them called by.
Sports, in many ways, have just aged well as the players, coaches and fans are smarter and understand the games better. However, we definitely are so much worse in handing out nicknames to players.
LeBron James is a one-name superstar. “King James” is an OK nickname, but it’s not exactly something that was thought up in a focus group. Same with Steph Curry, who an announcer will call “Chef” on occasion because he’s always cooking on the court.
Pro football also doesn’t have great nicknames. Tom Brady, who wears 12 as a jersey number, is sometimes referred to as TB12, which is also the name of his wellness brand. Aaron Rodgers, the MVP last season and part-time “Jeopardy!” host, goes by A-Rod. More like bor-ing.
Baseball has always had the best nicknames. Maybe it’s because there’s so much time between the action to come up with a name like “Crime Dog” for former first baseman Fred McGriff.
For as many bad players as the Pirates trotted out over the last two decades, I can rattle off guys who went by names like “Big Country” (Brad Eldred), “El Toro” (Pedro Alvarez) or “Rally Killer Rod” (Barajas). I didn’t say they were all positive nicknames.
Aside from the Buccos, baseball has given us other great monikers, like “El Pulpo” (the 12-fingered Antonio Alfonseca), “Old Hoss” Radbourn (given first name of Charles, but also won 310 games) or “The Big Hurt” (Frank Thomas). Today’s game has guys like the blonde-locked Noah Syndergaard known as “Thor” and his Mets teammate “Polar Bear” Pete Alfonso. Yankees fans “All rise” for slugger Aaron Judge.
Baseball, our national pastime, might be lagging behind in popularity compared to the NFL and NBA, but it will always have the best nicknames.
(Pete Sirianni is the managing editor of the New Castle News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet him at @petersirianni.)