Thursday, February 11, 2016

The changing name game

It's interesting when you think about how some nicknames in the world of sports have come, gone, and are still here. Some seemed innocent enough at the time, but just would't work so well these days.

George Herman Ruth became known as the Babe. Still is. Nothing politically incorrect about that, but nowadays it's unlikely a male athlete stud would be too fond of being called a Babe.

Heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis was the Brown Bomber. That definitely wouldn't work in modern times. Brown became colored/negro/black, and finally African American (along with a certain "n" word that nobody is allowed to speak anymore -- except Afr Amer rappers -- go figure).

And it's likely a safe bet that any nickname that includes the word "bomber" wouldn't go over so well today given what has happened around the world in the last few years.

In days of yore, many pro athletes were dubbed various things. Joe DiMaggio was the Yankee Clipper. Ted Williams the Splendid Splinter. Say Stan the Man and every baseball fan knows who you're talking about. Same with the Mick or Hammering Hank. All innocent enough.

Harmon Killibrew was known as the Killer. That would definitely be politically incorrect these days. With the gun debate raging, chances are Pete Maravich wouldn't have been called Pistol if he had been born a few decades later.

In no particular order, consider the following.....

Cassius Clay changed his name to Mohammed Ali and proclaimed himself to be the greatest. How do you think that would fly these days? At that, wasn't he the same pugilist that got clocked by Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Leon Spinks -- LEON SPINKS!!! -- and utterly demolished by Larry Holmes? THAT guy was the greatest? Please.

Ray Leonard was Sugar. As was Ray Robinson long before him. Leonard copied the name. Thomas Hearns was the Hit Man. Too much sugar is bad for you. Even one Hit Man is much worse. Marvin Hagler was simply Marvelous. He dispatched the Hit Man in short order but got too cocky with Sugar and wound up losing a fight he should have easily won. And Sugar wasn't sweet enough -- or dumb enough -- to give the Marvelous one a rematch. That probably would have been ugly.

In hoops, Allen Iverson proclaimed himself The Answer. Thing is, it seemed like he never quite understood the question to begin with.

Lebron James has been anointed The King. King of what? Cleveland and endorsements?

Kobe Bryant has named himself the Black Mamba. Black mambas are highly venomous snakes, and they don't even exist in the USA. Yet to be fair, there are certainly times when Kobe Bean's flickering tongue and play on the court could be considered reptilian.

Eldrick Woods has long been known as Tiger. Indeed he was, both on the PGA tour and with ladies other than his wife until life turned him into a puddy-tat in recent years -- at least on the Tour.

Earvin Johnson became Magic. Besides his basketball skills, like Tiger he was a regular Houdini with the fairer sex -- but hooked up with the wrong one (while he was married as well) and became HIV positive. Oops. That one blind pass seemed to have gone horribly awry. Tweet. Flagrant personal foul.

Jack Nicklaus was the Golden Bear. Arnold Palmer had his Army, and Phil Mickelson became known as Lefty. All easily understood.for obvious reasons.

Gordie Howe was long known as Mr. Hockey -- a well earned moniker. He set many NHL records. And then Wayne -- The Great One -- Gretzky came along to shatter them all. Nobody thought it would ever happen -- but it did.

Robert Parish of the 80-ish Boston Celtics was The Chief. His front court teammates were merely known as McHale and Bird -- their real names. The latter two would go on to great success in coaching/management elsewhere in the NBA. Not so much for Parish. Likely not qualified to do anything else, he has mercifully been kept on as a "consultant" by Celtics management. It's a paycheck, but The Chief more resembles a papoose these days.

John McEnroe of tennis was known as The Brat. Are we still allowed to call loud-mouthed petulant children brats?

Mike Tyson was Iron Mike. Until he ran into Robin, Ruth, and Evander. The trifecta of doom. Not even counting that pesky little prison sentence for rape, he got cold-cocked by a guy named Buster. And what was the deal with the ear-biting thing anyway with Holyfield? Should we be happy this was a boxing match and not mixed martial arts where the combatants were grappling on the canvas? In his desperation, might Tyson have bitten off something else in his opponent's nether region? Perish the thought.

Today, such names as the Pittsburgh Steelers' famed Steel Curtain would probably still work. The Killer Bees of the Miami Dolphins -- likely not. The Splash Brothers of the Golden State Warriors is good. Given recent airliner disasters, anything remotely referring to Crash and Burn is a bad idea. Also notice we don't hear the words "choke", "dumb", or "overpaid" anymore. Everybody's a hero -- somehow.

Motorcycle daredevil Robert Knievel would never be called Evel these days. The media would assume he was from some sort of Satanic cult, call in their "experts" to testify, and the gullible public would likely believe it.

Reggie Jackson was supposedly Mister October. He was also Mister Whiff. In the history of the major leagues, nobody ever struck out more than Jackson. That's a lot of history and Casey at the bat swings. Over his long career, the good Mr. Jackson racked up more strike-outs than hits, was a defensive liability, and hit .262. So other than self-promotion and bombing a few long home runs, somebody please tell me how and why this guy wound up in the Hall of Fame. It's shameful.

And alas. I lost a bet to my editor on the Super Bowl. He had Denver and I had Carolina even up. A lunch tab was at stake, plus an extra $20 tip to the waitress. Methinks he's going to enjoy his bacon and cheese omelet a bit more than usual while I fork over an extra Jackson as we leave.

Maybe that's why he's called The Boss. Sort of like Bruce Springsteen in the local newspaper business.

I can think of something else. Like The #@%$!!. But that likely wouldn't go over too well. And all in all, he's a pretty nice guy. Maybe not wrapped too tight -- after all -- it was his idea to recruit me as a blogger -- but a bet's a bet and I lost. In the end, who's the dummy indeed? That's probably why he makes the big bucks and I'm stuck writing stupid posts like this one.

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