A constant theme I always like to bring up is that we enjoy the present day while continuing to honor and remember the past. That is sure true for trading cards which have changed a great deal over the past few years but sometimes changes come so gradually over time we don’t even realize it. Take a look at some of those old baseball cards. Then grab a handful of today’s cards. What happened to all of the nicknames?
Well sometimes it’s probably a good thing. Today, some of those old names might be considered demeaning. After all, before World War II, it seemed like every player of German heritage was nicknamed Heinie. And let’s face it, calling Ernie Lombardi “The Schnozz” was certainly not endearing although Mr. Lombardi did have a huge nose.
If you want to see a great example of a baseball card sets featuring nicknames take a gander at the 1940 and 41 Play Ball sets and 1949 Bowman sets. So many of the players are identified by their nicknames.
The writers of those days helped to popularize those nicknames as well. When writers were able to add a ton of “color” to their stories because so few people actually could see these players in person, we wound up with cards like “The Horse” Danning in 1941 or “Twinkletoes” Selkirk or my favorite one from that era; Luke “Hot Potato” Hamlin.
Even players we know with their most common name was considered to have a nickname such as “Dom” DiMaggio. Today, other than King Felix, and perhaps “Big Papi” I had a hard time thinking of nicknames for players.
Shoot, even into the 1970’s we had some pretty good nicknames such as Mark “The Bird” Fidrych or even Doug “Eye Chart” Gwosdz. It was good to see some players continue to have nicknames into the early 1990’s. I know Chris Berman used named games for many players and those became natural nicknames as well. Can you imagine John “Off His” Rocker as a nickname. Perhaps that even fit. I guess when we’re able to see players each and every night some of the romance—not to mention our imagination–goes away and that might be the biggest shame of all.
In a way it’s too bad no one will ever grow up again hearing such nicknames as Joltin’ Joe, Larrupin’ Lou or the Sultan of Swat. Heck, wouldn’t it be nice is someone went back and used “Piano Legs” again? But for the rest of us, looking at those old cards takes us a time when the game was a little more colorful. So enjoy those old cards as a telescope to a different time.
Have some favorite nicknames? Send me your best.