#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 at you, 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 aLansing 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.