Baseball’s latest genius marketing scheme is a weekend full of games between teams wearing “colorful” uniforms with players’ nicknames on the back.
The joint production of Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association was conceived to let fans in on players’ personalities evidently becausemost of the marketable sports figures these days are either currently playing in the NFL or NBA, or named Michael Jordan.
It’s a laudable effort by baseball in a sport where many of the biggest stars frequently hide from the media during clubhouse access hours when presumably they could give fans a glimpse of their personalities through interviews.
To hype the Aug. 25-27 event called “Players Weekend,” MLB.com this week decided to display some uniformity among its 30 team websites.
All of the individual sites posted a graphic of their own team’s nicknamed jerseys above a promotional headline like “Get ready for nicknames, crazy gear” or “KC already buzzing over Players Weekend.”And all the websites featured an accompanying story on why some players chose their nicknames and how excited they are for the weekend.
So much for individualism, but no matter.
The players seem enthused about the idea, the uniforms are being sold for charity and it never hurts to inject some life into the dog days of summer, especially when half of the division races are decided and a boatload of mediocre teams are vying for the American League wild-card spots.
A good nickname can be worth its price in gold. Walt Williams was a personal favorite of mine growing up, mostly because his nickname was “No Neck.” Some of my favorite Cubs and White Sox nicknames over the years include:
Steve “Psycho” Lyons, which became a self-fulfilling prophesy when he “accidentally” pulled his pants down during a Sox game.
Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, who was named for what he said was rock-gut whiskey from his native Mississippi.
Antonio “El Pulpo” Alfonseca, which translates to “the Octopus,” a misnomer considering he had six fingers on one hand, not eight.
Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams, who was named for the Charlie Sheen character in “Major League” and eventually morphed into the fictional character.
The tricky thing with next weekend’s mass-marketing idea is baseball’s presumption its players all have nicknames, or at least ones they care to display in public.
Some of the players didn’t mind going to the edges with theirs, like Reds’ veteran Bronson Arroyo, who chose “Free Love.” Inside jokes were on tap, too, like the Tigers’ Alex Wilson and Justin Wilson planning to use “Dale” and “Brennan” as an ode to the brothers in Will Ferrell’s “Step Brothers,” before Justin was dealt to the Cubs.
Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier is, naturally, “the Toddfather,” while White Sox starter James Shields is “Juego G,” apparently a Spanish interpretation of “Big Game,” a nickname he hasn’t had to employ yet on the South Side.
The Red Sox’s Chris Sale is “Stickman” instead of “Saler,” as he was referred to in the White Sox clubhouse, while the Nationals’ injured Adam Eaton is “Mouse” instead of his old nickname of “Spanky.”
There are also a couple of guys nicknamed “Moose” — the Royals’ Mike Moustakas and the Astros’ Joe Musgrove — as well as an “X” (“Xander Bogaerts), a “Q” (Jose Quintana) and an “H” (Kelvin Herrera).
Some nicknames are reliably bland. Mookie Betts is, well “Mookie,” and Buster Posey is “Buster.”
Unfortunately, there is no “Bryzzo,” the nickname I coined in 2015 for the budding bromance between rookie Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, who began using it in their “Bryzzo” TV commercials without my express written consent.
Bryant is simply “KB,” while Rizzo is using “Tony.”
Tony? The nickname on the biker vest Rizzo is wearing during the team’s “Easy Rider” road trip is “Sloth,” which is what he said his brother used to call him. “Sloth” would look much cooler on Rizzo’s jersey than “Tony,” but maybe Rizzo doesn’t want to advertise that side of his personality.
Someone’s brilliant idea of getting Javier Baez (No. 9) to use the nickname “Channel” on his back as an advertisement for WGN-9 fell on deaf ears. (Andy Messersmith once used “Channel” on his jersey to advertise Ch. 17 in Atlanta, before baseball banned it). Baez is officially “El Mago,” or “the Magician,” which may be accurate but is not a nickname he’s commonly called.
Willson Contreras’ jersey name is “Willy,” though the nickname he said Jon Lester and Chris Bosio gave him, “Killer,” is much catchier.
Lester, of course, is using “Lester,” while Tommy La Stella is using “La Stella,” instead of “3 AM,” the nickname Cubs beat writers coined after manager Joe Maddon’s pronouncement that La Stella can “get up at 3 a.m., get out of bed and hit.”
Wouldn’t you rather buy a Cubs’ jersey that says “3 AM” on the back?
Maybe the writers should choose the nicknames next year.