Special Report

35 Unforgettable Nicknames in Sports

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Professional sports seems to be the perfect breeding ground for bizarre and hilarious nicknames for athletes. Sometimes, the new moniker comes from an inside joke with teammates. Often, reporters or announcers will come up with a nickname for an athlete as a way to describe the kind of person and player they are.

Not all of these names stick, but some have become inextricably linked to the athlete as a way of celebrating their heritage, skills, or personality.

To determine the most unforgettable nicknames in sports, 24/7 Tempo consulted a wide variety of sources, including the Sports Reference family of sites, to find the most bizarre, unique, and memorable nicknames given to players from the MLB, NHL, NFL, and NBA.

Some players like Babe Ruth and Yogi Berra, had nicknames so iconic that people may have forgotten these baseball legends had actual first names. Other athletes with big personalities seem prone to attract humorous monikers. Superstars like Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal each have about a half dozen well-known monikers that have stuck throughout their careers. These are the funniest athletes of all time.

This list is in no way comprehensive. There are hundreds and hundreds of strange and hilarious nicknames in the history of the four major sports leagues in America. Many nicknames have likely been lost to history or simply never even made it out of the locker room.

Click here to see 35 unforgettable nicknames in sports

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

1. The Hebrew Hammer
> Player: Al Rosen
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Third baseman, Cleveland Indians
> Career: 1947-1956

Al Rosen was one of the best third baseman in the American League, driving in more than 100 runs in half of his 10 seasons with the Cleveland Indians in the 1950s when the Tribe challenged the Yankees for AL supremacy. In 1953, Rosen led the American League with 43 home runs and all of baseball with 145 runs batted in and was named the AL most valuable player. Rosen, who was Jewish, was nicknamed the alliterative “Hebrew Hammer.”

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Source: General Photographic Agency / Getty Images

2. Babe
> Player: George Herman Ruth Jr.
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Outfielder/Pitcher, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees
> Career: 1914-1935

George Herman Ruth Jr., better known as “Babe,” is arguably the greatest baseball player ever. While trying out for Baltimore Orioles owner Jack Dunn, some players called him “Jack’s newest Babe.” The Babe blossomed into a terrific pitcher and the game’s greatest hitter, earning him a slew of nicknames like “Caliph of Clout,” “The Behemoth of Bust,” “The Great Bambino,” “The Sultan of Swat,” “The King of Crash,” and “Bam,” among others.

Source: Mike Stobe / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

3. Big Sexy
> Player: Bartolo Colon
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Pitcher, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels
> Career: 1997-2018

At a height of 5’11” and a weight of 285 pounds, Bartolo Colon doesn’t seem like the prototypical professional athlete. But the pitcher has endeared himself to fans across the majors, earning the moniker “Big Sexy.” Colon has had a long, impressive career. It started in 1997, and along the way, he’s won a Cy Young award and been named an All-star four times. His final Major League season came at age 45 with the Texas Rangers in 2018.

Source: Public Domain / Library of Congress

4. The Man Nobody Knows
> Player: Bill Dickey
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Catcher, New York Yankees
> Career: 1928-1943, 1946

Bill Dickey was the first in a line of very good New York Yankees catchers. The Hall of Famer was the anchor of the Yankee dynasty that dominated baseball in the 1930s. Dickey was known by teammates and others who knew him as the “Man Nobody Knows” because of his aloofness.

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Source: Al Bello / Getty Images

5. Boof
> Player: Boof Bonser
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Pitcher, Minnesota Twins
> Career: 2006-2010

Boof Bonser technically has no nickname, as his legal first name really is “Boof.” He was born John Paul Bonser, and his mother started calling him “Boof” as a baby. The moniker apparently stuck, and Bonser legally changed his first name to Boof after he was drafted in 2000.

Source: Lisa Lake / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

6. The Round Mound of Rebound
> Player: Charles Barkley
> League: NBA
> Position, team(s): Power forward, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns
> Career: 1984-2000

Charles Barkley has a big sense of humor, a big personality, and perhaps an even larger waistline. He is known as “The Round Mound of Rebound” for his dominance on the boards. The one-time MVP also has been known as “Sir Charles,” “The Chuckster,” “The Chuck Wagon,” and “The Prince of Pizza.” Barkley’s love of food is legendary. He once revealed to Jimmy Fallon that he purposely gained 20 pounds in just two days to try to avoid being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, which didn’t work.

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

7. Piano Legs
> Player: Charlie Hickman
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): First baseman, Boston Beaneaters, Cleveland Naps
> Career: 1897-1908

Charlie Hickman was sometimes known as “Cheerful Charlie” due to his upbeat demeanor.

But the most enduring nickname for this early 20th century player has to be “Piano Legs.” The strange name may stem from the powerful legs he needed to run the bases at a reported 215 pounds.

Source: Rick Stewart / Getty Images

8. Dr. Dunkenstein
> Player: Darrell Griffith
> League: NBA
> Position, team(s): Guard, Utah Jazz
> Career: 1980-1991

Darrell “Dr. Dunkenstein” Griffith had amazing jumping ability when he played college basketball. His brother changed one letter from the Parliament song “Dr. Funkenstein” to give him his nickname. He was the Rookie of the Year in the 1980-1981 season and competed in the first ever NBA Dunk Contest in 1984.

Source: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

9. The Admiral
> Player: David Robinson
> League: NBA
> Position, team(s): Center, San Antonio Spurs
> Career: 1989-2003

Before David Robinson was an all-time great NBA player, he played basketball at the Naval Academy. Robinson played for the Midshipmen thanks to a waiver because he was an inch over the 6’6″ maximum height. He grew to 7’1″ by the time of his graduation. He served with the Navy from ashore for two years instead of the typically required five because he was simply too tall to serve on a ship or a plane. After completing his required service, Robinson played for the San Antonio Spurs. His commanding presence and naval service earned him the nickname “The Admiral.”

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Source: Andy Lyons / Allsport / Getty Images

10. The Worm
> Player: Dennis Rodman
> League: NBA
> Position, team(s): Power forward, Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls
> Career: 1986-2000

Before Dennis Rodman was an amateur North Korean diplomat of sorts, he was a talented basketball player. A five-time NBA champ and one of the best defenders ever, Rodman was known as “The Worm” for the way he wriggled around while playing pinball as a child. Rodman’s basketball skills and over-the-top personality also drew other names like “Rodzilla,” “Demolition Man,” “El Loco,” and “Dennis the Menace.”

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

11. Mortimer Snerd
> Player: Diсk Selma
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Pitcher, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies
> Career: 1965-1974

Diсk Selma was a journeyman pitcher who toiled for seven MLB teams and posted a lifetime record of 42-54 in 10 seasons. He was also considered, in the lingo of his day, a flake, an eccentric who got under people’s skin. Selma got the nickname “Mortimer Snerd,” which is a reference to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s wisecracking dummy because Selma liked to poke fun at people.

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Source: Cliff McBride / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

12. Muscle Hamster
> Player: Doug Martin
> League: NFL
> Position, team(s): Running back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
> Career: 2012-2018

Nicknames are supposed to be endearing, but Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin absolutely hates his nickname “Muscle Hamster.” He got the name from college teammates for his short, yet muscular physique. Martin has asked friends, teammates, and even the NFL Twitter account to stop using it, but it has stuck throughout his career.

Source: Rick Stewart / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

13. The Crime Dog
> Player: Fred McGriff
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): First baseman, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
> Career: 1986-2004

Fred McGriff got his nickname “The Crime Dog” from ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman. His surname is close to McGruff, a cartoon dog created by the Ad Council to increase children’s awareness to criminal activity by encouraging them to “take a bite out of crime.” McGriff had a good career, hitting nearly 500 home runs and winning a World Series with the Atlanta Braves.

Source: Courtesy of Topps

14. Hacksaw
> Player: Jack Reynolds
> League: NFL
> Position, team(s): Linebacker, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers
> Career: 1970-1984

Jack Reynolds was a linebacker with the Los Angeles Rams and then with the San Francisco 49ers where he won two Super Bowl rings in the 1980s. His hard-as-nails reputation preceded his NFL career because of his nickname, “Hacksaw.” Reynolds reportedly got the nickname because he destroyed the frame and drive shaft of a car using a hacksaw after his college team, the University of Tennessee, was shut out by Ole Miss.

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Source: Courtesy of Beckett Collectibles

15. Ugly
> Player: Johnny Dickshot
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Outfielder, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago White Sox
> Career: 1936-1939, 1944-1945

Johnny Dickshot had a respectable six-year MLB career, posting a batting average of .276 for the Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates. But Dickshot is a fixture in baseball lore for having one of the all time most unfortunate nicknames — “Ugly.” Dickshot described himself as the “ugliest man in baseball.”

Source: Focus On Sport / Getty Images

16. The Hick from French Lick
> Player: Larry Bird
> League: NBA
> Position, team(s): Small forward, Boston Celtics
> Career: 1979-1992

Larry Bird supposedly gave himself the nickname “The Hick from French Lick.” Bird went to high school in French Lick, Indiana and apparently wanted opponents to think of him as a hillbilly so they would underestimate him. Bird also was known as “Larry Legend” for his legendary late game performances, and “Kodak” for having a seemingly unnatural awareness for where every player was on the court, as if he’d taken a photo of his surroundings.

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Source: MPI / Archive Photos via Getty Images

17. Iron Horse
> Player: Lou Gehrig
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): First baseman, New York Yankees
> Career: 1923-1939

Everyone knows mighty Lou Gehrig for his strength and endurance — he held the record for consecutive baseball games played until Cal Ripken eclipsed it — hence the nickname “The Iron Horse.” But the Hall of Fame first baseman was also nicknamed “Biscuit Pants” because of his ample backside.

Source: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

18. Old Aches and Pains
> Player: Luke Appling
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Shortstop, Chicago White Sox
> Career: 1930-1950

Hall of Famer Luke Appling got the nickname “Old Aches and Pains” because of the number of injuries he received during his career. Even so, the Chicago White Sox shortstop, also called “Luscious Luke,” hit .310 lifetime, won two batting titles, and collected 2,749 hits, seventh most all time among shortstops. Appling was named the greatest player in White Sox history by Chicago fans in 1969.

Source: Rob Carr / Getty Images

19. Scrabble
> Player: Marc Rzepczynski
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals
> Career: 2009-2018

MLB relief pitcher Marc Rzepczynski can be a bigger challenge for broadcasters than he can for hitters. Rzepczynski, who is of Polish descent, got the nickname “Scrabble” because his surname looks like a random assortment of letters — as if a bunch of tiles fell out of a Scrabble box. Players and coaches often struggle with the name, which is pronounced “Zep-CHIN-ski”.

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Source: Harry How / Getty Images

20. Kung Fu Panda
> Player: Pablo Sandoval
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Third baseman, San Francisco Giants
> Career: 2008-present

Pablo Sandoval is affectionately known in San Francisco as the “Kung Fu Panda.” Sandoval, like the animated character voiced by Jack Black, is surprisingly athletic given his rotund physique. Teammate Barry Zito, who was impressed when Sandoval leapt over an opposing catcher during a game, gave Sandoval the nickname that has stuck with him throughout his career.

Source: Tim DeFrisco / Getty Images

21. Never Nervous Pervis
> Player: Pervis Ellison
> League: NBA
> Position, team(s): Forward, Boston Celtics, Washington Bullets
> Career: 1989-2001

Pervis Ellison was nicknamed “Never Nervous Pervis” because he kept his poise during close basketball games. Ellison got the moniker during his freshman year at the University of Louisville, when the Cardinals won the NCAA Tournament in 1986. Ellison went on to play for four NBA teams, and he averaged 9.5 points in a career that spanned 11 seasons. However, injuries limited his time in the NBA, to such an extent that he was referred to as “Out of Service Pervis.”

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Source: Tim Umphrey / Getty Images

22. The Big Unit
> Player: Randy Johnson
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Pitcher, Seattle Mariners, Arizona Diamondbacks
> Career: 1988-2009

At 6’10”, Randy Johnson, “The Big Unit” was an intimidating pitcher for the Seattle Mariners and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson recorded 4,875 strikeouts in his career, second only to Nolan Ryan. His 303 career victories are the fifth most of any left-handed pitcher. Johnson won the Cy Young Award five times, including four times in a row. He is one of just five pitchers to throw no-hitters in each league. At 40 years old, Johnson became the oldest pitcher to throw a perfect game.

Source: Goudey Gum Company / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

23. Babe Ruth’s Legs
> Player: Samuel Byrd
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Outfielder, New York Yankees
> Career: 1929-1936

New York Yankees outfielder Samuel Byrd earned the nicknames “Babe Ruth’s Legs” or “Babe Ruth’s Caddy” because he would often pinch run for the hefty lefty late in games. The caddy nickname proved prophetic as Byrd became a professional golfer after leaving baseball, winning several PGA tour events.

Source: G. N. Lowrance / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

24. The Human Rain Delay
> Player: Steve Trachsel
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Pitcher, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets
> Career: 1993-2008

Pitcher Steve Trachsel was dubbed “The Human Rain Delay” for the time he took between pitches. When Trachsel pitched, the games could be up to an hour longer than the standard contest. His deliberate approach didn’t seem to make a difference in his performance — Trachsel’s lifetime record was 143-159, and his earned run average was 4.39.

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Source: eviltomthai / Flickr

25. Vinsanity
> Player: Vince Carter
> League: NBA
> Position, team(s): Small forward, Toronto Raptors, New Jersey Nets
> Career: 1999-2020

Slam dunks are one of the coolest feats in sports, and few players have ever dunked like Vince Carter. Carter earned the nickname “Vinsanity” for the way he flew through the air. He was also known as “Half-man, Half-amazing” and “Air Canada” for his spectacular jams while playing with the Toronto Raptors early in his career.

Source: Courtesy of Topps

26. No Neck
> Player: Walt Williams
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Outfielder, Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees
> Career: 1964-1975

Walt Williams was mostly known for his nickname “No Neck” because he was just 5’6″l and weighed 165 pounds in his playing days. His stocky build made it look like his head went straight into his shoulders. In his 10-year MLB career, mostly with the Chicago White Sox, Walt Williams batted a respectable .270, though he hit with little power. HIs best season was in 1969 when he finished sixth in the American League in batting, hitting .304.

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Source: Mike Powell / Getty Images

27. The Great One
> Player: Wayne Gretzky
> League: NHL
> Position, team(s): Center, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings
> Career: 1978-1999

Fans of basketball and football often debate who is the greatest player of all time. In hockey, there is no debate. Wayne Gretzky earned his first of nine Hart Trophies as the NHL’s most valuable player at 19. He won four Stanley Cups and was named an All-Star 15 times, earning him the nickname “The Great One.”

Source: Mike Powell / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

28. The Refrigerator
> Player: William Perry
> League: NFL
> Position, team(s): Defensive tackle, Chicago Bears
> Career: 1985-1993

One of the most enduring moments from the legendary 1985 Chicago Bears season was the 6’2″, 335-pound William “The Refrigerator” Perry plunging across the goal line in a stint as running back. Perry earned his nickname for being roughly the size of the large kitchen appliance, but he was also very athletic. He could even dunk a basketball. Some teammates called him “Biscuit” for being “a biscuit under 350” pounds.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

29. Rocket
> Player: Maurice Richard
> League: NHL
> Position, team(s): Right wing, Montreal Canadiens
> Career: 1942-1960

Maurice Richard was a hometown hero for the Montreal Canadiens. He earned his “Rocket” nickname when teammate Ray Getliffe was amazed by his blazing speed, telling reporters “‘Look at that, he’s like a rocket” at a practice.

Rocket Richard led the Habs to eight Stanley Cups in his 18-year career and topped the league in goals five times. The NHL’s top scorer is now awarded the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy in his honor.

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Source: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

30. The Greek Freak
> Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo
> League: NBA
> Position, team(s): Power forward, Milwaukee Bucks
> Career: 2013-present

Standing 6’11” and weighing 242 pounds, Giannis Antetokounmpo has a “freakish” blend of size, speed, and skill. After being drafted in 2013 out of Athens, Greece, he was quickly dubbed “Greek Freak” largely because people struggled to pronounce his name (ah-dedo-KOON-bo), which is Nigerian in origin.

Antetokounmpo quickly made a name for himself by becoming one of the best players in the NBA. At just 26 years old, the Greek Freak is a two-time MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and he earned Finals MVP honors for powering his team to the 2021 NBA title.

Source: Getty Images / Getty Images

31. Yogi
> Player: Lawrence Berra
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Catcher, New York Yankees
> Career: 1946-1965

Hall of Fame New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra got his nickname from a teammate who said he looked like a yoga practitioner, or yogi, the two saw in a movie. Berra became beloved for his funny “Yogi-isms” like “it ain’t over till it’s over,” “a nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore,” and “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

Don’t let the humor fool you, Yogi was a seriously talented baseball player — he made the All-Star game 15 times in a row, won three MVPs, and remains the only player to have 10 World Series wins in their career.

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Source: Mike Powell / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

32. Sweetness
> Player: Walter Payton
> League: NFL
> Position, team(s): Running back, Chicago Bears
> Career: 1975-1987

Though Water Payton’s moniker “Sweetness” is one of the most iconic nicknames in sports history, its origin remains unclear. Some say he earned the name from his “sweet” running skills, and others claim it was from his sweet personality. And there is also a story that after eluding a defender in practice, he yelled “your sweetness is your weakness!” at his opponent, and the name stuck from there.

Wherever the name came from, it fit Payton. His moves helped make Sweetness a nine-time Pro Bowler, an NFL MVP, a Super Bowl champion, and a Hall of Famer.

Source: Ethan Miller / Getty Images Sport via Getty Images

33. The Glove
> Player: Gary Payton
> League: NBA
> Position, team(s): Point guard, Seattle SuperSonics
> Career: 1990-2007

Hall of Fame hooper Gary Payton was known as a scrappy, tenacious defender. After he had a particularly strong performance for the Seattle SuperSonics against the Phoenix Suns’ Kevin Johnson in the playoffs, Payton’s cousin reportedly said “You’re holding Kevin Johnson like a baseball in a glove,” and the nickname was born.

Payton made the NBA All-Defensive 1st team nine times and was the Defensive Player of the Year for the 1995-1996 season, as he led the league in steals. His son, NBA vet Gary Payton II, has been affectionately nicknamed “The Mitten” in an homage to his dad.

Source: Otto Greule Jr. / Allsport / Getty Images

34. The Man of Steal
> Player: Rickey Henderson
> League: MLB
> Position, team(s): Outfielder, Oakland A’s / New York Yankees
> Career: 1979-2003

Superman is known as the “man of steel,” but Hall of Fame outfielder Rickey Henderson is known as the “man of steal” for his almost superhuman ability to steal bases. His record of 1,406 steals may never be broken — Lou Brock is second with 938, and no active player is within 1,000 stolen bases of Henderson’s record. He also owns the single-season stolen base record, at 130.

As if that weren’t enough, Henderson also holds the all-time MLB record for runs scored. He was also a three-time Silver Slugger, a 10-time All-Star, two-time World Series, a Gold Glove recipient, and was the 1990 AL MVP.

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Source: Getty Images

35. Pistol Pete
> Player: Pete Maravich
> League: NBA
> Position, team(s): Shooting guard, New Orleans Jazz
> Career: 1970-1980

Basketball Hall of Famer Pete Maravich earned his nickname from the unique way he played the game. When in high school, teammates and coaches noticed Maravich would shoot the ball from his hip, like a gunslinger in a Western film unholstering a six-shooter. From then on, he was known as “Pistol Pete” Maravich.

This unorthodox motion didn’t slow Maravich down. In fact, he still holds NCAA records in career points and scoring average from his time at Louisiana State University. In 10 NBA seasons, Pistol Pete made five All-Star teams, and led the league in scoring for the 1976-1977 season.

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