Nickname Week rolls on here at Philly Sports History. So far, we’ve taken care of the Eagles and the Flyers. Today we take a look at the best nicknames in the history of the Philadelphia 76ers. There are way too many nicknames in team history to remember them all, but here are 10 of the best in no particular order. As always, let us know if you can think of any others that should have cracked the Top Ten.
- “World” Lloyd Bernand Free – Lloyd was given the nickname “World” in high school for his all-world talent, so he did the reasonable thing and officially changed his name to World B. Free.
- “The Boston Strangler” Andrew Toney – The origin of this nickname is pretty obvious. He dominated the Celtics in the playoffs, most memorably with a 34 point night in Game Seven of the ’83 Eastern Conference Finals.
- “The Round Mound of Rebound” Charles Barkley – As a stocky 6’5″ forward who took home the rebounding title in ’86-’87, it’s not surprising Sir Charles was given this moniker.
- “Chocolate Thunder” Darryl Dawkins – Dawkins’ nickname came from an unlikely source: Stevie Wonder. In an interview with Dime Magazine, Dawkins told the story: “Stevie Wonder used to come the ball games and they would have a guy sitting with him. And the guy would be holding on to his arm, telling him what’s going on, and he would say, ‘Hey, the big chocolate guy just put down a thunder dunk. The chocolate guy with another monster dunk.’ And Stevie Wonder actually gave me the nickname Chocolate Thunder. So a guy who never saw me can give me that name. I think I can wear that well. I don’t even know if he remembers, it’s been so long, but I’ll keep that.”
- “Dr. J.” Julius Erving – Julius Erving had a buddy in high school, Leon Saunders, who “could outtalk anybody to the point where would lecture whoever else was around.” Because of this, Erving called him the “Professor.” Saunders figured they both should have professional sounding nicknames, so he started calling Erving the “Doctor” and it stuck. It was later shortened to “Dr. J” when he started playing pro basketball.
- “The Answer” Allen Iverson – Although his nickname growing up in Hampton, VA was “Bubba Chuck,” once he was drafted by the Sixers he became “The Answer” for the struggling franchise.
- “Pooh” Johnny Dawkins – Dawkins was nicknamed “Pooh” by his family when he was a child and it lasted.
- “Jellybean” Joe Bryant – A high school teammate gave Bryant the nickname “Jellybean” because he had all the moves of the guard, even though he was a 6’9″ power forward.
- “The Kangaroo Kid” Billy Cunningham – Cunningham was called “The Kangaroo Kid” because of his insane leaping ability.
- “The Big Dipper” Wilt Chamberlain – Wilt had many nicknames, but preferred “The Big Dipper,” which was coined by friends at Overbrook H.S. because he had to dip his head to get through doorways.
One of our followers on facebook, Frank Trimborn, made me aware of Hugh Mulcahy, a Phillie with the saddest (and perhaps most unfair) nickname ever. Thanks, Frank. If any of our readers have anything you’d like to see us write about, please just let us know on our facebook page. We are always looking for interesting local sports history stories. I’m glad Frank pointed me in the direction of this one. It made me aware of a man who at first glance seemed to be little more than a hard luck pitcher with a funny nickname. But like most stories, it was a bit more complex than that. He turned out to be a class act and an American hero.
It is quite easy for me to name the hardest luck pitcher of my lifetime. His name was Anthony Young, and despite a very respectable 3.89 career ERA (to put that into perspective, Cliff Lee’s career ERA is a slightly better 3.72), he could not win a game to save his life. He racked up 27 straight losses for the New York Mets in the early 1990s. If you think the Phils won’t score for Cole Hamels, you should have seen the inept Mets rack up zeroes on the scoreboard for Anthony Young. In 1993, they averaged a pathetic 2.09 runs per game that Young started. He was sent to the Cubs, but couldn’t shake the loser tag, and despite a solid ERA he was out of baseball in 1996, finishing with a record of 15-48.
But Phillie fans in their 70s and 80s remember a pitcher who was every bit as snakebit as poor Mr. Young. His name was Hugh Mulcahy, and he was the losing pitcher in so many starts that he acquired that awful, unfair nickname: “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy. Never mind that he played with a group of misfits better suited for Keystone Cops than for a baseball diamond, a team that lost over 100 games every year for the 3 straight years that Mulcahy started every 4th day. Never mind that the Phils owner, Gerry Nugent, sold off all the talent the Phils had in the late 1930s, leaving them with a shell of a team that really, honestly, shouldn’t have played in the Major Leagues. And never mind that, as sabermetrics have made us aware, the Win is a fairly useless statistic to determine a player’s value. Nope, Hugh Mulcahy couldn’t win for losing, a fact that was driven home with that brutally unfair nickname.
Of course, it shouldn’t have taken a sabermetrician to tell you that wins were useless after Mulcahy’s 1940 season. He went 13-22, despite a 3.60 ERA (compare that to Zach Greinke of the Brewers, who this year has a 13-5 record and a 4.05 ERA). Despite the 22 losses, in his final game of the 1940 season he threw a 4-hit shutout, and it was obvious that this was a pitcher entering his prime. There is little doubt that he was poised to shed that awful nickname.
He never got the chance. Still snakebit, he was the very first major leaguer drafted by the Army, costing him the 1941 season. He was discharged on December 5th, 1941, then was back in fatigues 48 hours later. By the time the war ended and he returned to the majors in 1945, dysentery had cost him 35 pounds and the zip on his fastball, and he was out of the majors by 1947. He ended his career with a 45-89 record. After retiring from baseball, he became a coach and scout for the White Sox, working in baseball for another 30 years. And despite his cruel nickname, he had no regrets, and a remarkable sense of perspective. This from a baseball prospectus piece from John Perrotto:
Mulcahy had an easy laugh and could joke about his nickname. “You know, in sports, somebody’s gotta win and somebody’s gotta lose,” he said. “Well, I was the guy who always lost.”
And as far as the war taking away his prime?
“I don’t look back on it with any anger or bitterness,” Mulcahy said. “Our country was at war, and that was more important than baseball. There were a lot of guys who had their career interrupted because of the war. You didn’t think twice about it, though, because you doing your duty by serving your country. A lot of guys went to the war and didn’t come back. I came back and had a long career in baseball. I feel I was fortunate, not cheated.
Hugh Mulcahy was not blessed with much run support, but he was blessed with a long life. He died in Aliquippa, PA in 2001 at age 88.
More than in any other sport, hockey players refer to their teammates by nickname only. Listen to one post-game interview with a player and you will hear nothing but nicknames when he is talking about his teammates. Other than the obvious ones which just add “ie” or “s” to a shorter version of the players last name (Richie, Carts), nicknames generally come from inside jokes. This phenomenon speaks to the camaraderie of the locker room; the “us” against “them” mentality.
Picking up on Johnny’s list of the Best Nicknames in Eagles History, here is a list of the best nicknames for players who’ve worn the Orange and Black. I’ve also thrown in the best names given to lines in team history. Be sure to let us know if I missed any.
- “Zeus” Dave Schultz (While the media stuck with “Hammer,” his teammates called him “Zeus.”)
- “Big Bird” Don Saleski (His mop top hair made him a dead ringer for the Sesame Street character.)
- Bob “Hound” Kelly
- Andre “Moose” DuPont (He was the size of a moose.)
- “Cowboy” Bill Flett (The guy was literally a cowboy. He grew up wrestling steer and riding broncos. And he dressed like one too, boots and cowboy hat included.)
- “Hawk” Rick MacLeish (After some off-color comments he made to a woman at a bar, she pressed his nose flat with her fingers and said “Hawk Nose! Hawk Nose!.” This happened within earshot of Bill Clement, who coined the name “Hawk.”)
- “Ash Can” Barry Ashbee
- “Frank” Antero Niittymaki (Named after the famous mobster Frank Nitty.)
- “Chico” Robert Esche (Keith Tkachuk saw Eshe’s sticks, which have “R. Esche” on them, and said “When did Chico get here?” referring to goaltending great Glenn “Chico” Resche.)
- “Arnie” Bill Barber (Teammates thought he looked like the pig on Green Acres, Arnold Ziffel.)
- The Legion of Doom (Lindros, LeClair, Renberg)
- The LCB Line (Leach, Clarke, Barber)
- The Fighting Dans (Dan Kordic, Daniel LeCroiux, Scott Daniels)
- The Deuces Wild Line (Gagne, Forsberg, Knuble- all had “2s” in their numbers)
- The Crazy Eights Line (Lindros, Recchi, Fedyk- all had “8s” in their numbers)
- The Blackhawk Down Line (Roenick, Amonte, Zhamnov- all former Blackhawks)
I wanted to do a best nicknames piece on each of the teams in Philly, and I thought I’d start with the Eagles. While there should be no shortage of Phillies and Sixers to choose from, there really aren’t that many great Eagle nicknames. There are a few, however. Here’s the 8 best ones I could think of. Do you have any to add to this list?
- “Concrete Charlie” Chuck Bednarik
- “The Polish Rifle” Ron Jaworski
- Earl “Greasy” Neale
- Andre “Dirty” Waters
- “FredEx” Freddie Mitchell
- “Toast” Izel Jenkins (right)
- “The Minister of Defense” Reggie White
- Marion “Swamp Fox” Campbell
On August 25th, 1995, Gregg Jefferies of the Phils hit for the cycle in a 17-4 win over the Dodgers. Here’s an article Frank Fitzpatrick wrote a few years ago about the feat.
Nomo couldn’t control his devastating split-fingered fastball that night, and the Phillies sat on his fastball. In the first inning, Jefferies deposited one in the right-field seats for a two-run homer.
Jim Eisenreich was on first and Mickey Morandini on third when Jefferies batted in the third. He sliced a ball to left that Dodgers outfielder Roberto Kelly dived for. It skipped past him, and Jefferies ended up at third with a triple.
“He got the two hardest parts [of the cycle] out of the way early,” Eisenreich said.
Righthander Jim Bruske replaced Nomo, and Jefferies singled off him in the fourth inning.
Then, batting righthanded for the first time that night, against lefty reliever John Cummings in the fifth inning, Jefferies lined a 2-2 pitch into the right-field corner, the double giving the Phillies their first cycle in 5,107 games.
“The cycle,” Jefferies said later, “is just pure luck.”
It got me wondering what other Phils accomplished this rare feat. And then I found something mindblowing about the Philadelphia A’s and the cycle. Here’s the list, followed by the crazy A’s fun fact.
- June 28th, 2004. David Bell. The last Phillie to do so, he did in a 14-6 win over the Expos at Citizen’s Bank Park. (Article here.)
- August 25th, 1995. Gregg Jefferies. The only Phillie to ever hit for the cycle at the Vet. (box score)
- June 27th, 1963. Johnny Callison. He went 4-5 and drove in 4 RBIs in a 13-4 win over the Pirates at Forbes Field. (box score)
- May 26th, 1933. Chuck Klein. He went 4-6 but somehow only drove in 2 runs and the Phillies lost to the Cardinals at Sportsmen’s Park in St. Louis, 5-4. (box score)
- July 1st, 1931. Chuck Klein. He had his first of two cycles at the Baker Bowl in an 11-6 win over the Cubs. He knocked in 5 RBIs and scored 3 runs. The Phillies also recorded a triple play in that game. It is one of only 2 times in MLB history that a cycle and a triple play have taken place in the same game. John Valentin of the Red Sox hit for the cycle against the White Sox on June 6th, 1996, but the Red Sox were the victims of a triple play in that same game. (box score)
- August 5th, 1927. Cy Williams. The only Phillie of the 20th century to do it in just 4 official at-bats. He knocked in 6 runs and scored 3 times, as the Phillies knocked off the Pirates at Forbes Field, 9-7. (box score)
- August 17th, 1894. Sam Thompson. Ah, the great Sam Thompson. The player who was so unsporting that he used to try to hit homers, “one of the least difficult hits known to batting in baseball”. This was a memorable game. Not only did he hit for the cycle, but the Phils set a team record that still stands; they scored 29 runs in the game, crushing the Louisville Colonels, 29-4. They also set an MLB record that still stands with 36 hits in that game. The game took place in 1894 in Philadelphia, but there is no box score, so I don’t know if it took place at Huntington Grounds or at Penn’s Athletic Field. They used both as home stadiums that year.
- April 24, 1894. Lave Cross. The first Phillies cycle took place against the awesomely named Brooklyn Grooms, at Brooklyn’s Eastern Park. The Phillies won the game 22-5. (no box score)
As for the A’s fun fact: Not only did they have more cycles in 54 years of existence (10) than the Phillies have had in 128 years of existence (8), in a span of 2 weeks in 1931 3 different Athletics hit for the cycle! Between August 2nd and August 14th, 1931, Mickey Cochrane, Pinky Higgins, and Jimmie Foxx all performed this rare feat.
When I hear the name Sonny Jurgensen, I typically think Washington Redskins. However, Jurgensen played the first 7 years of his career right here in Philly. A 4th round pick out of Duke, he was a backup for the first four seasons of his career. He watched from the bench as Norm van Brocklin led the Birds to a 1960 championship win over the Packers, then finally got his shot in 1961. He didn’t waste much time in showing Eagles fans what he could do. He threw for new NFL records 3,723 yards and 32 touchdowns, doing so at a time when football was considered “3 yards and a cloud of dust”, a sport suited for running between the tackles. (His 32 TDs is still the Eagles team record.) Throwing the ball was risky, and defensive backs could grab, shove, and interfere, meaning deep balls were coin flips. It’s no wonder, then, that the gunslinger Jurgensen threw 24 Int.’s in 1961 and 26 Int.’s in 1962.
For some reason, right out of the gate Eagles fans had it in for Jurgensen. These comments from Jurgensen come courtesy of the Eagles Encyclopedia:
Philly is a tough town. My rookie year, I won 3 of my 4 starts, and they still threw beer cans at me when I came through the tunnel. I said, “My God, what’s going to happen if I do bad?”
One game against Dallas in 1961, I was booed when I was introduced. I mean, I was booed by everybody. The first pass I threw was intercepted. The booing got worse. The 2nd pass I threw was intercepted, and fans started coming out of the stands. Our trainer got in a fight with a couple of them behind the bench. I thought we were going to have a riot.
I wound up throwing 5 touchdowns and we won going away. The fans were cheering my by the end, but they weren’t loud cheers. It was polite applause, like you’d hear at a tennis match. I couldn’t please them. A friend of mine went to the game. He told me, “Man, I never heard anything like that. Everybody around me was booing you.’ I asked him what he did. He said, “I booed you, too.” It was the thing to do.
Apparently Jurgensen suffered from “Abreu’s disease”, as I call it. He made things look too easy, he smiled too much, he seemed to be having fun no matter what the score was. That doesn’t go over well here now, and it didn’t go over well then. Things only got worse in 1962, as the team staggered to a 3-10-1 record. Jurgensen spent much of the 1963 season injured, and at that point the Eagles decided to trade him to the Redskins for QB Norm Snead and cornerback Claude Crabbe. The trade took place on April Fools Day, and I’ll give you one guess as to which team played the fool. Jurgensen put up Hall of Fame numbers for the Redskins for the next 11 years (though, notably, never leading them to a postseason win), while Snead would suffer through the Joe Kuharich era, the darkest period in Eagles history. He would then bounce around the NFL, ending his career with 61 more interceptions than touchdowns. Jurgensen, meanwhile, would get to play his former squad a few months after the trade, and absolutely destroy them. Video highlights of his superlative performance can be found here. Happy birthday, Sonny.
Saw that Philly Sports Daily just posted some of their favorite Phillies names through the years, so I thought I should dig up a piece I did a couple of years ago on isportacus and post it here. Here it is, the Phillies All-Time All-Name Team, the full 25 man roster. Please let me know in the comments anybody you think should have made the squad. (Click here to check out our all-moustache team)
FIRST BASE-Chicken Hawks (1925)
2ND BASE-Cookie Rojas (1963-1969)
3RD BASE-Possum Whitted (1915-1919)
SHORTSTOP-Dickie Thon (1989-1991)
OUTFIELD-Bevo LeBorveau (1919-1922)
OUTFIELD-Bud Weiser (1915-1916)
OUTFIELD-Bake McBride (aka Shake ‘n’Bake, 1977-1981)
PITCHERS-Chief Bender (1916-1917, better known for the 12 years he spent with the A’s)
Boom-Boom Beck (1939-1942)
King Brady (1905)
Fabio Castro (2006-2007)
Lil Stoner (1931)
Phenomenal Smith (1890-1891)
Heathcliff Slocumb (1994-1995)
Ugueth Urbina (2005)
Antonio Bastardo (2009-?)
BENCH: Choo-Choo Coleman (1961)
Sixto Lezcano (1983-1984)
Pickles Dillhoefer (1918)
Deacon van Buren (1912)
Moose McCormick (1908)
Rabbit Benton (1922)
Bunny Madden (1911)
Mickey Morandini (1990-1997)
On August 17, 1957, Richie Ashburn showed the world his true colors. Although he is universally beloved in Philadelphia for his performance on the field and the relationship he forged with fans as a broadcaster, he was actually a belligerent grandmom hater. Just ask Alice Roth.
Mrs. Roth, the wife of Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor Earl Roth, decided to take in the Phillies-Giants game with her two grandsons, Preston and Tom, at Shibe Park. She and the two young boys were seated in the press box behind third base when Richie Ashburn stepped to the plate. Whitey, known as one of the best pitch-spoilers in baseball history, lined a foul right at Mrs. Roth. Unluckily, she was paying more attention to her grandsons than the game and didn’t see the ball coming. It struck her directly in the face and broke her nose.
As medical personnel rushed to take care of the bleeding and dazed Roth, the umpires called time. After she was attended to for a short while, play resumed. The next pitch came in and Ashburn did the unthinkable: He sent another foul ball to the left side that hit Alice…while she was lying on a stretcher being carried out of the section.
For another foul ball related article, check out the story of Robert Cotter.
Hall of Fame receiver Pete Pihos, known as “The Golden Greek”, passed away this morning at age 87. This from Comcast Sportsnet:
Eagles Hall of Fame receiver Pete Pihos died Tuesday morning at the age of 87. Pihos, who had Alzheimer’s disease, died in his sleep at 1:40 a.m.
Pihos spent his entire nine-year career with the Eagles and helped lead them to consecutive championships in 1948 and 1949. He caught the game-winning touchdown in the ’49 championship game against the Rams.
A six-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro, he led the NFL in receptions for three straight seasons (1953-55). He also led the league in receiving yards twice (1953 and 1955) and once in touchdown catches (1953).
Despite the fact that he played in a “run first era”, he still has the 3rd most catches in Eagles history.Furthermore, he was a 2 way player, and was an All-Pro on defense in 1952. In 1953, he became the first Eagle receiver to have a 1,000 yard season (while playing 12 games), and he still has the 3rd most career catches and the 4th most career yards receiving in Eagles history.
But he was more than just a Hall of Fame football player. We don’t really get to know our sports heroes personally, and if we’re honest with ourselves we know that we’re primarily cheering for the uniform, and rarely the human inside of it. But Pete Pihos’s daughter Melissa has made sure that her father is remembered as more than just a Hall of Fame athlete. She is a performance artist in North Carolina, and she made this short but moving documentary about her father’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago. More than just a great athlete, her video makes it clear that her father was also a heck of a guy. RIP, Pete Pihos.
Well eventually we were going to come across a person who didn’t grow up here (besides myself). So today we present to you Brandyn Campbell, better known to her fans as the Philly Sports Muse. If you went to Penn State, you may actually enjoy her memory, as it has to do with a loss by one of your chief rivals. And strangely, numerous members of the 1992 Ohio State team she talks about have Philly connections.
My strongest and most vivid memory has to do with a team and a sport that may surprise you.
If you’ve ever met me or stumbled upon my blog, Philly Sports Muse, you know that I am a football fan. Yet my early days of sports fanaticism were devoted to another sport.
My junior high and high school years were spent in Michigan. I rooted primarily for the Detroit Pistons. It was the era of Isaiah Thomas before the sexual harassment allegations and Dennis Rodman before he lost his mind.
The only thing I loved more than the Pistons was Ohio State’s basketball team (sorry, Penn Staters). The team at the time included some names that may be familiar to you as Philadelphia sports fans.
My beloved OSU team was coached by Randy Ayers, who followed my inspired lead and made his way to Philadelphia as assistant coach of the 76ers for 6 years beginning in 1997, then was head coach for the team from 2003-2004.
Jim Jackson (right), OSU’s star who in his younger days went by Jimmy, was my hands down favorite member of the team and overall favorite college athlete. He also made his way to Philly for one year, along with a a whopping eleven other stops in the NBA.
Lawrence Funderburke was on the team, a player who sadly had a short and lackluster career in the NBA. Chris Jent, my second favorite player on the squad experienced a similar fate in pro ball as Funderburke. But as luck would have it, Jent too made his way to Philadelphia in 2003 as an assistant coach for the Sixers.
Back in Columbus, Ohio State was the #1 regional seed two years in a row during the NCAA Championship, in 1991 and 1992. Both years they failed to make the most of the opportunity.
I don’t remember much about what happened in 1991. However, the tragedy of what occurred in ’92 sticks with me.
OSU was in the Elite Eight. The last minutes of their game against Michigan’s Fab Five were gut-wrenching, as they always are in college basketball. Ohio State was sure to win. They held a 4 point lead with a few minutes left. But Michigan came back to tie the game, and a last second shot by the Buckeyes rimmed out.
The game went to overtime, which Michigan dominated, talking trash the whole time. The Fab Five, with a 75-71 win (here’s an article about that game written by Mike Missanelli), were headed to the Final Four. Ohio State was headed home.
It felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I couldn’t believe that the run was over.
Somehow after those last minutes I wound up on the floor of my house. And there I sat for a half hour, uttering a word to no one.
Though the teams and sports I root for now are different, I will never forget that moment. Why?
Because it’s my clearest and earliest memory of displaying everything I believe about being a sports fan. If my full body, heart, mind and soul aren’t committed to a game, then there is no point in watching. Why bother to root for a team if you’re not going to pour everything you have into it?
This story actually makes me smile because, in hindsight, this early heartbreak was perfect preparation for becoming a Philadelphia sports fan.