To anyone who watches sports highlights on television, it is apparent that many professional athletes have clever nicknames. These nicknames are often a manifestation of some personal characteristic of the player, are catchy and add a personal insight into the player. A compilation of what are considered the top 100 nicknames in professional sports is readily available in a July 2011 Bleacher Report article. I reviewed this list and came up with my top five. My personal ranking is based not on the skill and prestige of the player, but rather on the humor and wit of the nickname. 

Number Five: Bill “The Spaceman” Lee (baseball)

Lee had a successful 14-year pitching career that began in 1969, first with the Boston Red Sox and later with the Montreal Expos. However, it was his out-of-sight personality and non-conformist attitude that led to his nickname. As stated by John Prime in an Aug. 2014 Sabr article. “In fairness, Lee would have been an eccentric in almost any field he chose to pursue, but in baseball he was considered positively certifiable. His often outrageous statements and bizarre actions marked him as an oddity and ensured Lee a lasting reputation in the buttoned-down baseball world.”  Comments attributed to Lee in an article from the  Baseball Almanac include “The more self-centered and egotistical a guy is, the better ballplayer he’s going to be,” and “I’m mad at Hank (Aaron) for deciding to play one more season. I threw him his last home run and thought I’d be remembered forever. Now, I’ll have to throw him another.”  As a free spirit, “The Spaceman” has an appropriate  nickname.


Number Four: Calvin “Megatron” Johnson (football)

Johnson had a stellar career, playing from 2007 to 2015 with the Detroit Lions. At 6’5” and 237 lbs. Johnson’s size and strength led to his clever nickname. According to James F. Puzzoli, “Wide receiver Roy Williams is responsible for Johnson’s larger-than-life nickname, “Megatron.” Williams gave Johnson the nickname during his 2007 rookie campaign. Megatron was meant to evoke the big strong robot of the 2007 “Transformers” live-action film, as per a July 2018 article from Sidelion Report. Recalling the intimidating “Transformer” action figures, this nickname was accurately cast.


Number Three: Ted “Splendid Splinter” Williams (baseball)

Brandeis students from the Boston area need only ask their grandparents about this super-star Red Sox player from 1939 through 1960. Though he missed the 1943-45 seasons serving in the Navy and Marine corps in WWII, he is recognized as the greatest hitter in baseball history, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Williams was 6’3” and lanky with a masterful swing, thus “The Splendid Splinter,” as stated on the Factmonster website. This elegant and delicate nickname is befitting for a true master of his craft. 


Number Two: David (The Admiral) Robinson (basketball)

Robinson played college basketball at the United States Naval Academy, where he studied mathematics. After completing his service in the United States Navy, Robinson began a Hall of Fame career with the San Antonio Spurs, where he played from 1989 until 2003. Robinson is also known for his charitable works and outstanding citizenship and is highly respected both within and out of the NBA world. In his final season, the San Antonio Spurs won the NBA Championship. At the Championship Trophy presentation, following Robinson’s final game as a professional basketball player, NBA Commissioner David Stern said of Robinson, “One of the greats we get a chance to say goodbye to tonight, David Robinson. Thank you." It is safe to say the nickname “The Admiral” is self-explanatory.


Number One: William “The Refrigerator” Perry (football)

Perry, known as “The Refrigerator,” or simply “The Fridge” is a former much beloved defensive lineman who spent almost his entire career, from 1985 to 1994, with the Chicago Bears. He was, at the time, the largest player in the NFL at 6’2”, 335 lbs, as stated on His easy-going personality and friendly demeanor made him a favorite among fans and teammates.“If you didn’t like Fridge,” said Mike Ditka, his former NFL coach in Chicago, “you didn’t like anybody”, according to an article in Sports Illustrated. However, it was his gastronomic prowess that led to his nickname. Telander further says “He could eat like a shark, guzzle like a horse, take off like a rabbit, jump like a lion.” It appears that this all-in-good-fun nickname is spot on. 

In summary, nicknames help endear to us to our famous athletes by recognizing their outstanding abilities and sometimes eccentricities. They may also gently and “in-fun” mildly poke fun at the person, laughing with them but not at them. I believe that they tend to make more personal the relationship between our athletic heroes and us and add fun and some spice to our sports fandom.