Quick now, how many current Yankees have nicknames? “A-Rod” for Alex Rodriguez and “Tex” for Mark Teixeira don’t count; those simply involve the shortening of last names for the sake of convenience. In terms of legitimate nicknames, Hideki Matsui has been known as “Godzilla” going back to his days in Japan. Chien-Ming Wang used to be called “Tiger” in the minor leagues, but the moniker has never caught on in the big leagues. Then there’s Alfredo Aceves, who is known as “Ace,” and Melky Cabrera, sometimes called the “Melkman,” but they’re not exactly the most creative of nicknames. And that’s about it.
The Yankees are pretty typical in this regard these days. Nicknaming has become a lost art in the contemporary game, partly for reasons of political correctness and partly because we’ve just become damn lazy. At one time, nicknames were a huge part of the game’s subculture, largely because of the influence of headline and beat writers at newspapers and local team broadcasters. The 1960s represented one of the golden eras for nicknames. It is in that decade that we find one of the most creative and fitting nicknames of all time, even if it did have to belong to a Red Sox first baseman.
By the summer of 1964, Dick Stuart had firmly established a reputation as one of the worst defensive players in the major leagues. Although he was the starting first baseman for the Sox, Stuart couldn’t do anything well with the glove. (That’s probably why Topps showed him with a bat in his 1964 card.) With hands of gypsum, dime-like range, and generally poor instincts, Stuart achieved the Triple Crown of fielding ineptitude. By most accounts, he was also indifferent to the defensive game, so he never motivated himself to improve. Now I never actually saw Stuart play, but I’ve heard so many stories of his lack of defensive prowess that some of them have to be true.
With such anecdotal and statistical evidence (he reached double figures in errors eight times), it’s safe to say that Stuart was historically bad when it came to the business of guarding first base. So it was quite appropriate that in 1964 one of his teammates fitted him with the nickname of “Dr. Strangeglove.” The creation of such a name relied heavily on Hollywood; the Peter Sellers black comedy, Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, had just been released in theaters on January 29. By placing the letter “g” between the “e” and the “l” in Strangelove, the unknown Red Sox teammate had devised a pithy play on words while tapping the popular culture of the day. The timing could not have been better, considering that Stuart had made 29 errors the previous season, a simply remarkable achievement for someone playing first base.
Stuart’s haphazard fielding had nothing to do with the movie’s plot, in which an insane general tries to initiate nuclear holocaust while politicians do their best—ineptly, I might add—to save the world. The supremely talented Sellers played three roles in the film, including the title role of “Dr. Strangelove,” an important scientist in Nazi Germany. Stuart was similarly schizophrenic to the versatile Sellers; as poor a fielder as Stuart was, he was often a feared slugger, once hitting a career-high 42 bombs for the Red Sox.
Not surprisingly, the creative moniker of Dr. Strangeglove took hold quickly and never let up, becoming almost mandatory whenever Stuart’s real name was uttered. When another 1964 film, Goldfinger, achieved a level of mass popularity, a few folks tried to attach the nickname “Stonefingers” to Stuart, but that label never really caught on.
All in all, Stonefingers is pretty good, but Dr. Strangeglove is just great. Is it the best nickname of all time? I’ll leave that up to you, the reader, to decide.