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The 25 all-time New York sports nicknames

Jets quarterback Joe Namath smiles as he arrives

Jets quarterback Joe Namath smiles as he arrives at the stadium in Jacksonville, Florida, on Jan. 19, 1969. Credit: AP/Anonymous

Pete "Polar Bear" Alonso and Jeff "Squirrel" McNeil have revived the fading art of the sports nickname as budding Mets stars. But cool monikers go only so far.

To stand the test of time in New York’s nickname pantheon, one must have a memorable one AND staying power. Remember the "Dark Knight of Gotham"? That was a thing earlier this decade. So was "Linsanity."

Archibald "Moonlight" Graham was a thing, too — for one inning with the 1905 Giants.

Just for fun, and inspired by Alonso and McNeil, we present our list of the top 25 all-time New York sports nicknames.

Some rules: To keep it simple, we included only baseball, football, basketball and hockey, and only athletes who have strong associations with New York teams. Sorry, "Great One" and "Big Unit."

And the focus is sports-centric names, not childhood ones that stuck, like "Pee Wee," "Yogi," "Casey" and "Duke." Same for "Tuffy" Leemans and "Gump" Worsley, alas.

So here we go, beginning with the best:

No. 1 -- “The Sultan of Swat": George Herman “Babe” Ruth

The New York sports personality against which all others are judged, “The Great Bambino” was so big he had multiple memorable nicknames. “The Colossus of Clout” hit 714 home runs and is the all-time career leader in WAR at 182.4.

No. 2 -- “Broadway Joe: Joe Namath

In football terms, Namath’s crowning achievement was leading the Jets to victory in Super Bowl III. But he was much more than that, helping to put the AFL on the map and pioneering modern sports marketing — and sports celebrity culture.

No. 3 – The Yankee Clipper”: Joe DiMaggio

This nickname is a tad old-fashioned but still resonates as a classic of the genre. It references the centerfielder’s resemblance to a smooth, speedy sailing ship of yore. But if the blunter “Joltin’ Joe” strikes your fancy, that works, too.

No. 4 – Tom Terrific”: Tom Seaver

So sacred is this moniker to Mets fans that when Tom Brady tried to trademark it this year, it caused an uproar. The feds turned him down, saying it clearly is associated with Seaver, who also answers to “The Franchise.”

No. 5 – Dr. J”: Julius Erving

Sure, he spent only three seasons with the Nets during their Nassau Coliseum heyday, but when you played at Roosevelt High School, are a former Newsday paper boy and won two ABA championships in those three seasons, you are in!

No. 6 – Clyde”: Walt Frazier

Like his football counterpart Joe Namath, Frazier epitomized late 1960s cool and added spice to a Knicks team mostly known for its clinical precision. Frazier led two NBA championship teams at the Garden; fans still are waiting for a third.

No. 7 – The Iron Horse”: Lou Gehrig

It matters not that Cal Ripken Jr. surpassed Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 games played. He remains the definitive “Iron Horse.” Tragic irony: He is known both for his durability and for dying at 37 from an illness now known by his name.

No. 8 – Mr. October”: Reggie Jackson

Jackson spent nine years in Oakland and won three World Series there, compared with five and two in the Bronx. But when we think of his Octobers, we think of his exploits in pinstripes, not in Athletics green and gold.

No. 9 – The Say Hey Kid”: Willie Mays

Mays won his only World Series and first MVP award in New York, for the 1954 Giants, then returned as a Met and was on their 1973 pennant winner. He was regarded as the best all-around player of his era.

No. 10 – Donnie Baseball”: Don Mattingly

No one has played so long and so well for the Yankees without reaching a World Series, but such is Mattingly’s fate, despite a 14-year career that included a batting title, an AL MVP and being named the team’s captain.

No. 11 – Earl the Pearl”: Earl Monroe

From his days as a Philadelphia playground legend, Monroe was known for ballhandling wizardry. He rose to NBA stardom with the Bullets, but he won it all as a Knick after being paired with Walt Frazier in a superstar backcourt.

No. 12 – Scooter”: Phil Rizzuto

Dubbed “Scooter” because of his running style, Rizzuto won seven World Series as the Yankees shortstop and was the 1950 AL MVP. But for later generations of fans, he was known for his four decades as a quirky, iconic announcer.

No. 13 – Dr. K”: Dwight Gooden

The “Doc” part of the nickname dates to Gooden’s childhood, but the “K” came when he reached the majors as a strikeout-producing Mets phenom in the mid-1980s. He inspired the “K Korner” at Shea, where fans kept track of opponents’ many whiffs.

No. 14 – The Chairman of the Board”: Whitey Ford

Catcher Elston Howard came up with the nickname to celebrate Ford’s always-in-control demeanor as the Yankees’ pitching ace during the 1950s and early ‘60s. He won the 1961 Cy Young Award, and his career record is 236-106, a remarkable .690 percentage.

No. 15 – Chico”: Glenn Resch

As the Islanders rose to respectability in the mid-to-late 1970s, their goalie rose to huge popularity among fans, acquiring a nickname tied to a resemblance to Freddie Prinze, star of a TV show of the era, “Chico and the Man.”

No. 16 – The Kid”: Gary Carter

The Hall of Fame plaque features an Expos hat, but Mets fans know he was the final piece of the 1986 championship team — and started the winning rally against the Red Sox in Game 6. Why “Kid”? Because of his youthful enthusiasm, of course.

No. 17 – Revis Island”: Darrelle Revis

During his prime as a Jets cornerback, Revis found himself lonely — if not bored — at times on the deserted “island” that was his side of the field, which opposing quarterbacks often chose to ignore rather than challenge his coverage skills.

No. 18 – Louisiana Lightning”: Ron Guidry

“Gator” works, too, but let’s go with the alliterative tribute to the late-‘70s Yankees ace, who in 1978 finished 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA. His second-place finish to Jim Rice in the AL MVP vote still annoys New York fans.

No. 19 – Le Grand Orange”: Rusty Staub

The nickname may have been born in French-Canadian Montreal, but the man spent more than twice as long in New York — nine seasons in two stints. In 1983 he tied a big-league record with 25 RBIs as a pinch hitter.

No. 20 -- Grandmama”: Larry Johnson

While his best seasons were in Charlotte, Johnson also spent five with the Knicks, playing a key role on the 1999 NBA Finals team. He got his nickname from a memorable character he played, appearing in Converse commercials on the TV show “Family Matters.”

No. 21 – Nails”: Len Dykstra

Despite the fact he played more seasons with the Phillies than the Mets, no one will forget the key role he played for the 1986 World Series winners, and the gritty personal and professional style that earned him his nickname.

No. 22 – Big Six”: Christy Mathewson

“Big Six” refers to Mathewson’s height, or the nickname of a well-known New York firehouse of the era. Either way, “Matty” is among the best pitchers in history. In the 1905 World Series, he threw three shutouts in six days.

No. 23 – Catfish”: Jim Hunter

Owner Charles Finley nicknamed Hunter “Catfish” in Oakland because he liked the sound of it. It stuck when he joined the Yankees in 1975 as a pioneering big-money free agent. He delivered with a 23-14 record and 30 (!) complete games.

No. 24 – Harry the Horse”: Harry Howell

No one has played more games as a Ranger than the Hall of Fame defenseman of the 1950s and ‘60s, who died in March. Howell played 17 of his 21 seasons with the Rangers, winning the Norris Trophy in 1966-67.

No. 25 – Spider”: Carl Lockhart

Hall of Famer-turned-coach Emlen Tunnell gave Lockhart his nickname in 1965. It stuck through an 11-year, two-Pro Bowl career. After he died of cancer at age 43 just before the 1986 season, the Giants wore “Spider” uniform patches for their entire run to Super Bowl XXI.

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