Way back when I was interviewing for my Ph.D. in sports, culture and media at New York University, one of my professors suggested I check out Howell Cosell. The bombastic broadcaster was at the top of his game then. I got to his office in Manhattan having arranged the interview with someone at ABC. "What is this all about?" I explained quickly, sensing that he was rushed. "Why the hell do you want to do something like that?" he snapped. "Why not do work on racism in sports, something important." I explained that I was too far along. All I wanted from him as a "designer voice" was a few paragraphs to put into the thesis to satisfy the powers-that-be over me. "For crying out loud," he smiled, "why didn't you say so in the first place?" Howard Cosell intelligently and quickly gave me what I needed, and he even spent some time chatting with me about sports. And that was that. But I never forgot that meeting. Now there is "Howard Cosell" by Mark Ribowsky (Norton, $29.95, 477 pages), a book that its subject would have enjoyed. We are there with the man some called "the mouth" from the middle 1950s into the 1980s. Cosell was medium, message, massage. He was front stage, back stage, off stage a lawyer transformed into a broadcaster, a force. Ribowsky has produced a mighty epic here, a loving, loathing, lingering portrait of Cosell. It is a book that reveals what drove a master media showman, what devils possessed him, and how he transformed sports and media at the same time. Sections dealing with his relationship with Ali, with Monday Night Football, with his growing up years are especially insightful. As Cosell said of himself: "Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, and verbose, a show-off, I have been all of these. Of course, I am." He was all of these, and he was something special. A HIGHLY RECOMMENDED READ In the same vein, sort of, as "Howard Cosell," there is also "Shaq Uncut" by Shaquille O'Neal with Jackie Macmullan (Grand Central Publishing, $27.99, 290 pages). It's a slam dunk of a book. The gang's all here in this tome sub-titled "My Story" - -Kobe, Phil Jackson, DWade, LeBron, Jerry West and Pat Riley, family members, friends and enemies. This is a page turned filled with honest and not so honest observations, filled with true confessions, filled with humor and even philosophy. The man called "Superman," "Diesel," "The Real Deal" and "The Big Shamrock" and lots of others things, has his say here. MOST ENJOYABLE. "John Feinstein's "One on One" (Little Brown, $27.99, 533 pages) is a Niagara of a book focused on a memoir of just some of the author's inside sports (locker rooms, dugouts, clubhouses, etc.). Feinstein has been there, done , that, seen and heard it all, and he takes great pride in telling you about his times with Tiger Woods, Jim Valvano, Larry Brown, Dean Smith, Tony LaRussa and dozens and dozens more. Unabashed in its approaches, prideful in its approach, "One on One" is part gossip, part star gazing, part sports history - -all John Feinstein. And all lively and riveting reading. "A Team for America" by Randy Roberts (HMH, $26.00, 268 pages) is truly about one of the terrific sagas in sports. Its focus the Army-Navy football game in 1944. The contest united a nation locked in a deadly war. Thorough, engrossing, this tome is a winner. "The Greatest Game" by Todd Denault (McClelland & Stewart, $19.95, 336 pages, trade paperback) is also about a momentous sports contest the Montreal Canadiens versus the team of the Red Army on December 31, 1975. For hockey fans - a must.
With the hot stove baseball season in full swing, fans are eagerly awaiting the next one still many months away. Some have moved over to follow other sports. Some Yankee fans scour the news for free agent and trade rumors and moves. Others read Yankee books. Still others soak up what they can of Yankee history, trivia, oddities. For the "still others," this partial list of New York Yankee nick-names is for you. Babe Ruth leads the pack in the number of nick-names attached to him. First called "Babe" by teammates on the Baltimore Orioles, his first professional team because of his youth, G.H.Ruth was also called "Jidge" by Yankee teammates, short for George. Opponents referred to him negatively as "The Big Monk" and "Monkey." He was also called "Two Head" negative nick-name used by opponents to describe the size of his head which seemed very huge to some. Sports writers glamorizing the big guy came up with these monikers: "The Bambino", "the Wali of Wallop", "the Rajah of Rap", "the Caliph of Clout", "the Wazir of Wham", and "the Sultan of Swat", The Colossus of Clout, Maharajah of Mash, The Behemoth of Bust, "The King of Clout." Other Yankee nick-names, expressions, bon mots that caught on through the decades include: "Root" Owner Jake Ruppert's mispronunciation of Babe Ruth's name. "Babe Ruth's Legs" - Sammy Byrd, used was employed as pinch runner for Ruth. "Bam-Bam" - Hensley Meulens could speak about five languages. His name was challenging to pronounce. "Biscuit Pants" - A reference to the way Lou Gehrig filled out trousers. "Billyball" - the aggressive style of play favored by Billy Martin. "Blind Ryne" - Ryne Duren's vision, uncorrected -20/70 and 20/200. "Bob the Gob" - Bob Shawkey in 1918 served in the Navy as a yeoman petty officer. "Brooklyn Schoolboy" - Waite Hoyt had starred at Brooklyn's Erasmus High School. "Bulldog" - Jim Bouton was dogged. Bye-Bye"- Steve Balboni, the primary DH of the 1990 Yankees, 17 homers but .192 BA. "Chairman of the Board" - Elston Howard coined it for Whitey Ford and his commanding and take charge manner on the mound. "Commerce Comet" - Mickey Mantle, out of Commerce, Oklahoma. "Georgia Catfish" - Jim Hunter, name given to him by Oakland owner Charles Finley, shortened to just "Catfish." ""the CAT-a-lyst" - Mickey Rivers given this name by Howard Cosell. "The Count" - Sparky Lyle, handlebar mustache and lordly ways "The Crow" - Frank Crosetti loud voice and chirpy ways. "Daddy Longlegs" - Dave Winfield, for his size and long legs. "Death Valley" - the old deep centerfield in Yankee Stadium. "Dial-a-Deal - Gabe Paul, for his telephone trading habits. "Donnie Baseball" - Don Mattingly was the only player in any sport to have a nickname with the actual name of his or her sport in it. "Ellie" - affectionate abbreviation of Elston Howard's first name "Father of the Emory Ball" - Rookie right-hander Russ Ford posted a 26-6 record with 8 shutouts, 1910, using that pitch. Flash" - Joe Gordon was fast, slick fielding and hit line drives. Four hour manager" - Bucky Harris, who put his time in at the game and was finished. "Fordham Johnny" - for the college Johnny Murphy attended. "Gator" - Ron Guidry came from Louisiana alligator country. "Gay Reliever" - Joe Page for his night owl activity. "Goofy" or "El Goofo" - earned by Lefty Gomez for his wild antics "The Great Agitator" - for Billy Martin, self explanatory. "Horse Nose" - Pat Collins via Babe Ruth, a reference to a facial feature. "Home Run Twins" (also "M & M Boys") - Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, phrase coined in 1961. "Iron Horse" - Lou Gehrig, for his power and steadiness. "Joltin' Joe" - Joe DiMaggio, for the jolting shots he hit. "Jumping Joe" - Joe Dugan, for being AWOL from his first big league club as a youngster. "Junk Man" - Eddie Lopat, for frustrating hitters and keeping them off stride with an assortment of slow breaking pitches thrown with cunning and accuracy. "Kentucky Colonel" - Earl Combs, for his Kentucky roots. "The King and the Crown Prince" - Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, self evident. "King Kong" - Charlie Keller, for his muscular body type and black, bushy brows. "Knight of Kennett Square" - Herb Pennock, for his raising of thoroughbreds and hosting of fox hunts in his home town of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. "Knucksie" - Phil Niekro, for his knuckleball. "Lonesome George" - George Weiss, for his aloof ways. "Lou'siana Lightnin'" - Ron Guidry, for his fastball and the state he came from. "Mail Carrier "- Earle Combs, for his speed and base stealing skills. "Major" - Ralph Houk, for rank held in the Armed Forces and demeanor. "Man of a Thousand Curves" for Johnny Sain and his assortment of curve balls. "Marse Joe" - Joe McCarthy, for his commanding style. "Master Builder in Baseball" - Jacob Ruppert, and that he was. "The Merry Mortician" -Waite Hoyt, for his cheery soul and off-season mortician work. "Man in the Iron Hat" - Captain Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Hutson, for the same squashed derby hat he wore over and over again. "Man nobody knows" - Bill Dickey, for his blandness. "Mighty Mite" - Miller Huggins, for his size and power. "Milkman" - Jim Turner, for an off-season job delivering milk. "Mr. Automatic" - Mariano Rivera, for his virtually unflappable behavior and special skills as a Yankee stopper. "Mr. May" - George Steinbrenner's sarcastic jibe at Dave Winfield because of his postseason struggles as compared to Reggie Jackson's successes and Mr. October nick-name. "Mr. November" - Derek Jeter, for his World Series home run, the first of November, 2001. "Mr. October" - In Game Five of the 1977 ALCS Billy Martin benched Reggie Jackson. In a comeback win against Kansas City Jackson returned to slap a single. Thurman Munson sarcastically called Jackson "Mr. October." "Moose" - Bill Skowron's, grandfather called him Mussolini because of a resemblance to Mussolini. As the story goes, the family shortened the nickname to "Moose." "Murderer's Row" - Yankee lineup boasting powerful batters: standard version was the meat of the 1927 lineup of Tony Lazzeri, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Earl Combs and Bob Meusel. Backup version was the 1919 entry of Ping Bodie, Roger Peckinpaugh, Duffy Lewis and Home Run Baker. "My writers" - Casey Stengel's phrase for journalists he was close to. "Nightrider" - Don Larsen called himself that because it reminded him of comic books heroes he read about and it fit with his late-night bar wanderings. "Old Reliable" - Mel Allen gave Tommy Henrich that nickname after a train that made its way from Cincinnati through Allen's home state of Alabama and was always on time and could be depended on. Henrich was also called "The Great Debater" for his sometimes loquacious and argumentative ways. "Ole Perfessor" - Casey Stengel, for the time in 1914 when he had a spring training baseball coaching stint at the University of Mississippi. "The Peerless Leader" - Frank Chance, for his keen baseball mind. "Poosh 'em up, Tony" - Tony Lazzeri was a magnet for Italian fans at Yankee Stadium who would scream out this phrase urging him to hit home runs. "Prince Hal" - Hal Chase, for his charismatic, elegant, royal quality. "The Principal Owner" - George Steinbrenner, no doubt here. "Push Button Manager" - Joe McCarthy, for his by the book ways. "Ragin' Cajun" - Ron Guidry, for his Louisiana roots and fire. "Rags" - Dave Righetti, abbreviation of his name "Ruppert Rifles" - The Yankees, during Jake Ruppert's tenure. "Sailor Bob" - Bob Shawkey, for his time spent mostly in 1918 in the Navy as a yeoman petty officer aboard the battleship Arkansas. "Schoolboy" and "Schoolboy Wonder" - Waite Hoyt, for his major league debut in 1918 when he was a teen ager. "Scooter"- Nick-name for Phil Rizzuto coined by Mel Allen. "When Mel saw me run, he said: 'Man, you are not running, you're scootin'. "And from scootin' I got "Scooter." "Second Place Joe" - Joe McCarthy's three straight second-place finishes prompted this tag in the three seasons before the Yanks won four consecutive world championships, 1936-39. The name was also used when he was manager of the Cubs and had some disappointing second place finishes. "Silent Bob" - Bob Meusel, for his aloofness. "Silent One" - Chris Chambliss, for his taciturn manner, name given by Howard Cosell. "Solid citizens"- Name Joe McCarthy gave to players he relied on. "Slick" - Whitey Ford used a spitter to strike out Willie Mays in the 1964 All-Star Game. That was just one of the reasons for the Yankee star's nick-name. "Slow" - Joe Doyle, for his time consuming pace. "Smash" - Gil McDougald, for the verve of his personality. "Springfield Rifle" - Vic Raschi, after his arm and his birthplace in Springfield, Massachusetts. "Spud" - Spurgeon Ferdinand Chandler was called that,easier for everyone. "Squire (or Knight) of Kennett Square" - Herb Pennock came from historic Kennett Square, PA an area of horsemen and fox hunters. Pennock himself was an expert rider and a master of hounds. "Steady Eddie" - Eddie Lopat, for his consistency year after year as a Yankee pitcher, nick-name originated with Mel Allen. "Stick" - Gene Michael, for his lean and long appearance. "Superchief" Allie Reynolds, for his one-quarter Creek Indian ancestry and winning ways on the mound. "Supersub" - Johnny Blanchard, home run hitter as a pinch hitter,. extraordinaire. "The Switcher" - Mickey Mantle, for switch-hitting par excellence. "T.J." - Tommy John. "Tanglefoot Lou" - For Lou Gehrig, early days and fielding trials as a player. "The Tabasco Kid" - Norman Arthur Elberfeld, for his liking of the stuff and his personality. "Three Million Dollar Man" - Nick-name placed on Catfish Hunter when he signed with the Yankees as a free agent for that sum in 1974. "Twinkletoes" - George Selkirk, for his running with his weight on the balls of his feet. "The Unholy Trio" - Billy Martin, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, for their devilish ways. "The Weatherman" - Mickey Rivers, for his knack for predicting weather. "The Warrior" - Paul O'Neill, name pinned on him by George Steinbrenner for the outfielder's pugnacious ways. "The White Gorilla" - Goose Gossage, for the way he looked. "Whitey" - Whitey Ford, for the tow head blonde hair he sported as a 50s hurler. "Window breakers" - Name given to the 1936 Yankees for their slugging power. "Winny" - Dave Winfield, affectionate shortening of his name. "The Yankee Clipper" - for Joe DiMaggio for the way he glided about centerfield at Yankee Stadium. "The Yankee Clipper" - A slap at George Steinbrenner who longed to see his players clean-shaven. "The Yankee Empire Builder" - Ed Barrow was all of that.