From Big Papi to Oil Can: Red Sox nicknames

January 9th, 2021

Through the years, the Red Sox have not only had great players on their roster, but also some who had great nicknames.

In the spirit of that, has gathered a collection of the best nicknames in Red Sox history and the reasons behind them. (Keep in mind that we opted not to pick any that were a shorten version of a last name. Sorry, Yaz and Youk.)

Here are the best monikers for one of MLB’s most tradition-rich teams.

Big Papi: Everyone knows that David Ortiz is Big Papi and will be forever. But when did he get that nickname? Fittingly, it was in 2004, the year that he became a legend for his October heroics in leading the Red Sox to their first World Series championship in 86 years. Early in the season, people around the Sox noticed that Ortiz called numerous people "Papi" as they walked by.

It turns out there was a reason. Ortiz readily admits that he has a hard time remembering first names, so uttering "Papi" pretty much covered all the bases when he was greeting men. Give legendary Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy credit for taking it a step further and referring to Ortiz as “Big Papi” in NESN broadcasts that season. The name caught on.

The Kid: We aren’t talking about Gary Carter or Ken Griffey Jr. Long before that, Ted Williams was The Kid who emerged as one of the best hitters in history. When he arrived at his first Spring Training with the Red Sox due to floods in California, Red Sox clubhouse attendant Johnny Orlando blurted out in the clubhouse, “The Kid has arrived.” The name stuck. Williams probably carried more nicknames than any great player in history. He was also called the Splendid Splinter, Teddy Ballgame and The Thumper.

The Rocket: When Roger Clemens arrived at Fenway Park on April 29, 1986, he was just another promising young pitcher trying to live up to the hype. That night, he set a Major League record with 20 strikeouts in a start against the Mariners. Teammate Bruce Hurst was so mesmerized by the performance that he dubbed Clemens “Rocketman” due to the way his fastball roared to home plate. Eventually, most people shortened it to Rocket. Clemens genuinely loves the nickname, and he is still called Rocket by many ex-teammates years later. The Rocket won a record-setting seven Cy Young Awards in his career, the first three for the Red Sox.


Oil Can: Dennis Boyd? Who is Dennis Boyd? Plenty of Red Sox fans would probably do a double-take on this one, but everyone knows who Oil Can is. So how did this key rotation member for the mid-1980s Sox get that nickname?

“Everybody says it's because I drank a lot of beer, and they called beer 'oil' down in Mississippi, but that's not true. It was rot-gut whiskey. Everybody in Meridian, where I grew up, drank it,” Boyd told journalist Saul Wisnia in 2012. “You got it from a lady up the street named Big Mama, who was the neighborhood moonshiner. I used to go up to her house and fetch it for my mother, sneaking it into our house under my shirt so my father wouldn't see it.

“When I was 7, I started drinking some myself. One day somebody caught us in a tin shed drinking Big Mama's whiskey out of oil cans, so my friend Pap started calling me 'Oil Can.' I wrote it under the bill of my baseball cap, and my high school teammates started calling me that too. It stuck.”

The Spaceman: Bill Lee had one of the most out-there personalities in baseball history, but that shouldn’t obscure what a good pitcher he was. In a 10-year career with the Red Sox (1969-78), Lee went 94-68 with a 3.64 ERA. So how did he become the Spaceman? In '72, astronaut Gene Cernan walked on the moon. When a Red Sox backup infielder named John Kennedy was asked about it, he uttered, “We have our own Spaceman,” in reference to Lee, and his many wild takes on the world.

The Monster: Dick Radatz sure was a menacing presence on the mound for the Red Sox from 1962-65, and he was widely considered to be the most dominant reliever in the game over those four seasons. In particularly, Radatz owned Mickey Mantle. The switch-hitting legend struck out 12 times in 16 at-bats against Radatz, and some reports suggest that it was Mantle who dubbed him “The Monster.”

El Guapo: Who was the last Red Sox player player to wear No. 34 before David Ortiz? None other than reliever Rich Garces, who was known affectionately by teammates and fans alike as “El Guapo.” While pitching with Garces at Triple-A Pawtucket, Mike Maddux came up with the nickname, which translates to “handsome man.” Garces, known as much for his size as his fastball, embraced the name. In turn, he became a cult hero and key reliever for the Red Sox from 1996-2002. In the late '90s, you could find as many fans wearing El Guapo shirts around Fenway as the two legends of the team at that time -- Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez.

Laser Show: After a game at Fenway Park on May 4, 2010, David Ortiz was mired in one of the worst slumps of his career. It got so bad that then-manager Terry Francona pinch-hit for him a couple of times. Dustin Pedroia, Ortiz’s close friend and teammate, was unfazed. Speaking to reporters postgame, Pedroia said, A couple of years ago, I had 60 at-bats, I was hitting .170, and everyone was ready to kill me, too,” Pedroia said after that game. “And what happened? Laser show. So relax.”

Pedroia often referred to putting on a “laser show” with his bat. After that interview in which he defended Ortiz, the nickname took off for the second baseman, who is one of the best all-around players in Red Sox history.

Pudge: While younger fans might think Ivan Rodriguez was the first Hall of Fame catcher to be called "Pudge," those who have been around a little longer know better. Carlton Fisk, most famous for waving that home run fair to end Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, was the original Pudge. He got the nickname as a kid growing up in New Hampshire because he was, well, a little pudgy. Even though he was in great shape throughout his career -- he retired at age 45 -- the name stuck.

The Little Professor: Dom DiMaggio might not have been a legend like his brother, Joe, but he had a fine career from 1940-53, all of it with the Red Sox. He became the Little Professor because of his slight frame (5-foot-9, 168 pounds) and the fact he was one of the few players who wore glasses. Dom was a seven-time All-Star and had a career .298 batting average.

The Hit Dog: The Braves had their Crime Dog in Fred McGriff. But the Red Sox countered with the Hit Dog in Mo Vaughn. The lefty slugger caused a lot of torment with a bat in his hand, belting 230 homers to go with a .936 OPS in eight years with the Sox in the 1990s. When Vaughn swung the bat, it looked more like he was trying to attack the baseball rather than just hit it -- hence the nickname.

Boomer: David Wells? Chris “back, back, back” Berman? No, the original Boomer in the sports world was George Scott, the big slugger for the Red Sox who hit prodigious homers. Scott famously called his homers “taters.” He is also one of the best defensive first basemen of all time. Scott had two stints with Boston (1966-71, ’77-79) and belted 154 taters for the Red Sox.

The Rooster: There were better players on the Red Sox in the 1970s. But nobody was more fiery than shortstop Rick Burleson. As Lee once said, “Some guys are mad when they are losing. Rick was mad when the score was tied.” So why the Rooster? Don Zimmer -- Burleson’s third-base coach at the beginning of his career -- came up with it.

“[Zimmer] was the third-base coach for the Red Sox when I came up in ’74,” Burleson said years ago. “He used to hit me ground balls day in and day out, all through Spring Training and during pregame. One day he says, 'Look at him out there, with his hat off and his hair standing up; he looks like a rooster walking around.' And that’s the kind of player I was, too; a fighter. It stuck. People still call me 'Rooster.' I never minded it.”