The Big Hurt Goes into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the Nickname Hall of Fame Too
In addition to owning one of the best nicknames in sports, Frank Thomas owned the swing that bestowed it on him. So The Big Hurt was elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame last week, a slugger endowed with the special status of having eluded the steroid pandemic in the midst of the steroid age. The beauty of the nickname lies in two factors: its universality and ambiguity. Those unfamiliar with Thomas or baseball might ask what does that mean, The Big Hurt? A dissection would show that Thomas stood 6’5 and weighed 275 lbs (Big)–the first part is easy. The second half of the dyptych is, more problematically, Hurt, a verb. Was he often injured? No. Hurt is simply what he did to opponents (and baseballs), time and time again.* Search the rich history of sports nicknames–Pee Wee, Babe, Magic, Air, Iron, Sugar, Macho–and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a VERB. It takes a very special player to be a verb. Verbs are what make things go.
And then there is the universality part. Whatever the initial ambiguity, it’s clear to competitors in any sport that given a choice between opposing someone named The Big Hurt and anyone else, they should choose the anyone. An informal survey of chess players in Washington Square Park over the weekend attested to the fact. Play against someone called The Big Hurt? Pick-up basketballers, tennis players, even a Taekwondo instructor we asked preferred, in Bartleby’s stride, not to–never having heard of Thomas. Thomas acquired his nickname from White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson’s coinage way back in 1992, after a 450-foot homerun near the beginning of his career. It probably even helped him on occasion, being branded with a constant reminder of what he was charged with causing. Thomas often flashed his winning smile, which a lot of serious competitors are reluctant to show (lest it be a sign of weakness). When you’re The Big Hurt, you don’t have to worry about things like that.
*Career stats: 10,075 plate appearances, 495 doubles, 521 home runs, .301 average, .419 OBP, and 168 intentional walks (pitcher: “I won’t get Hurt.”)