The Finest Nickname in Baseball

Commentator Frank Deford notes that the strong start of the Chicago White Sox this year pales in comparison to their fine nickname: the Pale Hose.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Chicago White Sox have a fine tradition of losing; plus, one of the finest nicknames in all of sport, as commentator Frank Deford notes.

FRANK DEFORD:

Most everybody is familiar with the famous phrase from the Bible, Book of Ecclesiaticus: `Let us now praise famous men.' It's later on in that chapter that we get to the part less well known: `But of others, there is no memory. They have perished as though they had never existed. They have become as though they have never been born.' Surely you recognize now we are talking about the Chicago White Sox.

Other losing teams, notably their uptown brethren, the sainted Cubbies, are beloved for their failure. The ChiSox, who have not won a World Series since 1917, losing two in that long interval--one haplessly, one on purpose--are at best damned with faint praise. Their most famous ancient champions were dismissed as the Hitless Wonders. Their best team of recent vintage, the '83 divisional champions, had as their lovely battle cry, `Winning ugly.' Well, that's uplifting. And, of course, the sad Sox are responsible for the gloomiest, most depressing utterance in all of sport: `Say it ain't so, Joe. Say it ain't so.'

But you know the one thing the woe Sox do have? They own the best alternative nickname in sport: Pale Hose. Let it drip off your tongue, Pale Hose. I can only suppose that once sometime long ago some headline poet of the sports pages, searching desperately for a shorter synonym for `white stockings,' came up with that truly magnificent Pale Hose. Even now, though, I don't think any human being has ever actually said, `Pale Hose.' It is strictly a newspaper term to be printed, like `feted,' `tabbed,' `tiff,' `melee,' `as follows,' `Sino,' `nuptials,' `garner,' `senior circuit' and `GOP.' Nobody ever speaks those words. Nobody ever says, `Pale Hose.' You're hearing it here for the first time.

Alternative nicknames for teams are very rare, too. The Bronx Bombers are surely the most famous. America's Team might have stuck for the Cowboys, but now it's employed only facetiously. Monsters of the Midway for the Bears has gone the way of The Gashouse Gang and the Purple People Eaters and Dem Bums when the Dodgers were in Brooklyn. The Rangers are still the Broadway Blues, whenever again they might play hockey, and the Canadiens are the Habs, which is short for Habitants, a French term used in the local vernacular to denote the farmers of Quebec. That's the most obscure alternative nickname.

However, most of them are pretty obvious: The Bucs for the Pirates, the Tribe for the Indians, the Fish for the Dolphins, the Flock for the Orioles, the Birds for the Orioles and the Cardinals. Big birds, like the Eagles, the Falcons and the Hawks, are never called birds. I don't think the Lions have ever been called the Pride, either. The Angels are sometimes the Halos, and the Chargers become the Bolts. I think that's a good one. I like the Bolts. But nothing approaches Pale Hose.

And now, of all things, the Pale Hose are off one of their best starts ever. Whatever, America, let us have pity on the unfamous men, the Who Sox. Let us all, to our dear hearts, take the Pale Hose.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford. His newest book is "The Old Ball Game," about baseball in America at the start of the 20th century. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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