They just don't nickname 'em like they used to.
So laments sports columnist Dave Anderson in today's New York Times. Back in the day, every sports hero--from The Babe to Doctor J to Broadway Joe--had a memorable moniker. The boys of summer had boyish handles to match: Pee Wee Reese (so named not for his stature but for his favorite marble), Yogi Berra (whose pals thought he looked guru-esque when he sat cross-legged), Duke Snider, Catfish Hunter. Boxing rings were filled with the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson, the Manassa Mauler, and the Brown Bomber. And football was a nicknamer's field of dreams, peopled by guys a/k/a Crazylegs, Too Tall, and the Minister of Defense.
Today? Well, there's Tiger Woods, whose birth certificate reads "Eldrick." "But few of today's best sports names have a nickname," writes Anderson. "Maybe the big money has drained the fun out of nicknames."
Anderson doesn't look outside North America, but I'd venture that the trend is international. Quick: Think of a soccer player since Pele who was known by his nickname. Ronaldinho, Robinho, and their ilk don't count--they're diminutives, not true nicknames.
("Nickname," by the way, came into English around 1440 as a misdivision of "an ekename," in which "eke" means "increase" or "add to.")