Friday, January 16, 2009

What's in a name?

Snow isn’t so bad when there’s sunshine to brighten everything. I woke up this morning to a pleasant light flooding my window. Pleasant because I was indoors, that is. This negative ten stuff is getting old. Anyway, there are two cardinals, a male and a female, who usually are hanging out in a firebush outside the window, but they haven’t been around since the extreme cold hit. I wonder where they go when it gets this cold.

It got me thinking about how many baseball teams are named after birds. Aside from the Cardinals, there are the Orioles and the Blue Jays. There used to be the Sparrows and Robins. And then I started to think about the names of baseball teams in general. How did they come into existence? Well, I decided to do a little reading, and I found the history of team names quite interesting. Here are the histories of the National League team names:

NL Central

Reds – Us Reds fans know that the original name of the Reds was the Red Stockings, for obvious reasons. Founded in 1869 as the first professional baseball team, the Reds were one of the charter members of the National League when it was founded in 1876, but the team was expelled from the league in 1880 for selling beer at their games and for playing games on Sundays. In 1882, the American Association was formed (what is now the Midwest AAA league) and the Reds played in that league until 1890, when they were reinstated into the National League. The name was shortened to Reds in 1911, a nickname used by fans since the American Association days. In 1956, the Reds briefly changed their name to the Redlegs due to the hyperparanoia of wingnut freaks who thought a communist lurked in every shadow of America. Fear much, morons? Fortunately, common sense prevailed, and the Reds returned to the Reds in 1961.

Cubs – Prior to being an original member of the National League in 1876, the Cubs were known as the White Stockings. In 1890 they were known as the Colts and in 1898 they were known as the Orphans. In 1902, a newspaper writer who thought the team looked very young called them the Cubs, and the name stuck.

Cardinals – The Cardinals came into existence in 1882 when they were known as the St. Louis Brown Stockings of the American Association. The name was soon shortened to Browns, not the same team as the one that played in the American League some time later. In 1892 the team transferred to the National League, when they changed their name to the Perfectos. That name didn’t even last a season before reporters were calling them the Cardinals for the color of their uniforms. Reds, of course, was already taken. I guess coming in fifth place wasn't exactly perfecto.

Astros – Here is one of the few cities that actually had a violent team name – Colt 45s, after the gun. Leave it to Texas. The franchise changed its name to Astros when it moved into the Astrodome in 1965 after a legal conflict with the Colt Firearms Company involving the sales of merchandise that used the Colt nickname.

Pirates – The original Pirates franchise was formed in 1882 and played in the American Association, but they were known as the Alleghanies because they played across the river from Pittsburgh in the then separate city of Alleghany. They transferred to the National League in 1887 and still had no team nickname. The nickname Pirates came to be in the 1890s when the club was accused of "pirating" Lou Bierbauer, a star second baseman, in the Players’ League settlement following the 1890 season. What happened with the Pirates shows how player-owner relations have always been a problem. According to wiki:
In 1888, baseball owners established rules to categorize players and pay them according to rank. Since the owners set the categories themselves, their new system at first lowered, and then eventually froze players salaries. Shortly before this, in 1885, John Montgomery Ward, a current Major League pitcher and Columbia Law School graduate, had founded the "Brotherhood of Base Ball Players" an association to protect and promote players interests. Baseball owners had instituted their new rules in the off-season without talking with the players, and this led to a riff between them and the players. Despite yearlong efforts to negotiate with the owners over these new restrictions on players, Ward could not get them to bargain or even recognize the Brotherhood. Players revolted and in 1890 they started a new league called the Players' League. The Players' League was spearheaded by Ward, who not only gained financial backers, but he also solicited star players to jump from the National League and American Association to the new league.

With three professional leagues competing, many in the same cities, there was not enough revenue to go around, and each league lost money. Although the Players' League's attendance was the best of the three leagues, it folded after one year. The financially hemorrhaging American Association folded one year later, and the National League absorbed four of its teams.

In 1890, Philadelphia Athletics players Lou Bierbauer and Harry Stovey had jumped to the Players' League. After the Players' League collapsed, through a clerical error the Athletics had failed to reserve Bierbauer's and Stovey's services. Pittsburgh signed Bierbauer and Stovey to contracts. The Athletics protested losing these players, and this led to an impartial Arbitration Board, which included American Association President Allan Thurman. The board ruled in Pittsburgh's favor. Despite the ruling, the Athletics still grumbled at the decision, and ridiculed their cross-state rivals by calling them "Pirates" for "stealing" their players. The "Pirates" tag stuck and the alliterative name was eventually adopted as Pittsburgh's official team nickname. [8] By the time of the 1903 World Series, the team was commonly known as "Pirates", although the club did not acknowledge it on their uniforms until 1912.
Really interesting stuff there.

Brewers – As any baseball fan knows, Milwaukee was the home of the Braves for many years. The Brewers name dates back to 1890, when a team by that name played in the city in the Western League. They retained that name when the Western League became the American league in 1901. (That team later became the St. Louis Browns.) The name was used by a team in the American Association for 50 years, and even when the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee in 1953, the team was still unofficially known as the Brewers. The current Brewers team came into existence in 1970 after a one year failure as the Seattle Pilots. I think the Brewers have one of the coolest names in all of sports, and that old glove logo, which they recently brought back, is one of the coolest logos in all of sports. I just wish we could put them back into the American League.

NL East

Nationals – The Nationals name dates back to the days before professional baseball. The Nationals have the distinction of defeating the Reds in 1868 for the Reds only loss of the season. (Of course, the Reds turned around and went all pro in 1869, going 57-0 in the first season of professional baseball.) A team called the Nationals played in the National Association in 1872 and 1875, the American Association in 1884, the Union Association in 1884, the National League from 1886 to 1889, and the American Association again (also known as the Senators) from 1891 to 1899. The Washington team that played in the American League from 1905 to 1956 (who became the Minnesota Twins) was known officially as the Senators but was called the Nationals by fans. Likewise, the Washington team that played in the American League from 1861 to 1970 (who became the Texas Rangers) was officially known as the Senators but was called the Nationals by fans. Renaming the Washington franchise “Nationals” in 2005 was just appropriate.

Mets – Sometimes when I think about it, I can feel the heartbreak of New York Giants and Dodgers fans when their beloved teams moved to the other coast. It had to be tough to find the heart to follow the new Mets when they arrived in 1962. I’ve always like the fact that the team chose the colors blue and orange as a tribute to the Dodgers and Giants. The original Metropolitans club played in the American Association, that rowdy league of which the Red Stockings were a part. I think its funny how other New York teams chose names that rhyme with Mets (Jets, Nets, Red Bulls…oh wait.)

Phillies – The name Phillies dates back to 1883 when the team first entered the National League. Philadelphians are called Phillies. Not much interesting about their name. Probably the most boring name in baseball. But they’ve never changed it, and that is something to commend them for.

Braves – The Braves began their long history in Boston and have a connection to the Cincinnati Reds franchise. Harry and George Wright, who founded the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1869, found a more lucrative business opportunity in Boston and fled the Queen City for Beantown in 1871 to a franchise also called the Red Stockings. The team, a charter member of the National League, kept that name until 1882, though they were more commonly referred to as the Red Caps to avoid confusion with the other Red Stockings charter member of the NL, the Cincinnati franchise. The name changed to Beaneaters, at least until 1906, when it was changed to Doves. That name only stuck until 1912, when they became the Braves. The Braves name comes from Tammany Hall. The new Boston NL owner had been a member of the Tammany Hall political organization. Tammany Hall was named after an Indian chief and used an Indian image as its symbol. They were known as the Braves until 1935, when they changed the name to the Bees after a vote by the fans. Four years later, they went back to the Braves. They were done with name changes but moved on to city changes, moving to Milwalkee in 1953 and Atlanta in 1966.

Marlins – The Marlins name comes from a history of use with minor league teams in Miami. There were the Miami Marlins of the International League from 1956 to 1960, and the Miami team in the Florida State League was known as the Marlins from 1963 to 1970 and again from 1982 to 1988.

NL West

Giants – This franchise dates back to 1883 when the New York Gothams were admitted to the National League. The Gothams became the Giants when the manager was so overcome with emotion after an extra inning victory that he declared his players ‘Giants’ to reporters. The nickname stuck and was adopted as the team name in 1885.

Dodgers – The Dodgers franchise was accepted to the National League in 1890. Known as the Bridegrooms at the time because a number of the team’s players got married at the same time in 1888, the name Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers was adopted in the 1890s because of the number of trolley lines that ran through Brooklyn, and the name was later shortened to Dodgers because Trolley Dodgers is hard to say! Besides, how would you fit that name on a jersey? The franchise actually dates back to 1880, when they played as the Brooklyn Atlantics in the American Association. (The name Atlantics comes from the Atlantic Baseball Club of the 1860s who famously ended Cincinnati’s two year winning streak.) At various times in the early days, the team was also known as the Superbas, the Infants, and the Robins. Look, another bird name!

Padres – The Padres started out in 1936 in the Pacific Coast League. They were at one time the Reds AAA franchise, and Joe Nuxhall pitched for them after he made his MLB debut at 15 years old until he was ready to return to the Majors. In 1968, the Padres were promoted to the Major Leagues as an expansion team. The name Padres reflects respect for Spanish missionaries who founded the city.

Diamondbacks – What a dumb name for a team. It’s too long and barely fits on their shirts. Why was it chosen? Because it had a double entendre, as the Diamondback rattlesnake is common in Arizona, and you know, baseball diamonds and all. I can picture the executive who came up with that name and thought it was cute.

Rockies – Prior to the establishment of the Colorado Rockies Baseball Club in 1993, the city of Denver held the AAA Zephyrs franchise of the Pacific Coast League, a team with the highest attendance figures in all of minor league baseball. Colorado Rockies was actually the name of the NHL team that played there from 1976-1982.

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