Major League Baseball Team Names
Posted: 16 May 2018 07:51 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A badly needed revision of something I wrote back in 2002.

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Posted: 17 May 2018 06:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Very nice!  But I’m not sure why you include the Cleveland Spiders when you leave out other extinct clubs like the Hartford Dark Blues, Mutual of New York, and the St. Louis Maroons.  If you’re going to include the Spiders, I wish you’d mention that they were one of the best teams in the game before their rotten owner sent all their good players to St. Louis, leaving them to finish the 1899 season with a won-lost record of 20–134 (.130), the worst in baseball history and all anybody remembers about them now.

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Posted: 18 May 2018 06:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Truly you are blessed, to have a 19th century baseball historian among your commenters, here to tell you that there is a lot of work yet to be done.  So much so that it would probable work better for us to discuss it by email.

In the meantime, a nuance that is routinely overlooked, yet vital, is the distinction between nicknames in the sense of slangy names for teams used by journalists, and the modern nickname as trademark used for marketing.  So we end up with something like this, from the discussion of the Braves:  “In 1876, the team changed its name to the Red Caps, before becoming the Beaneaters from 1883-1907.” There are ample problems with that statement, starting with the detail that the team in fact never was called the “Red Caps.” I have some speculation about how that notion crept into the record, but it is a modern notion that has been repeated endlessly. 

But beyond that, what do we mean by “the team changed its name”?  When the Tampa Bay Devil Rays changed their name to the “Rays” they put out a press release, held a press conference, and spent time and energy chiding people who slipped up.  Nothing like this happened in the 19th century.  The official name of the club was the “Boston Base Ball Association.” “Red Stockings” or “Reds” was newspaper speak.  For some teams, the newspaper usage was very stable.  The Phillies is the classic example here.  For others, the papers used various names interchangeably.  At some point some researcher went back through old papers and retroactively declared which nickname was the “official” one for each year.  I’m not sure when this was.  I have suspicions about the Big Mac, but I don’t know.  It likely was at least around that time.  Whoever it was, he did a crappy job.  This is where we get the absurdity of the endlessly cycling names for the Brooklyn club.  Those nicknames were indeed used, but simultaneously, often is the name article.  They weren’t called the “Bridegrooms” one year and the “Superbas” the next, and so on. 

Official versus nickname:  This too is an unduly complicated subject.  Most early baseball clubs had colorful names, in the form of “Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York.” These were not nicknames.  That was the official name.  In the professional era we more often see boring official names such as “Cincinnati Base Ball Club” but there were some holdovers.  “Athletic” and “Mutual” were examples.  Several of the American Association clubs started out with this sort of name:  “Eclipse Base Ball Club of Louisville.” They gradually switched to the boring form.  The boring form opened the door for colorful nicknames.  You rarely see nicknames for clubs whose official names were already more interesting.  The change from nickname to trademark occurred gradually.  This subject has not been robustly researched, so I can’t really pin it down.  It clearly is a mid-20th century phenomenon.  The Phillies’ ill-fated venture into being the “Blue Jays” is an interesting transitional case.  It was like when your friend “Bob” declares that his nickname is now “Butch.” Yeah, ain’t gonna happen.  When we get to the “Rays” the process is long-since completed.  Some of us rolled our eyes at the change, but no one questioned the club’s standing to declare what its nickname was, but these aren’t really nicknames anymore.  They are trademarks.

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Posted: 18 May 2018 06:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The Colt Arms Company, which was not associated with the team, objected, as did many fans who didn’t like the violent association

Can you provide a cite for any appreciable number of fans objecting? I am aware of Colt having issues with souvenir/trinket sales, but find it hard to believe that any sizeable percentage of the public would object. It just sounds like 21st century leftists putting a spin on the process.

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Posted: 19 May 2018 07:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Oh for god’s sake.  Objection to gun worship is not, amazing as this may be to you, an invention of “21st century leftists.” I was there at the time and I remember the objections, but feel free to call me fake news.

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Posted: 19 May 2018 03:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Oh come on. It’s a fact that the name Colt .45s was chosen in a popular ‘name the team’ contest just three years before they became the Astros. The Colt .45 was “the gun that won the west”, and the name just harkened back to pioneer days.  Judge Roy Hofheinz was having a spat with the Colt firearms company, and decided to honor the the Mercury astronauts(he was a close friend of Alan Shepard) with the name change when they moved into the new domed stadium. I can find no account of there being anti-gun objections at the time(though I might not be googling well enough). You say you were here at the time, so I can’t refute your memory, but during the same years kids like me were taking cap pistols to elementary schools all across the country to play cops and robbers at recess and nobody batted an eye. So forgive me if I am skeptical.

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