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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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Posted: 12 June 2018 04:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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To support Richard’s point that team names are often unofficial and ephemeral, there is this recent news story.

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Posted: 12 June 2018 06:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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This from Wikipedia about my favorite team. If this is true, Dave, an update is due:

There are various legends about how the Tigers got their nickname. One involves the orange stripes they wore on their black stockings. Tigers manager George Stallings took credit for the name; however, the name appeared in newspapers before Stallings was manager. Another legend concerns a sportswriter equating the 1901 team’s opening day victory with the ferocity of his alma mater, the Princeton Tigers.

Richard Bak, in his 1998 book, A Place for Summer: A Narrative History of Tiger Stadium, pp. 46–49, explains that the name originated from the Detroit Light Guard military unit, who were known as “The Tigers”. They had played significant roles in certain Civil War battles and in the 1898 Spanish–American War. The baseball team was still informally called both “Wolverines” and “Tigers” in the news. The earliest known use of the name “Tigers” in the media was in the Detroit Free Press on April 16, 1895. Upon entry into the majors, the ballclub sought and received formal permission from the Light Guard to use its trademark. From that day forth, the team has been officially called the Tigers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Detroit_Tigers

Is Richard Bak’s history credible? Or, is it possibly a combination of both stories? What do you think, Richard?

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Posted: 13 June 2018 06:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I don’t have much specific information about the Detroit Tigers.  It is certainly true that some militia units were called by the nickname “Tigers.” These militia units go back before the Civil War, and were essentially military cosplay.  (Not all were thrilled when actual fighting broke out.) There is even a documented instance of such a militia company forming a baseball club in 1858 and using the “Tiger” name.  I wrote a short piece on it here:  https://ourgame.mlblogs.com/the-tiger-base-ball-club-a-mystery-solved-b4658a10276d. But the cultural context of baseball in 1858 was pretty much entirely unlike that in 1901. 

Perhaps more to the point is that the Detroit minor league clubs in the 1890s were called “Tigers,” in the informal journalistic nickname way.  The Detroit Free Press of July 5, 1895, has a report of the games of the previous day against Toledo.  The Detroit club is repeatedly referred to as the “Tigers.” So in 1901 it was an established nickname for the Detroit baseball club.  Where did it come from?  I might have had some connection to the militia unit, but if so, it was before 1901

But to further complicate matters, the Detroit club of 1895 was the same as the modern Detroit club.  It was a member of the minor Western League, which became the major American League.  I don’t find (in an admittedly desultory search) any reference to a Detroit baseball club being called “Tigers” before 1895.  The old National League club in the 1880s was routinely called the “Wolverines.” Nothing here contradicts the fact set quoted from Bak.  His citing of the Free Press from 1895 suggests actual research behind the claim.

So I categorize the claim as “plausible” pending seeing the cite for the specific claim about permission from the Light Guard.

As for the miscellaneous other claims, they have an ex post facto air to them.  The color of the stockings is possible.  Baseball has a long history of nicknames from stocking colors, but they are usually more straightforward descriptions.  There also is the possibility that the stockings were adopted in response to the nickname, not the other way around.  I would be deeply skeptical of any explanation that begins in 1901.  That is almost certain to be a Just So story.

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Posted: 13 June 2018 06:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Richard Hershberger - 13 June 2018 06:17 AM

...It is certainly true that some militia units were called by the nickname “Tigers.” These militia units go back before the Civil War, and were essentially military cosplay…

The same story is given for how the University of Missouri Tigers got their name.

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Posted: 13 June 2018 06:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Thanks for the info, Richard. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces, but what is known is fascinating.

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Posted: 13 June 2018 07:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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donkeyhotay - 13 June 2018 06:52 AM


The same story is given for how the University of Missouri Tigers got their name.

There is a possibility of this being the case with Princeton, as well.  Supposedly in 1861 that New York Regiment passed through Princeton and stopped long enough to make an impression, including the “Sis!  Boom!  Ah!” cheer, which I was enchanted to learn is imitative of the firing of a skyrocket and the admiring audience’s reaction.  I don’t attest to the truth value of this story, but it goes back to the 19th century.

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Posted: 13 June 2018 10:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The “Sis-boom-ah!” origin in skyrockets is supported by the OED.  I remember this distinctly because my mentioning that some years ago initiated a major kerfuffle when wordgeek, for reasons known only to himself (if even to him), feigned to have never heard the noun “skyrocket” before and insisted, against all comers, that it was archaic.

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Posted: 14 June 2018 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Dr. Techie - 13 June 2018 10:28 AM

The “Sis-boom-ah!” origin in skyrockets is supported by the OED.  I remember this distinctly because my mentioning that some years ago initiated a major kerfuffle when wordgeek, for reasons known only to himself (if even to him), feigned to have never heard the noun “skyrocket” before and insisted, against all comers, that it was archaic.

I guess he’s never heard “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band, although, perhaps, some would consider 1976 to be archaic. ;-)

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Posted: 14 June 2018 09:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Actually, somebody eventually quoted that song at him, which effectively shut down the discussion.

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Posted: 14 June 2018 03:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Apologies if these have been mentioned before:  The MLB website calls the Colorado Rockies the “ROX”, and the CA/Anaheim/LA Angels “Halos”. 
Come to think of it, apologies for having written ROX and Halos.

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