This is a summary of the evolution of nicknames of the current professional Major League Baseball teams in the National League (organized 1876) and subsequent rival American League (established 1901), and also of selected former major and minor league teams whose nicknames were influential, long-lasting, or both. The sources of the nicknames included club names, team colors, and city symbols. The nicknames have sometimes been dubbed by the media, other times through conscious advertising marketing by the team, or sometimes a little of both.
See also Team names and colors
Athletic teams have long used colors and nicknames as a form of team identity. This echoes the use of colors and nicknames in other activities such as heraldry, the military, and the flags of states, provinces and nations.
Baseball teams began to use nicknames early in the development of the sport. Not all teams felt the need for a nickname. The supposed first recorded game of baseball took place between two teams called “New York” and “Knickerbocker”, in the mid-1840s. Both teams were actually based in New York City.
After the American Civil War (1861-1865), interest in highly skilled games of baseball resulted in many hundreds of local organized clubs springing up, many under the umbrella of the new National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) from 1857-1870, also sometimes referred to as “the amateur association”. These were often with names that were the club’s official name, now often erroneously retrofitted as the “nickname”. However, all of these club names had the words “Base Ball Club” listed after them (“baseball” was often spelled then with two words). Examples:
Although many of the players on these clubs were de facto professionals, the first openly all-professional team was the Cincinnati “Red Stockings”, an amateur team that turned professional and began a successful barnstorming tour in 1869. The fame of this team spelled the end of the high-level “amateur” version of the game. It was followed by a second “National Association”, that of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NAPBBP) during 1871-1875, with an increasing number of local clubs and for the first time, professional “franchises” teams. The Cincinnati Red Stockings team’s newfangled uniform of shortened-at-the- knees pants “knickers” with bright colored high-topped socks or stockings also inspired the use of team colors serving a dual role as a team nickname for the sportswriters of the day, who could add variety to their prose by referring to, e.g., the Hartford club or “Hartfords” alternately as the “Dark Blues” based on their obvious characteristic clothing. None of these early ‘color’ nicknames were official or used by the teams themselves, however. Examples:
Suggesting an awareness of the significance of colors, seven seasons after its 1876 founding, the following National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (later known simply as the National League) in 1882 passed a rule requiring specific stocking colors for each team:
While the 1882 rules prescribed stocking colors according to club, they also prescribed jersey and cap colors, but according to player position rather than according to club. Thus, on a single player’s uniform, his cap and jersey would designate his position, and only his stockings would designate his club.
As the news and developing sports media (primarily newspapers and later radio) began covering games extensively and assigning specialists to write about them, the inventive scribes might use the established names, or they might invent some new ones. Initially, they often referred to a club in the plural form, either by its city name or by its club name. Examples:
As the writers and reporters became more inventive, they began to refer to teams by some characteristic that made the team or the city unique. Examples:
When two or more major leagues existed simultaneously in one city, the writers often appended the league name, which occasionally had the chance of evolving also into a team nickname, especially in the then frequent cities of the Northeast with two teams, a representative in each league. (The Encyclopedia of Sports, p. 32) Examples:
In some cases, such as the Cleveland Indians, the team actually solicited help from the media in inventing a new nickname.
Some of those nicknames changed over time or died with the team, while some are still in use today. Nearly all of the nicknames of the “classic 16” (original 8 NL of 1899 and 8 AL teams of 1903) in MLB were originally unofficial. But once an unofficial nickname became popular enough, it might be adopted by the team and become official. Some teams stuck with a nickname for many years and then changed it to something else. Other teams have never changed their nicknames. Some teams have had “two” popular nicknames simultaneously for many years. Examples:
In the modern era of sports franchise expansion, nicknames are no longer assigned in a haphazard way by the news media, but rather are chosen by the teams for marketing and advertising purposes. The names are chosen in order to establish a strong team identity, and to have an attractive logo to encourage sales of merchandise to fans, such as caps and shirts. Often the nickname will have some sort of historical, geographical, cultural or economic symbolic connection or representation of the city and more recently, the surrounding state. Nonetheless, fans and media sportswriters may still apply informal tags in the old manner, such as the: “Redbirds” (St Louis Cardinals)
“Birds” or the “O’s” (Baltimore Orioles)
“Bronx Bombers” (New York Yankees)
“Halos” (Los Angeles Angels).
For years the minor league team in Atlanta was called the Crackers.
The Braves nickname originated in Boston in 1912. (See the Boston, Massachusetts, entry below.) The Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee before the 1953 season and were known as the Milwaukee Braves from 1953 to 1965. The team moved again to Atlanta before the 1966 season, and have been known as the Atlanta Braves since.
The team’s nickname is taken from the Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula), a small blackbird of the passerine family of fowl in the eastern United States. The bird received its name in about 1808 from the fact that the male’s colors resembled those on the coat of arms of Sir George Calvert (1579-1632), the first Lord Baltimore, who was senior of the Calvert family that established the Province of Maryland colony in the 17th century. The Baltimore oriole is also the state bird symbol of modern Maryland.
Most of the professional baseball (and a few other sports) teams in Baltimore have been dubbed the “Orioles”, with a few exceptions.
The earliest Baltimore teams, in the early 1870s, were called the “Lord Baltimores” and “Maryland” respectively. These clubs were short-lived. The “Lord Baltimores” team chose the unusual team color of yellow or a variation of gold, and was often called the Canaries or the Yellow Stockings. The Maryland club was simply called the “Marylands”, in the pluralized style of the day. The names and colors were also used by other local jurisdictions and schools/colleges/universities.
The first club to be called the Baltimore Orioles was a charter member of the old American Association in 1882. When the AA league folded after the 1891 season, four of its teams were brought into the expanded National League (organized previously 1876), including the AA Orioles. These Orioles became a dominant team in the older league during the 1890s, in part because of their innovations and their tough, relentless play. The term “Old Oriole” is sometimes used to describe a player whose aggressive style fits the legacy of those 1890s teams. The competitive famous team’s fortunes took a downturn in 1899 when many of its stars were transferred to the Brooklyn Superbas/Dodgers, and Baltimore was one of the four teams / franchises contracted out of existence in 1900, when the NL reduced from 12 franchises to only 8 teams, an arrangement lasting for over a half century.
The newly formed American League of 1901 wanted to compete directly with the National League’s New York Giants, but the Giants used their political clout to block the American League from placing a club there. Instead, one of its 8 charter member franchise teams was placed in Baltimore in 1901. Their “Orioles” nickname was acknowledged in an unusual way that year, with an orange letter “O” on their uniform shirts, probably the only major league team ever to sport a symbol that looked like a “zero”. The 1902 shirts substituted a more conventional block letter B. In 1903, after the American and National leagues settled their 2 year old “baseball war” dispute with a “peace pact”, the National League allowed the American league to have a competing New York club in the nation’s largest city and the Baltimore club, which was originally meant to have been located in New York from the beginning was bought by former player/manager, the legendary John McGraw and transferred to New York City and renamed the Highlanders (or sometimes the New York Americans) and since 1913, now known as the New York Yankees.
A top-level minor league version of the Baltimore Orioles replaced the departed major league club, and it would be a force to be reckoned with in the “Triple AAA” high minors for 50 years, winning a number of International League championships and also providing a famed local boy, George Herman “Babe Ruth” to the major leagues in 1914.
Another Baltimore team was the rival third-party Federal League entry of 1914-1915, which called itself the Baltimore Terrapins, after the diamondback terrapin, the state reptile of Maryland now primarily associated with the University of Maryland, College Park Maryland Terrapins sports teams. The Federal League Terrapins opened Terrapin Park across the street from the IL minor league and previous AL club’s own ballpark, which was acquired by the Orioles after the “Fed” folded. That began a chain of events which led to Baltimore’s return to major league status, a story covered in more detail in the “Wiki” entry article on Memorial Stadium.
In 1954, the St. Louis Browns of the AL, another of the charter “original 8”, moved to Baltimore, and the team adopted the city’s old traditional baseball nickname.
Many fans, and the team itself, also refer to the team as the “O’s” or the “Birds”.
Four players from the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869-1870 regrouped in Boston in 1871 (Robert Smith, Baseball in America, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1961, p. 36), which they would call home for the next 83 seasons. In the newly formed National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, the Boston Red Stockings would continue to dominate as they had in Cincinnati, winning 4 of the league’s 5 pennants and joining the new National League in 1876.
Some sources (such as BBG) say they were renamed the “Red Caps”, presumably in deference to the revived Red Stockings entry in Cincinnati. In any case, by the 1880s they were called the Beaneaters more often than anything, a term used for Bostonians in general due to the prevalence of the staple dish baked beans. Boston itself is often called “Beantown,” but generally not by residents. The media-invented nickname “Beaneaters” was still in use in the early 1900s, and was even applied to the newly formed American League entry from time to time. The National Leaguers continued to include red trim in their uniforms until 1907, when they temporarily switched to an all-white uniform. The press promptly labeled them the Doves, reinforced by their owner being named Dovey. (Similarly, they were called the Rustlers in 1911 for new owner William Hepburn Russell (baseball).)
In 1908, the Americans adopted those colors and became the Red Sox. The Nationals reverted to their red trim and slowly looked for a nickname of their own. They found one when James Gaffney bought the club.
The Tammany Hall political organization was named after an American Indian chief and used an Indian image as its symbol, hence the “Braves”. Over the years that name has stuck, despite occasional controversy about its stereotyping of Native Americans, and has followed the team through two moves — to Milwaukee in 1953, and to Atlanta in 1966.
While still in Boston, the Braves fell into severe doldrums in the 1930s, and were looking for ways to reinvent themselves.
The name “Bees” did nothing to improve the team’s fortunes, and was abandoned by the end of World War II. In 1935 the uniform shirts had read “BRAVES” and in 1936 they merely said “BOSTON” on the home as well as the road version. They switched to a block “B” on home shirts the next year, which remained the pattern most years until the block-letter “BRAVES” reappeared in 1945. At no point did they wear anything on their uniforms which suggested an actual bee other than the homonym of the letter “B”. In 1946, the script version of “Braves”, complete with tomahawk, made its first appearance and has been on most of the uniform shirts since then. (Okkonen)
The Washington Redskins of the NFL began in 1932 as the Boston Braves. They renamed themselves the Redskins the next year, having moved from Braves Field to the Red Sox’ Fenway Park, serving the dual purpose of sounding similar to their new baseball co-tenants while allowing them to keep the Native American-logoed uniforms they had worn as the Braves, and in 1937 they moved to Washington, D.C., bringing the nickname with them.
For years many sources have called the early Boston AL teams “Pilgrims” or “Puritans” or “Plymouth Rocks” or “Somersets” for owner Charles Somers or even the “Speed Boys”. Research by SABR writer Bill Nowlin demonstrated that none of those names was used very often and that “Pilgrims”, the most popular revisionist nickname today, was barely used at all.
In 1901, the American League, led by Ban Johnson, declared itself equal to the National League and established a competing club in Boston. For seven seasons, the AL team wore dark blue stockings and had no official nickname. They were simply “Boston” or “the Bostons”; or the “Americans” or “Boston Americans” as in “American Leaguers”, Boston being a two-team city. Their 1901-1907 shirts, both home and road, simply read “Boston”, except for 1902 when they sported large letters “B” and “A” denoting “Boston” and “American”.
The temporary decision by the Boston National Leaguers to drop the color red from their uniforms led to a history-making decision:
The problem with part of that story is that the “Doves” went through the entire 1907 season wearing white (except for a red old-English “B” on their shirts) while the American Leaguers continued to wear their dark blue during the 1907 season. (Okkonen)
On December 18, 1907, owner Taylor announced that the club had officially adopted red as its new team color. The name Red Sox is non-standard English for “Red Socks”, short for “Red Stockings”. For the 1908 season, the AL team shirts featured a red stocking across the front labeled “BOSTON”. They also wore red stockings, along with white caps. Meanwhile, for 1908, the NL team returned to wearing red stockings as well as red caps, while retaining the old-English “B”. So the primary visual differences between the two teams’ uniforms in 1908 were the caps and the shirt fronts.
The red stocking on the shirt front was a one-year innovation before returning to the plain “BOSTON”. The familiar “RED SOX” first appeared in 1912, coincident with the opening of Fenway Park. Through the years, the Red Sox have continued to wear red somewhere in their uniforms. By the 1930s, the color blue was re-added to the mix. (Okkonen)
Headline writers often call the team “Bosox”, to contrast with the Chicago White Sox or “Chisox”. As with Chicago, when the team’s fans are talking about their own team, they are apt to call them simply “The Sox”.
The National Football League Boston team, who played their first season at Braves Field and called themselves the “Braves” after their hosts, moved into Fenway Park in 1933. Since the old name would no longer do, they changed their Indian-inspired name to “Redskins” to harmonize with “Red Sox”.
The Dodgers have had a number of nicknames through the years.
This team began as the Brooklyn Atlantics in the American Association of the 1880s, its name a reference to a once-renowned amateur team of the 1860s, the Atlantic Base Ball Club. Atlantic had turned pro in 1869 and became nationally famous by ending the Cincinnati Red Stockings’ winning streak in 1870.
In 1888, six members of the team were married during the season, and the press tagged the club as the Bridegrooms or just the Grooms. (BBG)
In the early 1890s, the club had switched to the National League. The city of Brooklyn installed the transportation innovation called the trolley system. Its citizens thus became “trolley dodgers” to the newswriters. By association, the team itself acquired that nickname, as the honeymoon for the “Grooms” was over after several years. (BBG)
Brooklyn was a separate city from New York until 1898, and its teams retained the name “Brooklyn”.
During the late 1890s, when Ned Hanlon was the manager and the Dodgers won the pennant (thanks in part to raiding the Baltimore Orioles roster), there happened to be a stage or circus act called “Hanlon’s Superbas”. The New York press, in their usual creative way, began calling Ned Hanlon’s Dodgers the Superbas. (BBG)
Around 1910, the club was briefly tagged as the Infants, from a remark by president Charles Ebbets, who had declared in a speech that “Baseball is in its infancy.” In the words of the BBG, “The monicker clung until Thomas J. Lynch, then president of the National League, asked baseball writers to accept waivers on it.”
Once Wilbert Robinson was well established and beloved as the Dodgers manager, the team was called the Robins as often as anything. The nickname “Dodgers” continued to be used also. After Robby retired, the team became just the “Dodgers” again. The club finally acknowledged its own nickname in 1933, putting the word “Dodgers” on their shirts for the first time, in block letters. The famous script “Dodgers” first appeared in 1938. (Okkonen)
When the club moved to the west coast in 1958, they brought their nickname with them, although it had no particular meaning in Los Angeles.
The “Bums” nickname arose due to the cartoons of Willard Mullin, characterizing the citizenry of Brooklyn in an unflattering but humorous way.
Chicago is unique in Major League Baseball in that both of its charter member clubs have remained in their original cities. Various other clubs had brief lifespans in the Windy City also.
The entry in the one-year wonder called the Union Association was called the Chicago Browns by some writers. The club lasted half a season and then transferred to Pittsburgh where, continuing their color scheme, they were called the Stogies.
The Players’ League was a one-year rebellion by players. The entry in the Windy City, called the Chicago Pirates, were led by Charles Comiskey, who would return to the South Side nine years later, as an owner, and with a decidedly more conservative attitude toward player salaries.
When the Federal League began its two-year experiment, it placed a team in Chicago. Although the Fed was known for colorful nicknames, the best anyone could come up with for the Chicago Federals’ first year, 1914, was the Chi-Feds. For the second and final Fed season, which proved to be a pennant winner for the Chi-Feds, the name Chicago Whales was used, despite the lack of any known whales in Lake Michigan. The uniforms featured a whale icon inside a large round “C”, suggestive of the Cubs’ logo of that time, a large round “C” encircling a bear cub. (Okkonen)
In 1870, the first openly professional team in Chicago was called the Chicago White Stockings, in reference to the team colors and in contrast to the Cincinnati Red Stockings. The team carried that nickname along to the NA in 1871 and into the NL in 1876.
After the team’s successes in the first half of the 1880s, the club began trading away its stars, and by the end of the decade the team was populated by young players, with the exception of long-time player-manager Cap Anson. By the late 1880s, local newspapers had started to call the team “Anson’s Colts”, or just “Colts”. With the advent of the Players’ League in 1890, what little talent the club still had was drained away, and the nickname, though never “official”, became standard. (The Golden Era Cubs: 1876-1940, Eddie Gold and Art Ahrens, Bonus Books, 1985, p. 2) and
In any case, 1890 is the usual date given for the replacement of “White Stockings” with “Colts” as the club’s predominant nickname.
The Colts name would stick around, off and on, for the next 15 years. It was reinforced by a squad of many young players, contrasting with the veteran Anson, who had become known as “Pop” by the 1890s. Anson left the team after the 1897 season, and the local papers called the team the Orphans for a while, because they had lost their “Pop”. They apparently still had some “pop” in their bats, finishing fourth in a twelve-team league.
The 2007 Arcadia book called Chicago Cubs: Tinker to Evers to Chance, by Art Ahrens, contains a series of facts in various places on pages 9-56 that add up to an explanation of the gradual transition from “Colts” to “Cubs”:
By the time the Chicago National Leaguers played their cross-town World Series with the White Sox in 1906, the “Chicago Cubs” nickname was well established. An editorial cartoon after the Series showed a cabin with an unknown figure inside, with only his white socks visible, up on a footrest, with the skin of a bear nailed to the wall outside, and six more white socks hanging on a clothesline (the Sox had beaten the Cubs in six games). (John Devaney and Burt Goldblatt, The World Series: A Complete Pictorial History, Rand McNally, 1975, p. 27)
By 1907, the name “Cubs” was appearing on the team’s scorecards. (Ahrens) The first uniform acknowledgment of the nickname came in 1908, when a bear cub holding a bat was placed inside the round “C” that was already on the uniform shirt. The familiar “C” encircling “UBS” first appeared the following year, on the road shirts. With this official acknowledgment, the old nickname of “Colts” was gone for good. Either a bear cub symbol or the word “CUBS” has appeared on home and/or road shirts ever since then. (Okkonen)
Despite the best efforts of the MLB Promotion Corporation, which began in the late 1960s, the Cubs did not trademark this iconic circle-C-UBS logo (which has been a steady fixture on uniforms and publications since 1937) until the late 1970s.
The nickname “Cubbies”, a diminutive of something already small or young, gained favor in large part due to Harry Caray’s famous rendering of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”. Instead of drawing out the single-syllable “Cubs” into two syllabels in place of “home team”, Caray used “Cubbies” to make the line flow better.
The Chicago Bears of the National Football League played their games at the Cubs’ Wrigley Field from 1921-1970, and were renamed (from “Staleys”) in honor of their hosts.
“Anson’s National Leaguers had been known as the White Stockings, and when Charles Comiskey brought his St. Paul Saints team into the city of his birth in 1900, Carl Green of Detroit and Irving E. (Si) Sanborn, covering baseball in the Windy City, revived the name White Stockings.” (BBG)
The new American League entry adopted the abandoned colors and nickname of their National League rivals. They were initially called the “White Stockings”, a nickname quickly shortened to White Sox by the press. In 1912, the team started wearing the first incarnation of its “SOX” logo on the shirts. (Okkonen)
The team is often called the “Chisox” by headline writers, to distinguish from “Bosox”. The synonym “Pale Hose” is also used. Within the city, as with Boston, the team is often just plain “Sox”. The Hispanic community of Chicago calls them Las Medias Blancas, Spanish for “The White Stockings”.
The first openly all-professional team was the famous Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869-1870. They began as an amateur organization in the National Association of Base Ball Players in 1866, as interest in baseball grew substantially after the American Civil War. Interest in the Red Stockings themselves grew as they compiled an impressive winning streak while mostly on a road tour or “barnstorming”. The nickname “Red Stockings” was again a press appellation based on their uniforms; in fact the 1869 Cincinnati club inaugurated the baseball tradition of wearing knickers with knee socks instead of long trousers, a style some contemporary prudes considered shocking and immoral.
The Red Stockings went through 1869 and partway into 1870 undefeated, their streak finally ending on June 14, 1870. Interest in the team waned after that, and while the club gained much fame and acclaim, the team’s profit margin was slim. The club’s executives decided to disband the team for 1871. But the influence of this team was substantial. By 1870, professionalism was wide open, spelling the end of the “amateur era”, and paving the way to the first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, which began operating in 1871.
With the Cincinnati Red Stockings dissolved, four of its players regrouped in Boston to join the new National Association (often called the NA for short, by modern historians). Manager Harry Wright and his brother George Wright (baseball’s version of the “Wright brothers”) brought along Cal McVey and Charlie Gould to form the Boston Red Stockings, which eventually evolved into the Atlanta Braves (q.v.)
Due to the influence of the Red Stockings, nearly every professional team in Cincinnati since then has worn red as their primary trim color. The Cincinnati teams have also tended to associate themselves with the 1869-70 club, but there is no direct connection other than the name.
When the NA folded, the best teams, and some new ones, regrouped to form the National League in 1876. One of the new teams was called the Cincinnati Red Stockings, reclaiming their old name. The team was expelled from the National League in 1880 for selling beer at games and playing games on Sundays.
In 1882 a new league formed to challenge the established NL: The American Association. The AA appealed to a different, rowdier market than the stoic NL, by offering cheaper admission prices as well as alcoholic beverages, which at that time were forbidden in the NL ballparks. Ironically, this “AA” became known as “The Beer and Whisky League”, and was criticized by the NL leadership for placing so many of its teams in “river towns”, characterizing the AA cities as being populated by low-class citizens: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville and St. Louis.
The new version of the Cincinnati Red Stockings (later shortened to Cincinnati Reds) became prosperous. The team won the first American Association pennant, and survived the first eight of the Association’s ten-year existence. In 1890, the Reds were readmitted to the National League, and continue to play in Cincinnati to this day.
The team first used the single “C” on its uniforms in 1905. The word “Reds” was placed inside the “C” for the first time in 1911. Variants on that style have been used in most years since then. (Okkonen)
Having shortened their name brought them some trouble in the 1950s, or more accurately the fear of trouble. The term “Reds” in the political arena had long been a synonym for “Communist”. During the McCarthy era, even though there was no connection between professional baseball and Communism, the team was concerned that their traditional club nickname would associate them with the Communist Threat and the Cold War, so they officially changed their name to the “Cincinnati Redlegs”. From 1956 to 1960, the club’s logo was altered to remove the term “REDS” from the inside of the “wishbone C” symbol. The “REDS” reappeared on the 1961 uniforms, although habits being what they were, by then they were often called “Redlegs”, and that name took a few years to totally fade out. (Okkonen)
An NFL entry that played briefly in the early 1930s was called the Cincinnati Reds.
The nickname “Red Stockings” and its descendants reflect one of the oldest nicknames in baseball, topped only by the Athletics, originally of Philadelphia and now in Oakland, and “Mets”, a variation of “Metropolitans”, a name that goes back to an amateur baseball club in New York in the 1850s.
Cleveland is known as “The Forest City”, and its early-1870s pro team was called the Forest City Base Ball Club or just the “Forest Citys”, in the style of the day.
The National League entry of the 1890s was dubbed the Cleveland Spiders by the press, supposedly because of its long-limbed players. One player during 1897-1899 was Louis Sockalexis, a Native American. His ballplaying skills caught a great deal of attention, though his career was short. During those three seasons, the team was sometimes called the Cleveland Indians.
After the 1899 debacle of 20 wins and 134 losses, in which the once-proud Spiders were redubbed the “Wanderers” and the “Exiles” due to being relegated to a road franchise, the NL contracted the Cleveland club out of existence. A new team formed the very next year in the young American League. The uniforms featured dark blue, and the team was labeled the “Blues” by the media, among other short-lived nicknames.
Once the club began to be led by player and sometimes-manager Nap Lajoie, the team quickly became known as the Cleveland Naps. During the tenure of manager Deacon McGuire, the team was also sometimes facetiously called the “Molly Maguires”. (BBG)
The team was strong in the early 1900s, but lapsed in the 1910s and “Naps” began to be taken as a joke equated to “sleeping”. When Lajoie was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics in early January 1915, owner Charles Somers asked the local newspapers to come up with a new name for the team. The fact that he would go to the papers is a reflection of where most of the team nicknames of that era came from.
Legend has it that the team specifically honored Louis Sockalexis when it assumed its current name in mid-January 1915. Another version is that the media and the team chose Cleveland Indians as a play on the name of the Boston Braves, then known as the “Miracle Braves” after going from last place on July 4 to a sweep in the 1914 World Series. The informal “Indians” name sometimes used during Sockalexis’ time with the club reinforced the new name.
With the artificial connection to Native Americans, the Cleveland Indians are also often called “The Tribe”.
In the movie Major League, the Cleveland Indians are referred to by many names, including “The Erie Warriors”, “The Sons of Geronimo” and “The Fighting Braves of the Cuyahoga.”
There have been minor league clubs in the Dallas – Fort Worth area since at least 1888. One was the Dallas Rangers of the Pacific Coast League, and the other was the Fort Worth Cats/Panthers of the Texas League. In 1965, the Dallas club left the city, and the Fort Worth club moved to Arlington, a city about halfway in between the two major cities. The renamed Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs operated for seven years in Arlington before the majors came knocking.
The 1961 expansion version of the Washington Senators moved to Arlington, Texas, in 1972 and took on the nickname Texas Rangers. The name refers to the famous Texas Ranger Division, the law enforcement agency that was created by Stephen F. Austin in 1823. Up until the end of the 2008 season, the team bore the word “RANGERS” on their home jerseys and “TEXAS” on their road jerseys. Since then, the team has worn “TEXAS” at home and on the road.
The Colorado Rockies became a new franchise into Major League Baseball in 1993. The nickname “Rockies” alludes to the Rocky Mountains which cover much of the western half of Colorado. The name Colorado Rockies had been used by a National Hockey League team that lasted from 1976-1982, before the team relocated and became the New Jersey Devils.
The first major league team in the city was the Detroit Wolverines, who contended in the National League during 1881-1888. The nickname, which is now primarily associated with the University of Michigan teams, came from Michigan’s nickname, the “Wolverine State”.
The Wolverines’ ownership spent a great deal of money to bring a championship team to Detroit, and the team won an early World Series in 1887. However, Detroit did not have a large enough population to sustain a major league franchise, and the team folded after one more season.
Several minor league clubs came and went over the next few years, most of them called the Wolverines.
The new minor league entry in the Western League was also called the Wolverines. This club came to stay. The league was renamed the American League in 1900, and the Detroit franchise is still in the league, the one Western League franchise still in its original city, nurtured as it was by the growth of the auto industry in the 20th Century.
There are various legends about how the Tigers got their nickname. One involves the orange stripes they wore on their black stockings:
Another legend concerns a sportswriter equating the 1901 team’s opening day victory with the ferocity of his alma mater, the Princeton Tigers.
The earliest known use of the name Detroit Tigers in the news was in the Detroit Free Press on April 16, 1895.
Richard Bak’s 1998 book, A Place for Summer: A Narrative History of Tiger Stadium has the full story. In the 19th century, the city of Detroit had a military unit called the Detroit Light Guard, who were known as “The Tigers”. They had played significant roles in certain Civil War battles and in the Spanish-American War. The baseball team was called both the “Wolverines” and the “Tigers” in the newspapers. Upon entry into the major leagues in 1901, the ballclub sought and received formal permission from the Light Guard to use its trademark, and from that day forth the team has been officially the “Tigers”.
In short, the Tigers most likely wore stripes because they were already Tigers, rather than the other way around which was the conventional story. In fact, the Tigers wore a red stripe on their socks in 1901, and generally avoided stripes after that until beginning to wear orange stripes for a while in the 1920s. (Okkonen)
The Detroit Lions of the NFL were named in reference to their then-landlords, the Tigers.
The Detroit Red Wings of the NHL were originally called the “Cougars”, but that referred to their point of origin as the Victoria Cougars. Their early name’s apparent relationship to the Tigers and/or Lions was coincidental.
The minor league teams of first the Texas League and then the American Association were primarily known as the Houston Buffaloes, or often just “Buffs”. They were named after Houston’s Buffalo Bayou, which has always been a geographic and culturally significant hallmark of the city.
Houston joined Major League Baseball in 1962 when the National League expanded and placed a franchise in Texas for the first time. The team’s original nickname was the Houston Colt .45s, a reference to the famous Colt firearms company. The team itself used a Colt .45s logo, but was most often called just the “Colts”, a somewhat ambiguous term as it also applies to young horses and skirted the legal issues that eventually influenced the name’s abandonment by the club.
In 1965 the team changed its nickname to Houston Astros, a name that had more futuristic overtones (astro is Greek for “star”) as since 1961 Houston was the city where NASA trained (and continues to train) all the American astronauts. The team also used the nickname as part of its new home, the Astrodome, which opened in 1965.
This name change was driven in part by legal considerations. The Sporting News Official Baseball Guide for 1965 explained why the team was renamed: “Late in the year 1964 the Harris County Domed Stadium was officially named the Astrodome after the Houston club changed its nickname, December 1, from Colt .45s to Astros. The move resulted from objections by the Colt Firearms Company to the club’s sales of novelties bearing the old nickname.”
The nickname ‘Stros is often used as a familiar name.
Being at the fringe of the old west, and thus connected with cowboys and cattle, several of Kansas City’s teams have had nicknames reflecting that culture.
There were three different short-lived major league teams called the Kansas City Cowboys in the 1800s, the Kansas City Cowboys of the Union Association in 1884, the National League Cowboys in 1886, and the American Association Cowboys in 1888 and 1889.
The minor league entry in the Western League (original) in the late 1890s was the first to use the name Kansas City Blues, presumably from their team colors. The Western League became the American League in 1900, still a minor league. When the American went major in 1901, the Kansas City entry was dropped.
A revived minor league club also called the Kansas City Blues operated in the American Association during the first half of the 20th Century. The team became a New York Yankees farm team in the 1930s. The team transferred to Denver in 1955 when the Philadelphia Athletics came to town as the Kansas City Athletics. Ironically, that “Yankees Kansas City farm club” situation continued, as the A’s ownership fed numerous quality players to the Yankees until the 1960s when Charles O. Finley acquired the team. Finley soon incurred the wrath of Kansas City fans also, and transferred the team to Oakland in 1968.
Perhaps the most famous team in Kansas City was the Kansas City Monarchs, the longest-running of the various Negro league baseball teams that operated as an apartheid culture until major league baseball was integrated in 1947 by one-time Monarch Jackie Robinson. Continuing the dubious Kansas City tradition, the Monarchs effectively served as a “farm club” for all of the major leagues in their waning years, supplying a number of star black players to the majors before folding in the 1960s.
In 1954, the club’s last year in Philadelphia, the “A” was replaced for the first time with the word “Athletics”, on both home and road shirts. At no time in their 54-year tenure in Philadelphia did the word “Philadelphia” appear on their shirts. The team transferred to Kansas City in 1955 and continued to wear “Athletics” on both home and road shirts. The city name finally appeared on road shirts for the first time in 1961, after Charles O. Finley had acquired the team. Finley began a well-documented series of influential uniform innovations that are beyond the scope of this article. He moved the A’s to Oakland in 1968, where they have remained to this day. (Okkonen) In 1972 Finley changed the team’s official name to the longstanding nickname “A’s”; “Athletics” was restored in 1981.
The American League expanded in 1969, and made good on a pledge to return the majors to Kansas City, by creating the Kansas City Royals. Pharmaceutical executive Ewing Kauffman won the bidding for the new Kansas City team, which was named the Royals after the American Royal Livestock Show held in Kansas City every year since 1899. Some sources have incorrectly reported that the team was named in honor of the Kansas City Monarchs. Apparently it is just a happy coincidence. Also, in an unspoken and possibly coincidental continuation of tradition, the Royals’ uniforms carry blue trim.
The minor league teams had been known as the Los Angeles Angels since the founding of the Pacific Coast League in 1903, named after the city itself. That team name contained a built-in redundancy if fully translated into English: “The Angels Angels”.
The minor league team and the nickname were displaced when the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League moved from coast-to-coast in 1958. The Los Angeles Dodgers carried their successful ways, and there were no trolleys to be dodged in Los Angeles.
When major league baseball expanded in 1961, a new entry in the American League revived the old nickname. The team was renamed the California Angels in 1965, anticipating their move to Anaheim.
After 32 years as “California”, the team became the “Anaheim Angels” starting with the 1997 season, as a result of a contractual agreement connected with renovations to their stadium.
Starting with the 2005 season, the club again changed its name. The ownership wanted to revert to the original name, Los Angeles Angels, for marketing reasons. This caused many legal problems with the city of Anaheim, and the franchise was eventually required to keep “Anaheim” in the team name. As a result, the official designation became the wordy “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.” and the geographic location has been removed from the team’s jerseys.
Minor league teams had been known as the Miami Marlins for several decades, referencing the marlin, a popular sport fish. There were the Miami Marlins of the International League (1956-60) and the Miami Marlins (1962-70) and Miami Marlins (1982-88) of the Florida State League.
When the major leagues expanded to the Miami area in 1993, the old nickname was revived, but the team was initially known as the Florida Marlins. By identifying with the entire state instead of the city, the name’s alliterative quality was lost. However, the team officially adopted the Miami Marlins name on November 11, 2011. This was part of a funding agreement between the team and the city of Miami for the team’s new stadium which opened in 2012.
The Marlins are commonly nicknamed “the Fish”.
Milwaukee’s various professional teams, going back to the 1870s, had names like the Cream Citys and the Brewers, in reference to the local unique cream brick industry and brewing industry respectively. In particular, some famous breweries included Schlitz (“The beer that made Milwaukee famous”), Blatz, Pabst, and later Miller Beer, which today holds naming rights to the current stadium.
There was a short-lived major league entry, sometimes called the Milwaukee Grays, which operated in the National League in 1878.
The Brewers of the minor Western League of the 1890s were retained during the league’s inaugural major league season as the American League in 1901, before being moved to become the St. Louis Browns.
The revived minor league club in the American Association was then called the Milwaukee Brewers for some 50 years before being displaced by the transplanted Boston Braves in 1953. The major league club retained their traditional nickname as the Milwaukee Braves during their stay in Milwaukee, before moving on to Atlanta in 1966.
The city was mostly without professional baseball for a few years. Future team owner and later Commissioner Bud Selig began a lobbying group originally called “Team, Inc.” and then renamed “Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, Inc.” The Chicago White Sox played some home games in Milwaukee in that interval.
The current Milwaukee Brewers began as the Seattle Pilots, a 1969 expansion team in the American League. After one year of significant financial losses, the team was transplanted to Milwaukee, under the new ownership of Selig, whereupon they revived the traditional name “Brewers”. The team was switched to the National League in 1998 as part of the expansion and reorganization of the major leagues.
The two adjacent cities have had a long-standing, mostly-friendly rivalry, and each city had high-level minor league clubs, including teams in the American Association for the better part of five decades. The Minneapolis clubs were usually called the Minneapolis Millers, Minneapolis being known as the “Mill City”. St. Paul, as the state capital, avoided the usual stereotype of teams called “Senators”, “Solons” or “Capitals”, and instead went for a more direct stereotype. The city’s early teams were typically called the St. Paul Saints or Apostles, including the city’s short lived Union Association entry in 1884. Later the city’s minor league clubs adopted the St. Paul Saints nickname, a self-contained redundancy. The Western League club from the 1890s moved to Chicago in 1900 and became the Chicago White Sox. The revived minor league Saints joined their cross-river rivals in the American Association for much of the first half of the 1900s. The Saints name was revived by an independent minor league club in 1993.
Minneapolis – St. Paul is commonly known as the “Twin Cities”. The formal name of the team, which transferred from Washington, D.C., in 1961, was initially the Twin Cities Baseball Club, now known as Twins Sports, Inc. The Millers caps had featured an “M” and the Saints caps an interlaced “StP”. The newly transferred Minnesota Twins club wore a cap featuring “TC” for “Twin Cities” to honor both St. Paul and Minneapolis. The shirts included a sleeve patch with an outline of the state and two ballplayers shaking hands across the Mississippi River.
By 1987 the Twins were regionally established, and a cap featuring an “M” for “Minnesota” was adopted. The “TC” logo migrated to the sleeve in place of the previous patch. The team won the World Series that year, so the “M” cap became a symbol of success and continued to be used exclusively for a number of years afterward. The “TC” cap reappeared in the late 1990s, and is now switched off with the “M” cap. (Okkonen) “TC” is usually used as the team’s home cap, with “M” as the road cap, though the cap, as with other elements of the team’s uniform, is chosen at the whim of the starting pitcher.
Another nickname used by fans and writers, but not by the team, is “Twinkies”, though that name is used more as an insult by the fans of competing teams.
Before Major League Baseball expanded to Montreal in 1969, minor league teams in Montreal were usually named the “Royals”, in reference to Mount Royal (French: Mont Real), a volcanic plug immediately west of today’s downtown after which the city was named.
The Montreal Expos were named in honor of Expo 67, a World’s Fair held two years before the Expos began play. The Expos moved to Washington in 2005, and the “Expos” name was retired.
As the “cradle” of organized baseball, New York City had many clubs in the “amateur” era leading up to 1869-1870, and the “professional” era after that. The teams called Mutual, Atlantic and Eckford were some of the stronger ones.
The short-lived Federal League entry in New York was the Brooklyn Tip-Tops. The Fed teams had some innovative names, and this was probably the only major league team ever named for a loaf of bread.
The original Metropolitan Baseball Club was a member of the 19th Century American Association, a club which lasted until 1887 but could not compete with the Giants. They were normally listed as “Metropolitan” in the standings, and writers would sometimes use the pluralized “Metropolitans” in the style of the day, to distinguish them from the “New Yorks”, their next-door neighbors.
When major league baseball expanded in 1962, the old name was revived in the form of the Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York, otherwise known as the New York Mets. “Met” is a common short form of “Metropolitan”, as in “The Met” for the Metropolitan Opera; “MetLife” for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company; and so on.
The New York Jets of the NFL, originally known as the New York Titans, were the first of several New York area teams whose names rhymed with “Mets”. Others included the New York Nets of the NBA (now Brooklyn Nets), and the New York Sets of the short-lived Team Tennis league.
The early entry of this team in 1883 was simply the New Yorks, also sometimes called the Gothams, “Gotham” being a synonym for New York City. According to legend, manager Jim Mutrie was bragging to newspaper reporters about the stature of his players, “My big fellows! My giants!” and by about 1885 the name was stuck on the team for good.
Although the “Giants” nickname was well established by 1900, the prosaic “NEW YORK” or simple block letters “NY” were used on uniform shirts until 1918 when “GIANTS” first appeared. (Okkonen)
Eventually the alternate nickname “Jints” (rhymes with “pints”) was picked up as a colloquial pronunciation of the team name. It followed them, along with their real nickname “Giants”, when they moved to the west coast in 1958.
The New York Giants of the NFL were named for the baseball team which was once their landlord. Even though the baseball Giants moved in 1958, the NFL team to this day displays a sign at MetLife Stadium proudly indicating that the team’s official name remains the “New York Football Giants.”
Modern writers tend to refer to the New York AL club as the “Highlanders” for its 1903-1912 era and as the “Yankees” from 1913 onward. The two nicknames actually developed in parallel starting around 1904, with “Highlanders” initially more often used, and “Yankees” becoming the predominant nickname before “Highlanders” was fully dropped in 1913.
Initially the team was simply the “Greater New York Baseball Club”, a designation imposed on them as part of the “deal” allowing the Baltimore club to transfer to New York. Giants fans considered them to be “Invaders”, and publisher William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal initially referred to the new club by that name in 1903.
Both “Highlanders” and “Yankees” were also initially inventions of the press. The first president of the new New York American League entry was Joseph Gordon, who served from 1903-1906. There was a noted British military unit called The Gordon Highlanders. The new team built its new ballpark on a high point of Manhattan called “The Hilltop” (hence the informal nickname “Hilltop Park” for the American League Park), which contrasted especially with the altitude of the Giants, whose Polo Grounds was in the bottomland in the shadow of Coogan’s Bluff. Creative members of the press, who liked to make artificial connections between disparate elements of popular culture, dubbed the team “Gordon’s Highlanders” (e.g. New York World, April 15, 1903), soon shortened to just “Highlanders”, and the name stuck with them for the better part of a decade.
There is no evidence that “Highlanders” was ever officially adopted by the team itself. The uniforms only sported a large block “N Y”, which eventually evolved into the well-known curving NY logo of the Yankees. (Okkonen)
A prophetic letter to the editor of the New York Sun, May 7, 1903, p. 8, raised this question: “Name for the American New Yorks. If the new baseball team is to have a name that is in keeping with the ‘Giants,’ does it not seem reasonable that if they are the ‘New York Americans’ they might be called the ‘Yankees’ or ‘Yanks’?”
The alternate nickname “Yankees” first appeared regularly in the press in 1904. The term “Yankee” or “Yank” is a synonym for “American”. The new team was in the American League, and the papers for cities with two teams (such as Boston) would often call their teams “Nationals” or “Americans” to distinguish them. The term “Yankee” was also in the news frequently at that time, especially with the success of George M. Cohan’s Broadway musical, Little Johnny Jones, and its centerpiece number, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. To the creative writers of the New York press, the connection was easy to make.
On April 7, 1904, a spring training story from Richmond, Virginia carried the headline “Yankees Will Start Home From South To-Day.” The New York Evening Journal screamed: “YANKEES BEAT BOSTON”.
The Sporting Life for a game of April 4, 1905, discussing the acquisition of Hal Chase, referred to the team as the “Americans” and the “Highlanders” in the same writeup.
As the decade progressed, the nickname “Yankees” began to be used more and more often. The New York Times writeup about Cy Young’s no-hitter of June 30, 1908, referred to the club exclusively as “Yankees” or “Yanks” throughout the article, with no mention at all of “Highlanders”. The Times also consistently referred to the Hilltop by its formal name, “the American League Park”. (The Complete Book of Baseball: A New York Times Scrapbook History, Arno Press, Bobbs-Merrill, 1980, p. 8)
The Philadelphia Inquirer for a game of April 21, 1912, an exhibition between the two New York clubs, was headlined “Giants wallop Yanks”, while in the article the teams were referred to as the “Nationals” and the “Giants”; and “the American League team”, “Americans”, and “Highlanders”; respectively.
The New York Times for opening day 1912 reported that “The Yankees presented a natty appearance in their new uniforms of white with black pin stripes.”
In 1913, the American Leaguers left the Hilltop after ten years, and began what would become a ten-year sub-lease with the Giants at the Polo Grounds. At that point the term “Highlanders” made no logical sense, and was dropped by the press. The club was exclusively the “Yankees” from then onward.
It is uncertain exactly when the Yankees began referring to themselves by their popular nickname. By the time of Babe Ruth’s arrival in 1920, the “Yankees” nickname was well established, but the name still did not appear on the uniforms. In fact, the Yankees have seldom carried their nickname on their uniforms. The only time was during 1927-1930, when the word “YANKEES” first appeared, in lieu of “NEW YORK” – on the road shirts. This was continued through the 1930 season, and then “NEW YORK” was restored to the road uniforms. (Okkonen) The name must have been considered ‘official’ at least by 1923, when the team named its new ballpark Yankee Stadium.
The popular and successful Yankees have acquired many other unofficial nicknames through the years, such as the “Pinstripers” for obvious reasons, and jokingly as the “Evil Empire”, a term originally applied to the Soviet Union by President Ronald Reagan. Probably the longest-lasting unofficial nickname has been the “Bronx Bombers”, which was applied many decades ago in reference to the Yankees’ power hitting, dating back to the Ruth era.
The Pacific Coast League entry was typically called the Oakland Oaks (PCL) and sometimes the Acorns as an unofficial variant.
The Oakland Athletics, who began in Philadelphia and resided in Kansas City for a few years, settled on the west coast in 1968. The nickname “Athletics” is the oldest in baseball, dating to the early 1860s.
Aside from the enduring teams called the “Athletics” and the “Phillies”, other professional teams in Philadelphia over the years included the Philadelphia White Stockings (also sometimes called the “Pearls” or even the “Phillies”), who played in the National Association in the early 1870s in direct competition with the A’s; and the Keystone club of the one-year Union Association experiment in 1884.
In the peak of the amateur era of baseball in the 1860s, the strongest team in the Quaker State was the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia, or just “Athletic” for short. Prior to the early 1900s, this club was typically always listed in standings as “Athletic” rather than “Philadelphia”. When called the “Athletics” it was the pluralized style of the day, just as the National League entry would have been called the “Philadelphias”.
As early as 1866, the Athletics uniform shirts featured the stylized letter “A” that is still used by the team’s nominal descendants today. The team had turned professional by the late 1860s, and continued playing through the first year of the National League in 1876, before disbanding.
The team name “Athletic” was revived by the American Association, and again by the charter Philadelphia entry in the American League in 1901.
The AL team was originally listed in the standings in the traditional way, “Athletic”, but soon evolved into the “Philadelphia Athletics”. Another enduring symbol of the team soon emerged:
That characterization, first written about 1940, was from a time when the A’s were still thought of as winners. The team’s decline, from the mid-1930s clear into the mid-1960s, would result in the franchise being transferred twice. The elephant logo evolved into a circus elephant of varying colors, depending on the trim chosen for the uniform in a given year.
As the team typically wore a stylized “A” on both their home and road shirts, and eventually on their caps, the nickname “A’s” also arose. The first break with the “A” tradition came in 1920, when the team featured the elephant logo on shirts for the first time, displacing the “A”, albeit in a dark blue. The elephant, worn as a badge of defiance following McGraw’s remarks, had previously appeared on just the warmup weathers and then on the uniform sleeve. The elephant was changed to its titular white in 1924, and in 1928 the team went back to the traditional “A”. (Okkonen)
“They’ve been the Phillies ever since the team entered the National League in 1883.” (BBG)
“Phillies” or “Phils” is a short form of “Philadelphias”, in the style of the 19th Century, when a city would be referred to by writers that way (“Bostons”, “Chicagos”, etc.) The city itself is often called “Philly” for short. Other uses of that term include the Philly Cheesesteak and the popular Phillies Blunt cigar.
Bob Carpenter acquired the Phillies in the late fall of 1943. The following spring, a new name, “Blue Jays”, was selected in a fans’ contest. (BBG) This change never caught on with the general public, especially as the uniform shirts continued to say “Phillies”, albeit with a blue jay shoulder patch. That experiment was dropped after a couple of years.
In 1900, the team’s road shirts said “PHILA”, a common abbreviation of “Philadelphia”. The Phillies’ uniforms otherwise carried only a simple block or stylized letter “P” for several decades. The first time the word “Phillies” appeared was 1933, in a script-style that has appeared frequently in the decades since then. 1942, the word “Phils” appeared on the road shirts and the block letter “P” re-appeared on the home shirts, just for the one season. The script “Phillies” continued until 1970 when, in anticipation of the move to Veterans Stadium, the team returned to a stylized letter “P” on their shirts. In 1992, the script “Phillies” was restored to the shirts. (Okkonen)
Prior to its entrance to the Major Leagues, Phoenix used several different nicknames for its ball clubs. They were first known as the Phoenix Senators, then the Phoenix Giants after their big league affiliate, and lastly the Phoenix Firebirds, for the mythologic bird synonymous with the city’s name.
A Diamondback, specifically Crotalus atrox, is a rattlesnake which is a very common sight in the Arizona desert and a fearsome symbol. The club adopted the symbol upon its formation in 1998. A baseball field is also called a “diamond”. The team is often called the “D-backs” for short, and as of 2007 the team is wearing shirts that read “D-backs”. On the left sleeve is a stylized “db” which forms the head of a snake.
The original Pittsburgh club, formed in 1882, was in the then-separate city of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, across the Allegheny River northwest of downtown Pittsburgh. Thus the club was called “Allegheny” in the standings, and in the style of the day, the “Alleghenys” (note that it was not “Alleghenies”). The Alleghenys played in the American Association during 1882-1886, then transferred to the National League in 1887. The team restyled itself as “Pittsburgh” (then often spelled “Pittsburg”) around 1890, although Allegheny remained a separate city until it was annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907.
The club was accused of “pirating” Lou Bierbauer in the Players’ League settlement following the 1890 season, which led to their nickname. This fact is a detail of the larger story of what was happening in professional baseball around that time.
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 rift 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 W. 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. 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.
Alternate nicknames such as “Bucs” or “Buccos”, short for “buccaneer”, have been used through the years. “Buccaneer” is typically used synonymously with “pirate”, although historically “buccaneer” is a more specific term for pirates who operated in the Caribbean, especially along the Spanish Main coast.
The Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL began as the Pittsburgh Pirates, in reference to the baseball team from which they rented Forbes Field in their early years. There was also a short-lived NHL entry from 1925-1930 called the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In the National Association of 1875, St. Louis fielded two entries, called the St. Louis Brown Stockings (or Browns); and the St. Louis Red Stockings, (or Reds). The Reds did not survive the season. The Browns were better organized and were carried forward into the new National League in 1876. The club abandoned professional ball after the 1877 season due to a betting scandal.
The St. Louis Maroons of the Union Association in 1884, and the NL in 1885-1886, continued the reddish color scheme during their brief tenure. The St. Louis Terriers of the Federal League of 1914-1915 were the only major league club in St. Louis that eschewed being named for a color.
A new professional team formed in 1882 and was a charter member of the American Association. The team revived the nickname St. Louis Brown Stockings, which again was soon shortened to St. Louis Browns. The team was one of the most successful in the AA’s ten-year existence, under the leadership of Charles Comiskey, and was carried forward into the NL in 1892.
In 1899, the club decided it was time for a makeover. They rebuilt the stands at Robison Field after a fire; they stripped the Cleveland Spiders of their star players, hoping to take a major leap in the standings; and, according to most sources, changed their uniform color that year, from brown to red. The refreshed team was labeled the Perfectos by a perhaps over-optimistic press. The team jumped from twelfth to fifth, rather short of its lofty goal.
The team was also being called Cardinals by season’s end. According to BBG, it was William McHale, baseball writer for the St. Louis Republic, who dubbed the red-trimmed team the St. Louis Cardinals. By 1900, that name was in universal usage, and they have been known by that nickname to this day.
The term “Cardinal” for both the bird and the color originated from the traditional vestments of the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church.
The red-trimmed uniforms at first were only labeled “ST. LOUIS”, on both home and road shirts, later replaced by the familiar interlocking “StL” logo. The word “Cardinals” first appeared on both home and road shirts in 1918. The term went from just being a color to also being a symbol in 1922, with the first incarnation of the two Cardinal birds perched on a bat across the word “Cardinals”. (Okkonen)
The synonym “Redbirds” and the abbreviation “Cards” are also in broad usage today.
The St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL transferred from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960, and from St. Louis to Phoenix in 1988. The Football Cardinals were not named after the Baseball Cardinals, but for the same reason that the Baseball Cardinals acquired their name — from the color of their jerseys, which were originally hand-me-downs from the University of Chicago Maroons.
The nickname St. Louis Browns was revived in 1902 by the AL entry that transferred from Milwaukee. Moving from one major brewing city to another, they could have retained the nickname “Brewers”, but for marketing reasons they chose to adopt the recently abandoned colors of their established rival.
The Browns were the better team in the Mound City for the first 25 years or so of their co-existence, but the Cardinals returned to winning form in the mid-1920s and the Browns struggled after that. The club was looking for a city to transfer to in the early 1950s. They considered coincidentally returning to their roots in Milwaukee, but the Braves beat them to it. They settled for a move to Baltimore in 1954, where they were renamed the “Orioles”, ending the life of the “Browns” nickname.
Although known from the beginning as the “Browns”, and wearing brown trim most of the time (except for 1906 when they experimented with all-black trim), the club did not wear the word “BROWNS” on their shirts until 1934. (Okkonen) The team had various logos. In the early years they had an interlaced “StL”, as with the Cardinals. In the 1930s, they began wearing a patch featuring an illustration of the famous statue of the personification of the Saint. In 1952 they began wearing a sleeve patch with a cartoon face of a “Brownie”.
The Cleveland Browns of the NFL have no connection to the St. Louis Browns, although their color scheme (orange and brown) and their use of a “Brownie” coincide.
The minor league team called the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League operated during 1936-1968. The name Padre was taken from the Spanish word for “Father”, a term of respect used for Spanish missionaries. When Major League Baseball expanded to San Diego in 1969, the old nickname was retained for the new team.
The team is frequently called the “Pads” or “Pods” in the media, which rhymes with the first syllable of “PAHD-rays”. “Friars” has also been a longtime team nickname.
The San Francisco Seals operated from the inception of the Pacific Coast League in 1903 through 1957.
A second, shorter-lived club was the Mission Reds, who played in San Francisco during 1925-1937. They were sometimes called the “Missions”.
The well-established Seals, which had once been Joe DiMaggio’s team, moved after the 1957 season to make way for the arrival of the New York Giants, who followed the Dodgers from the east coast. The San Francisco Giants have lived up to their name, with sluggers like Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Barry Bonds rocketing baseballs out of the San Francisco ballparks just as Mays and Mel Ott did in New York.
The original Pacific Coast League minor league club in Seattle was initially called the Indians, due to the Native American legacy of the area. The team was later named the Seattle Rainiers, directly in reference to the Rainier Brewing Company, and indirectly in reference to Mount Rainier, for which the brewery was named. The Rainiers operated through 1968, when the major leagues expanded. After the one-year major league experiment, a new Rainiers ball club was formed and played during 1972-1976, when the majors were ready to try Seattle again. Since 1995, the Rainiers name has been used by the Seattle Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate in nearby Tacoma.
The AL expansion team in 1969 was named in reference to the prominence of marine activities in the Puget Sound area, primarily after ship pilots who guide large ships into the ports of Puget
Sound. The caps even featured the “scrambled eggs” golden-leaf symbol of a ship’s captain. The ambitious but underfunded club sank in a sea of red ink, and became the first major league club since the 1901 Milwaukee Brewers to switch cities after one year. Ironically, the Pilots moved to Milwaukee, and became the new Milwaukee Brewers.
The AL again expanded to Seattle, in 1977, with the formation of the Seattle Mariners. The nickname again alluded to fishing and other marine activities. The Mariners have been in Seattle for over 40 years with no indications of leaving anytime soon.
Several minor league teams played in the Tampa Bay area prior to the introduction of the American League ball club in 1998. Named after the local cigar industry, the Tampa Smokers existed in several leagues from 1919 until 1954. Also bearing the Tampa city name were the Tampa Tarpons who existed from 1957 until 1988, and were named after the Atlantic-native fish. The St. Petersburg Saints, who were named as such because of their city name, played mostly in the Florida State League from 1920 until 1928 and again from 1947 until 2000.
Other teams still exist in the area including a new iteration of the Tampa Tarpons and the Dunedin Blue Jays (named after their MLB affiliate), the Clearwater Threshers (after the thresher shark), the Bradenton Marauders (a nod to their MLB affiliate, the Pittsburgh Pirates), and the Lakeland Flying Tigers, who similarly named as a nod to their MLB affiliate, the Detroit Tigers.
The club was an expansion franchise in the American League in 1998. The team’s logo included an illustration of a manta ray, also called a devilfish or devil ray. The team was also called the D-rays or the Rays for short. As of 2007, one version of their home uniforms said “Rays”, and no version said “Devil Rays”, although a patch illustrating a manta ray was used. On November 8, 2007, the club announced that they were dropping the “Devil” part in order to identify themselves primarily with the rays of the sun, Florida being the Sunshine State, and their redesigned logo reflects that theme. As noted in the MLB article the club stated that they would continue using the manta ray patch as an acknowledgment of their previous identity – a feature easily visible on their uniforms in the super-closeups used by television in the 2008 World Series, as the former league doormats turned into the American League’s champion team in 2008. The club would also retain its furry mascot, called “Raymond”, strictly for humorous reasons, as that name has no etymological connection to either the old or the new usage of “ray”.
The original minor league club in Toronto was the Toronto Maple Leafs, which operated from 1896 through 1967 in the International League.
The National Hockey League club renamed itself the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1927 and has been known by that name ever since.
By the time the American League expanded to Toronto in 1977, the NHL club’s strong identification as the Maple Leafs precluded any chance of reviving that name for the baseball team.
The Toronto franchise was originally owned by Labatt Breweries, with Imperial Trust and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce as minority owners. The name Toronto Blue Jays came about when former Ontario Premier John Robarts, a member of the team’s board of directors, started talking about a morning routine: “I was shaving this morning and I saw a blue jay out my window.”
“Blue” was also the top-selling brand of beer sold by Labatt’s, providing an on-air opportunity for TV commentators to take a microscopic pause when saying “You’re watching Labatt’s Blue…Jays baseball on CBC.”
The short form “Jays” has been used extensively for much of the team’s history.
Coincidentally, the nickname “Blue Jays” was used briefly by the Philadelphia Phillies (the team that Toronto beat in the 1993 World Series), from 1944 to 1945.
Baseball clubs in Washington, D.C. have been known by a variety of nicknames since the first professional teams appeared in 1870. One team was called the “Olympics”, another was called the “Nationals”. Both of those names persisted through the 1870s. Later teams in the 19th Century were called the “Nationals” and also obvious other Capital City nicknames such as “Statesmen” and “Senators”. By the 1890s, “Senators” was commonly used in the media for the National League entry.
The “Senators” nickname carried over to the new American League entry in 1901. The team was generally called the Senators from 1901-04, as the old National League club had been. Washington Star newspaper owner Thomas C. Noyes, along with an ownership group of Benjamin Minor, Harry Rapley and others bought the team in 1905.
Before the 1905 season, Noyes solicited fans and writers for a new nickname. In an effort to remarket the team Noyes decided to officially name the club the “Nationals”, reverting to the older nickname.
During 1905 and 1906, the team wore “Nationals” on their new shirts, the first team to do so. Otherwise, the shirts either read “Washington” or carried a plain block “W”. (Okkonen)
Some reluctance could have been due to the inherent ambiguity of the name. Writers frequently referred to individual major league teams as “Americans” or “Nationals” in reference to their league affiliation—and the Washington Nationals were in the American League.
Newspaper articles for decades used the names “Senators” and “Nationals” (or “Nats”) interchangeably, often within the same article. Baseball guides even said “Nationals or Senators” when listing the nickname. This was long before teams made nicknames registered trademarks for marketing purposes.
Thus the Washington ballclub was known by two nicknames for most of its history prior to moving to Minnesota. Although there have been other teams with dual nicknames, such as the Brooklyn “Robins”/”Dodgers”, or the New York “Highlanders”/”Yankees”, the longevity of this dual nickname was unique.
The nickname “Senators” was kept alive especially by out-of-town writers. World Series programs in the same year referred to the team by different names: In 1933, the programs for the games played in New York City advertised “Giants vs. Senators”, while programs for the games played in Washington included a photo of Washington manager Joe Cronin with the caption “Nationals’ Manager”.
Although “Nationals” or “Nats” was still used on baseball cards issued by Topps as late as 1956, by the 1950s, the name “Nationals” was pretty much passe. For example, the popular 1955 Broadway musical Damn Yankees referred to the club primarily, if not exclusively, as the “Senators”.
Following the 1956 season, owner Calvin Griffith decided to officially change the name to Senators, but it wasn’t until 1959 that the word “Senators” finally appeared on their shirts. (Okkonen) They and their expansion-replacement in 1961 would remain officially the “Senators” for good, although space-saving headline writers continued to refer to them as “Nats” frequently.
The Washington Nationals of the National League, transplanted from the Montreal Expos in 2005, revived the old Nationals name, and with modern marketing techniques it appears the name will stick this time. The time-honored headline abbreviation “Nats” has also been revived. Any possibility of using the name “Washington Senators” was prohibited by the Texas Rangers still owning the rights to that trademark. Although there was some sentiment to revive the name Senators, political considerations factored into the choice of Nationals, a revival of the first American League franchise’s “official” nickname used from 1905 to 1956. Politicians and others in the District of Columbia objected to the name Senators because the District of Columbia does not have voting representation in Congress. Although the Rangers still owned the rights to the Senators name, the Nationals were able to acquire the rights to the curly “W” from the Rangers.
These books about baseball parks also contain a lot of information about the minor league teams:
Reference books specific to one team’s history are embedded.