MLB Team Names

My dad wrote a very funny piece about the appropriateness NFL team names. I thought I’d take the concept and run with it and examine baseball team names.

Basically the premise here is that team names should either be something that evokes a sense of something beneficial to the game being played (in the case of baseball: Speed, power, teamwork, cunning, heroism, etc) or it should be something specific to the home locale of the franchise so long as that evocation isn’t of something counter to those attributes that are beneficial. The Raleigh Sloths wouldn’t work, for example, even if Raleigh happened to have a lot of Sloths around because Sloths would be really pathetic at baseball.

Just ask Barry Bonds.

Anyway, here goes:

Good Names
  • Baltimore Orioles – I’m not sure if there are a lot of orioles in the Baltimore area, my online research yielded little fruit, but orioles are fast, clever birds according to several sites so it works for the game. It would be a bad football or hockey name, but baseball is more forgiving of wussier animal mascots than other sports, being physical but also quite cerebral as well.
  • Tampa Bay Devil Rays – The name is both relatively strong sounding as well as being a nickname for Manta Rays which work from the locale angle in Tampa Bay. Plus Manta Rays are fast swimmers, capable of impressive physical feats such as leaping high out of the water and sort of sailing for relatively long distances.
  • Toronto Blue Jays – Like the Orioles, this works from a speed angle (although I don’t know that Blue Jays are particularly clever, judging by the number of cat-kills I see around our apartment complex) and I’ll give Toronto the benefit of the doubt that they actually have a significant number of Jays locally.
  • Detroit Tigers – According to they weren’t named after the jungle cat but instead named after another sports team, the Princeton Tigers football team based on the similarity of their socks. A stupid origin perhaps, but the adoption of a feral carnivore as a team moniker works for me and anyone else who wouldn’t think to look up how the Tigers got their name so it’s good.
  • Texas Rangers – Rangers are supposed to be protectors, soldiers or roaming guardians and the name has been adopted by lots of people to evoke these kinds of feelings of power, confidence, cleverness and capability. I don’t know that the patriotic uniforms of the Rangers really match their moniker, but the name works okay. If it was me they’d have camouflage uniforms.
  • Atlanta Braves – Their name actually refers to Native Americans (as evidenced by the tomahawk on their logo) but it is similar to using the term “Warriors” since that is what is meant by the term “Indian Braves” and while perhaps antiquated, it isn’t particularly offensive or inappropriate for the sport. Plus the name could always be changed to refer to the team as a group of people possessing the quality of bravery which is less as effective as a baseball name (courage in baseball is probably not the most useful trait although some memorable performances such as Kirk Gibson’s gimpy walk-off homer in the 1988 World Series could be classified as courageous or brave). In the end it’s a bit borderline, but we’ll leave it as a good name.
  • Florida Marlins – Regionally specific, Marlins are known to fishermen as putting up a heck of a fight which is a pretty good comparison to make to a baseball team so it works quite well.
  • Pittsburgh PiratesFactmonster says that the Pirates were originally called The Innocents (a terrible team name) until they signed a player away from the Philadelphia Athletics and that team’s fans started calling Pittsburgh’s team “pirates” as a slam to the way they had obtained a popular player from them. Eventually the name came to be more literal and Pirates suggest craftiness, stealing (such as bases) and terrorizing foes so it works out in the end.
  • St. Louis Cardinals – Missouri has a lot of Cardinals, they are fast and the name works from a local angle and as a strong symbol of the team. Good name.
  • Seattle Mariners – This one almost didn’t make it to this category because while Seattle, as a major port, certainly can claim local association with mariners, I’m not sure what sailors have to bring to baseball. Except I’ve seen the Deadliest Catch so I know that sailors are tough sons of guns and generally fearless which are pretty good traits for a baseball player. A close call but I’ll give it to them, as long as they agree to stop calling themselves the “M’s” which is just sad.
  • Arizona Diamondbacks – Another good locally-specific name with plenty of dangerous and ferocious connotations that work well as a team name.
  • Colorado Rockies – I debated this one for a long time because while certainly the Rocky Mountains are regionally applicable for a team based in Colorado, naming your team after a mountain range is sort of a cop-out. Still, the Rockies (the mountains) are majestic, imposing, unforgiving, and typically symbols of steadfastness. So in a kind of pseudo symbolic way it works.
  • San Francisco Giants – The name Giants suggest size, strength and intimidation, which works fine for a baseball (or any other sport, for the most part) team name. Not locally specific, but that’s good since the team is a transplant from New York.
Marginal or Questionable Names
  • New York Yankees – Similar to the Vancouver Canucks, naming a team based off of a nickname for a country’s people is somewhat dicey. I suppose it could be argued that the name is regional since Yankee often refers to a northeastern citizen of the United States and New York is certainly in that region and it could also be argued that it is a patriotic name which invokes images of the best qualities of the American spirit. Those arguments would be weak, but you could make them.
  • Kansas City Royals – I guess suggesting nobility can be inspiring for a sports team, but royalty really has little to do with athletic prowess and has absolutely nothing to do with Kansas City. Except that the name actually came from the American Royal Livestock Show held in Kansas City every year since 1899, according to Wikipedia. Naming a team after a livestock show is kind of dubious but it is locally specific so it sits right on the fence between really lame and just mostly lame. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for now.
  • Minnesota Twins – Locally specific is fine, such as with the Twins who are named after the Twin Cities (St. Paul and Minneapolis) but Twins aren’t any better at baseball than anyone else so the end result, while well intentioned, is less than stellar.
  • Chicago Cubs – Why cubs? Like my dad says, naming a team after a younger version of an animal that would be a much better team name (in this case the Bears, which works fine for the football team so why not the baseball team?) is pretty silly. Still, animal names and alliterations are better than some of the junk in the next section so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here, a little.
  • Houston Astros – The team based out of Houston was originally called the Colt 45s, which being an intimidating firearm is a pretty decent name. Then NASA set up shop in Houston and in 1965 the team was renamed to honor that (probably due to the popularity of the space program at the time). The problem is that “Astro” isn’t really a noun, it’s more of an adjective unless you’re talking about the dog on The Jetsons, which I don’t think we should. At least the spirit of the team name which evokes concepts of speed, progress, intelligence and so on is in the right place, but the end result is only so-so.
  • Milwaukee Brewers – Certainly locally-specific since Milwaukee is home to numerous beer breweries, I’m not convinced that (unlike the Steelers or Packers from football) a brewer suggests any quality that would be useful to a baseball player. Patience maybe? I dunno, although it may be salvaged somewhat due to the common correlation between baseball and beer, at least from a fan’s perspective.
  • Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Never mind the stupid city madness in the team name, Angels is questionable because it’s hard to imagine how an Angel would suggest anything terrestrial which might be an asset to a baseball team. But Angels refers to the English translation of “Los Angeles” (City of the Angels) which makes it locally appropriate (if not factually appropriate) and I suppose—at least if you believe some cut rate Disney movie—a team of Angels would be pretty tough to beat. It still seems kind of iffy to me though.
Actively Ridiculous or Stupid Names
  • Boston Red Sox – What does a colored sock have to do with anything? That’s like calling the Rangers the Blue Hats. Wow, a team named after a portion of their uniform. How… idiotic. That they also spelled “socks” wrong counts against them and that it is a shortened version of the double-whammy stupid and awkward “Red Stockings” just makes it worse.
  • New York Mets – The name is short for the official name which is “New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc.” The official name is patently lame and uninspired and the shortened version is therefore nonsensical.
  • Philadelphia Phillies – The team was named as an homage to their home city which is passively stupid since everyone knows that the city names are almost always included when referring to a sports team. This is necessary to remove any ambiguity with other sports teams. If I say “The Giants sure suck this year” I could be referring to at least two major sports teams and probably a host of collegiate and amatuer-level teams. If I say, “The San Francisco Giants sure suck this year,” which almost everybody would say in most cases, my meaning is clear. Therefore the homage angle is not well thought out and since there is, to my knowledge, no such actual thing as a “Philly” (note that a female horse who has not yet reached sexual maturity is a Filly and in no way a fitting baseball team name unless your team is populated with young girls who have a strong interest in My Little Pony), that means the name fails on all levels.
  • Washington Nationals – Stupid for the same reason as “Yankees” except even more so because no one that I’ve ever heard refers to an actual person as a “National” unless they preface it with a foreign country (such as “Chinese National”) and a team full of “Washington Nationals” when Washington isn’t a country strikes fear in the heart of… no one, really.
  • Chicago White Sox – Moronic for the exact same reasons as the Red Sox, all the way down to the unnecessary misspelling.
  • Cleveland Indians – The name itself is a little uncomfortable to begin with. Unlike “Braves,” Indians is not only not really the preferred term any longer but an Indian in an of itself shouldn’t necessarily confer any of the attributes a baseball team strives for. Then you throw in the team logo which is a miserable caricature of a Native American somewhat akin to the old cartoons and their exaggerated portrayals of African Americans (which would be absolutely unacceptable in modern times, by the way) and it starts to get really uncomfortable. Then you find out that Cleveland’s team name was originally the Spiders (not altogether a bad name for a baseball team) but they were the first to sign a Native American player in Louis Francis Sockalexis so racist fans began referring to the team—disparagingly—as the Indians. After Sockalexis left the league and eventually passed away, the team name was officially changed as an “homage” which, considering that the name was meant to be insulting in the first place, is questionable at best. At this point, it’s almost as bad as the NFL’s Redskins.
  • Cincinnati Reds – The actual name was originally the Cincinnati Red Stockings which automatically moves it down here based on the previous rants regarding the Red and White Sox. Items of clothing don’t make good sports team names, period. But when the Reds joined the National League, they dropped the Stockings and were just the Reds, which is also stupid since colors aren’t better names than clothing items. That Reds is also a derogatory term for communists, it just gets worse. Also? The Reds’ logo is among the worst ever, probably stemming from the fact that their name was ludicrous to begin with.
  • Oakland Athletics – The common nickname, “The A’s” is pretty dumb but not nearly as dumb as “Athletics” which generally doesn’t even refer to a person (who ever said, “That guy is an athletic!”) because it’s an adjective. Team names that are adjectives are inherently stupid and even though Athleticism is good from a baseball standpoint, there has to be something that possesses that trait for it to work.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers – Originally the team was the Brooklyn Dodgers and were originally known as the Trolley Dodgers which Wikipedia says was “a reference to Brooklyn pedestrians who “dodged” the trollies that ran over the maze of streetcar lines that criss-crossed Brooklyn.” So locally specific but still pretty dumb for a baseball team, but made completely worthless when the team moved to LA where they don’t have trolleys and are just known as the Dodgers which suggest that they typically dodge stuff. Since in baseball dodging anything except a wild pitch will usually result in an out or an error, it’s a dumb name for a dumb team. And yes, I did find glee in putting them here because I am a Giants fan.
  • San Diego Padres – Perhaps locally specific for the number of Spanish missionaries who historically populated the area, this takes the Anaheim Angels concept to a whole new level of ridiculousness and is in no way a fitting baseball team name.

I think the end result is that baseball has a lot more really bad names than football.

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