The Seattle Salty Dogs has a good ring to it. (via Chelsea Nesvig)
Some team names are absurdities, so ill-suited to their cities that they seem like jokes or blunders. Hi there, Pittsburgh Pirates! Others are 100 percent appropriate. What’s up, Milwaukee Brewers? Some, like the Dodgers and Athletics, are artifacts of a different time and place, while a few, like the Rockies and Mariners, are relatively new and perfectly descriptive of the local landscape.
Whatever their histories, MLB team names are now so familiar that we rarely examine their fitness—howdy, Texas Rangers!—or question their absurdity. Hey there, Kansas City Royals. Team names, indeed, are all over the map.
The National League features offspring of predatory animals; makers of fermented drinks; a long-wavelength color; seafaring criminals (but actually a group of roster thieves); birds; snakes; mountains; evaders of public transit; Franciscan friars; big fish; large individuals; courageous Native Americans; urbanites; subjects of a nation; and Philadelphians.
The American League features two pairs of colored footwear; two species of birds; one group of mammals (but actually a military unit); supernatural entities; electromagnetic radiation; space explorers; dizygotic offspring; Native Americans; Northeastern residents; plus Seattle’s seafarers, Texas’ law officers, Oakland’s adjectives and Kansas City’s assemblage of monarchs.
By all indications, almost any name will do. What follows, then, is a glimpse into history and an exercise in inquiry: WWWNTTT. What would we name the team today? That is to ask: If an MLB team were to begin today in the same locale, what the heck would we call it?
Officially or unofficially, the team has been called the White Stockings, Orphans, Remnants, Spuds, Colts and Cubs, applied in 1902 because of a youthful roster. By the time the team reached the 1906 World Series, the name had been established. By 1908, it was appearing on jerseys.
WWWNTTT: If the team were to start today, thereby erasing any connection to Cubs history and ivy-covered walls, we couldn’t name it the Wrigleys, the Spearmints or the All-New Colts. We could name it the Wildcats, Cougars or Ye Olde Shoppe Keepers. But let’s not.
The Cubs play on the North Side, home to several notable features: Navy Pier, Goose Island, Magnificent Mile. Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone wants to play for the Geese, and harder that anyone wants to play for the Piers. As for Magnificent Milers, players would need to run from Lincoln Park Zoo to North Avenue Beach–and back–in four minutes.
Think bigger. Chicago is famed for homegrown music, but the St. Louis hockey team already claimed the Blues. How about the Chicago Muddy Waters? No dice. The Howlin’ Wolves? This is major league baseball, not beer-league softball. During World War II, the University of Chicago served as headquarters for the Manhattan Project. The Chicago Manhattans? We’ll have lost our nominal compass. The Projects? It might work, but only if the team is comprised of 6-foot-4 southpaws who haven’t quite mastered a third pitch.
Look to the lofty skyline. How about the Towers? No?
My pick: Skyscrapers
Founded in 1866, the Cincinnati Base Ball Club became the Red Stockings after owner George Ellard designed their colored stockings. In 1869, they became baseball’s first all-professional team and proved it by posting a 65-0 record. A year later, the team dissolved.
In 1876, a new version of the Cincinnati Red Stockings emerged as a charter member of the National League but suffered expulsion five years later for serving beer at games. In 1882, a third Red Stockings team became a founding member of the American Association and continues play today. Having shortened the name to Reds, the team changed its name to Redlegs during the 1950s Red Scare but in time became the Reds again.
WWWNTTT: Think of Cincinnati and you think of steamboats, but let’s be frank: The name Cincinnati Steamboats brings to mind the World Football League of the 1970s. Would we add expansion teams named the Portland Storm and Chicago Fire? Steamers is another option, but that name is okay only if we want to associate the team with carpet cleaning.
Cincinnati has three nicknames. One, the Queen City, is especially regal, but we might have trouble convincing burly men to play for the Queens. Another, Porkopolis, is less regal, coined in the 1830s when Cincinnati served as a hub of hog packing. But you’re right in thinking the Cincinnati Other White Meats wouldn’t be widely palatable. Patterned after Rome, the city is also called The City of Seven Hills. The Cincinnati Sevens? Nope. The team would always seem two short of a full lineup, much like today’s Braves.
During the Civil War, nearby riverbanks contained artillery batteries to protect the city. The Cincinnati Batteries — great reason, great rhyme and a double entendre, too.
My pick: Batteries
Schlitz, for reasons that eluded the taste buds, is the beer that made Milwaukee famous. Milwaukee, in turn, is the city that made beer…beer. Its breweries also have produced Pabst, Blatz and Miller, the beer for which its stadium is named. Hence, Brewers.
WWWNTTT: It’s hard to separate Milwaukee from its beer. It’s like separating California from its wine and the Yankees from their rings. But let’s try. Missionaries and fur traders were the first Europeans to enter the area, but the Missionaries would inspire a lot of jokes about positional adjustment, while the Traders might have a hard time developing players.
In the mid-1800s, German immigrants helped establish the city. So, how about the Bavarians? Well, it sounds gut, but it might offend descendants of those who came from the Hesse-Darmstadt region. We have to be careful about such matters.
Milwaukee sits on Lake Michigan. Call the team the Milwaukee Trouts, though, and people might expect a team of 10-win players. Results would never match expectations. How about the Walleyes? Nope. Outfielders might never make a catch at the warning track. The Mussels? It makes for an alliterative homonym, but let us remember that invasive species of mussels are threatening lake ecology. It would be akin to calling a team the Mississippi Kudzus or the Washington Lobbyists.
My pick: Brewers
If ever a name seemed incompatible with its place, it’s the Pirates of Pittsburgh. Are we missing something? Did Pittsburgh serve as a tawdry seaport, teeming with treasure and cheap ale, prior to some tectonic shift? In fact, the name derives from the team’s playful embrace of an insult. At the turn of the century, the Philadelphia Athletics accused their intrastate rivals–known then as the Alleghenys–of “pirating” their players. After a decade of unofficial use, the name Pirates became part of the uniform in 1912.
WWWNTTT: In 1791, the region saw the rise of the Whiskey Rebellion, a protest against a federal tax imposed on distilled spirits. Face it, the Whiskey Rebels would be the coolest name in the history of names, but c’mon, will somebody think of the children? Whiskey, not to mention armed insurrection, shouldn’t be on the minds of impressionable young fans just yet.
Given its post-industrial culture–opera, theater, symphony orchestra–Pittsburgh has been called the Paris of Appalachia. As a name, though, the Pittsburgh Parisians seems as strange a fit as the Pittsburgh Pirates must have seemed before everybody got used to it. Give it time, though: Pittsburgh Parisians. Pittsburgh Parisians. Oui?
Non! We can’t have players quoting Sartre.
How about the Yinzers? Nope. Outside da Burgh, nobody knows what it means.
My pick: Alleghenys
St. Louis Cardinals
Known first as the Brown Stockings and then as the Browns, the team became the Perfectos after pilfering the best Cleveland Spiders in hopes of rocketing to the top of the National League. Though it failed to yield the desired results, the effort did usher a change of uniform colors, from brown to red. By the turn of the century, the team had become the Cardinals.
WWWNTTT: In 1678, the famed explorer LaSalle claimed the region for France. It hardly bears mention that St. Louis is no longer French, but France did give the city its name. And St. Louis LaSalles sounds great. Say it: St. Louis LaSalles. It’s gorgeous, even if you don’t have a French accent. The problem? A lot of LaSalle’s men mutinied. You want your players going the full 162.
During the Civil War, the St. Louis Arsenal produced warships called ironclads for the Union Navy. St. Louis Ironclads? We could do worse. The city is now famous for its Arch, of course. So, how about the Arches? Hmm. Do fries come with that?
One last submission: the St. Louis Saints. Perfecto.
My pick: Saints
In 1998, Phoenix is awarded a franchise. Its leaders select a truly excellent name.
WWWNTTT: In a land where Wildcats and Cougars rule collegiate sports, MLB features just six teams–three in each league–that use animals as names. One is the Diamondbacks, and the name works. First, the diamondback is common to the Arizona desert. Second, it’s a badass. Step on it, and pain is just the first of your problems. Third, Diamondbacks is a cool double entendre given that baseball is played on a–duh–diamond.
Still, what if we could choose a name now? Assuming the same place name, we could pick the Scorpions. Like desert plants, desert animals come with agony attached; a scorpion in particular is something you don’t want to snuggle with. As animals, bobcats and coyotes are a bit less fierce. As names, they’re about as cool. Cactus Wrens? No. Jackrabbits? Maybe. Roadrunners? Possibly. Javelinas? Probably. Gila Monsters? Definitely. Prairie Dogs? Not a chance. Of course, the state is also home to the Grand Canyon, but we don’t want to name a team the Canyons. Talk about a precipitous drop in the standings.
My pick: Diamondbacks
This one’s easy. When MLB awarded Denver an expansion franchise in 1993, the team’s power brokers glanced over their shoulders and noticed the giant mountain range behind them. The only question turned out to yield the correct answer: no, not Denver. Colorado.
WWWNTTT: Why mess around? Why spend half a million bucks on a consulting firm when the Colorado Rockies, as a massive collection of rocks, are standing right in front of us? But, sure, let’s humor this proposition with a few token attempts. Assuming the same place name, we could pick the Colorado Plateaus. But that might predispose the team to years of never quite reaching the top. Mesas? Nobody wants to invoke Jose Mesa and his Game 7 meltdown.
Let us return to alpine heights. You want to honor mankind’s conquests of those peaks? Mountaineers isn’t bad, but the West Virginians claimed it. Climbers? No, too much of a social connotation–we envision men in rented tuxedos and women in consignment gowns, both scheming their way into dinner parties until such time that they meet a fake prince named Jean-Luc. Alpinists? No, it’s too specific to an exclusive club of people who defecate in bags while fastened to a rock face 10,000 feet up.
Skiers? Boarders? They have their own sports. Why invite them to ours?
My pick: Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers
The name Los Angeles Dodgers is as weird as Los Angeles Lakers. What lakes? And what are you people dodging? Each, of course, is a relic of another place. The name Dodgers came from Brooklyn, where midcentury residents were said to possess the keen ability to dodge trolleys.
WWWNTTT: The name Dodgers feels quite familiar, but it isn’t a name we’d choose today. What is? Hollywood is Tinseltown, so how about the Tinsels? No. First, Hollywood isn’t L.A., per se, and L.A. isn’t Hollywood. Second, we might see uniforms that resemble Christmas trees. Would each cap feature a Star of Bethlehem topper?
On the subject of stars, the city has lots–not the ones you see from Griffith Observatory but those you see around town. Example: I once saw The Todd from Scrubs in a Mexican restaurant in Los Feliz. So, the Los Angeles Stars? Two problems: One, the last letter of Angeles, like the first letter of Stars, is an “s.” Awkward. Second, the NHL’s Dallas Stars do exist, even if they flout the aforementioned problem.
The L.A. Drivers might work. The pennant drive is always a goal, and have you seen those freeways? The L.A. Quakes might also work, but it’s bad form to honor disaster. Or maybe it isn’t. The Dodgers’ Class-A affiliate is named the Quakes, of Rancho Cucamonga. Shaky.
My pick: Drivers
San Diego Padres
The team began in 1903 as the Sacramento Solons. That’s not a misspelling. They didn’t whiff on Saloons or miss a typewriter key on Salons. If you’re an intellectual, you know what solon means. It means intellectual. Lots of teams were named the Solons in those days, nearly all in capital cities. The Solons were a Pacific Coast League team. When the team moved to San Diego in 1936, it took the name Padres to honor the Spanish missionaries who founded the place. When MLB granted a franchise in 1969, local solons maintained the name Padres.
WWWNTTT: Imagine a scenario wherein we choose the name Padres today. You can’t, can you? San Diego bills itself as America’s Finest City for a very good reason. It has sunshine, waves, beaches, hills and beautiful weather–in other words, way too much fun stuff for us to go invoking the friars who pioneered the American version of Catholic guilt.
So, what would the name be? Your picks are the same as mine: the Sands, the Surfers, the Breakers, the Curls, the Waves. More? Stick to surfing and we have the Swells and Aerials. Don’t pick the Fades. You want them to finish strong.
How about the San Diego 70s? That’s the climate, pretty much.
My pick: Swells
San Francisco Giants
Unlike the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Padres, the Giants didn’t get to choose their name. It arrived on the moving truck when the franchise relocated from New York in 1957.
WWWNTTT: San Francisco is iconic: the bridge, the cable cars, the hills, the bay. Move outward and you have the grapes. But do any of the icons make for a good team name? Maybe you could cheer for the Cable Cars, but maybe your neighbor couldn’t. And if we call the team the Zinfandels, or, worse, the Sauvignon Blancs, we’re asking for trouble from folks who prefer a Bud.
Of course, when we imagine the bay, we imagine sailboats, right? How about the San Francisco Sailors? Sounds good! But then we imagine wartime sailors on shore leave, each stumbling down the street en route to the tattoo parlor, and it just ruins the romance.
Stay on the water, or in it. Steelhead trout are native to the bay. So, the Steelheads? It sounds good, too, but it’s a bad look. First, the local steelhead population is in decline and listed as threatened. Team names shouldn’t operate as public service announcements. Second, do you really want a team full of Steelheads? How many bunt signals would they miss?
The place is also famed for its sea lions. Head to Pier 39 and you’ll see them, along with the waffle cones. So, the San Francisco Waffle Cones? No. The San Francisco Sea Lions? Yes.
My pick: Sea Lions
The name is an inheritance, an heirloom. In 1908, the American League team in Boston became the Red Sox while the National League team became the Braves. The name followed the team to Milwaukee and Atlanta.
WWWNTTT: One thing about Atlanta: Everything is peach this and peach that. At one point or another, every street–or so it seems–turns briefly into Peachtree Lane. It’s natural, even organic, that we’d call the team the Peaches. One problem: The Rockford Peaches played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Granted, we’re at a time when a TV show about a female MLB pitcher is less scorned than praised, but would a group of men really play for the Peaches? Hey, nobody’s using the names Springfield Sallies or Chicago Colleens, either.
The city played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement, so, with apologies to the team’s lefties, the Atlanta Rights might work. Given its place in race relations, Atlanta has billed itself as The City Too Busy To Hate. How about the Busybees? No?
We could go regional with the Southerners or Georgians, but Atlanta is an international city now. Have you seen the airport? One word: busybees! And please, forget the Antebellums or Taras. You want sweet tea and cheese grits in the bottom of each inning?
Unbeknownst to non-residents, Atlanta is heavily wooded. Alas, the Atlanta Arbors sounds like an apartment complex populated by recent college grads.
My pick: Roots
When MLB awarded Miami an expansion franchise in 1993, officials revived the name of three defunct minor league teams. By picking the place name Florida, however, they rejected the alliterative lure of the original name: Miami Marlins. In 2011, officials restored the alliteration.
WWWNTTT: Forget the infamous pop-culture icons. We can’t name the team the Miami Vices. Can you imagine the sockless loafer spikes? Nor can we name them the Scarfaces. Granted, Pacino was great, but it would get a bit old watching Giancarlo Stanton brandish a bat while snarling, “Say hello to my little friend.” Let’s approach our task with more sincerity, shall we? Incidentally, this course of action should prevent you from suggesting a counterpart to the NBA’s Miami Heat: namely, the Miami Humidity.
As a name, Miami Marinas sounds okay. But it’s devoid of human charm. We need something with life, not seagull droppings. The Reefs? It’s too inanimate, too hard. How about the Miami Divers? It does sounds great–rhythm, assonance. But woe be unto the Divers during a 10-game losing streak. The Twitterverse would explode with derivative quips.
The Sailors? See San Francisco. Surfers? Please. Surfing in Miami is like surfing on Lake Erie. Of course, music is a big deal in Miami, but the Miami Merengues would seem provincial, and the Miami Sound Machines would be unbearable.
My pick: Marlins
New York Mets
It began as the Metropolitan Baseball Club. In the 1880s, newspapers listed the team as the Metropolitans as a way to distinguish it from the neighboring New Yorks. The name Metropolitans then sat unused for nearly a century until New York’s 1962 expansion team, replacing the departed Giants and Dodgers, revived it.
WWWNTTT: Any name we might consider for the Yankees, we might also for the Mets. Well, not any name. We couldn’t call them the Empires. The Yankees are the Evil Empire. The Mets are but a satellite, ever beholden to the Empire’s pull. Given this set of conditions, we could call them the Not Yankees. But no team wants to be defined by what it isn’t. It wants to be defined by what it is. Otherwise, in the American League, we’d have the Chicago Anti-Cubs.
We could go with Gothamites. Two problems: First, people of a certain age associate the word Gotham with Batman and Commissioner Gordon. Second, the name seems parochial. A city so big should face outward. Of course, the team actually plays in Queens. So, how about the Kings (of Queens)? Maybe the Regals? Nope. We have to be careful. Names are easily corrupted. In the dog days of a losing summer, people would call them the Beagles.
Let’s stay with the regal theme. The Sultans or Czars? Eh, too un-American. The Caliphs or Potentates? Again, not enough apple pie. How about the Princes? No chance. The team is already second fiddle; don’t announce it.
My pick: Sovereigns
Nineteenth-century sportswriters often called the Chicago team the Chicagos, the Boston team the Bostons. Though familiar, the names didn’t stick, officially. In Philadelphia, however, the name did stick. The city long had been referred to as Philly, so the team became the Phillies. In 1944, the team’s new owner introduced a select-a-name contest. Fans chose the Blue Jays. That name did not stick. The Phillies were here to stay.
WWWNTTT: Philadelphia is an old city. Its history is big. The Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution there. So, the Fathers? Don’t call them the Phathers. Philadelphia is home to the Liberty Bell, but the Philadelphia Bells sounds like a collection of mascots for a local phone company. Plus, the crack jokes–wisecracks?–would be hard to bear. Bells Crack In The Ninth. Ugh.
The city gave birth to the U.S. Marine Corps, but while Semper Fis is a cool name, we might incur the wrath of the Army. And we really don’t want to incur the wrath of the Army. In addition, we’d end up with the Semper Phis, which sounds less like a slogan and more like a fraternity whose charter was revoked because of the hazing.
One temptation is to call them the Freedoms. Resist. First, it calls to mind the linguistic evolution–devolution, really–that has seen the word freedom pluralized: “These freedoms we enjoy.” Please. Freedom implies all the little liberties within its embrace. Second, you’d never get that Elton John song out of your head. Third? It sounds like the name of a World TeamTennis team. And, in fact, a bit of research reveals that it actually is.
My pick: Founders
The team had two names, Nationals and Senators, for a long time. It fixed that problem by moving to Minnesota in 1960 and becoming, ironically, the Twins. When the Expos moved to D.C. in 2005, franchise leaders had a decision to make: Nationals or Senators? It wasn’t a decision. After a second iteration of the Senators moved to Texas in 1972, the Rangers became owners of that trademarked name. The D.C. team was now the Nationals.
WWWNTTT: Washington, D.C., is in a unique position. Not only is it the only MLB city without a state, it’s also–and this probably goes without saying–the only U.S. capital. The new team name should derive from this circumstance, yes?
Most options are pretty obvious. They’re also pretty bad. The Washington Politicians? Yikes. No matter how passionate their support for party candidates, Americans are no longer idealistic–if ever they were–about politicians. Mr. Smith is no longer going to Washington. Huckster Von Hucksterson is going to Washington. We could never convince a large group of people to root for the Politicians. We might as well call the team the Tax Collectors.
How about something less incendiary than–grrrrrrrrrrrrrr–Politicians? The Statesmen? No. Hints of sexism, however nominal, are poor form in the place of legislation. You might as well pick the Old Boys Club. Statespeople? It’s manufactured appeasement. Who’s on the hot corner, the third baseperson? Lawmakers wouldn’t work. It’s not that a lone dissenter in the nearby woods–you know, the guy who has his own flag and prints his own money–wouldn’t support the team. It’s that Lawmakers is a terrible name.
Don’t get snarky by calling them the Baby-Kissers. Don’t get dull by calling them the Officeholders. And don’t get sarcastic by calling them the Public Servants. Perhaps they’re not the most altruistic people, but hey, at least they call us constituents and not clients.
My pick: Nationals
Chicago White Sox
In 1900, owner Charles Comiskey moved his St. Paul Saints to Chicago and gave them the name of the city’s former National League team, the White Stockings, who would later become the Cubs. With column inches to fill but deadlines to meet, the press shortened the name to White Sox. Two decades hence, following the gambling scandal in the 1919 World Series, the team unofficially became the Black Sox, but now the Sox are bleached again and remain a linguistic forerunner to the shorthand that turns text messages into BTWs.
WWWNTTT: No rational person would name the team the White Sox today. First, given that most players wear their uniform pants like oversized pajama bottoms, few even show their socks. Second, the trend is to link teams with local features or native creatures, a la the Rockies of Colorado and the Marlins of Miami, so even if the South Side had chartered the Clorox Social Club, white socks are hardly exclusive to the Windy City.
In the absence of proprietary claims to alabaster hosiery, what would we name the team now? The South Side once featured steel mills and meat-packing plants, but if we choose the name Steelers or Packers, football fans in a pair of American cities might brandish Terrible Towels or Cheesehead Hats in the commission of a vigorous protest.
More broadly, Chicago sits on Lake Michigan, so, at the risk of headlines featuring the words “wreck” or “sink,” we could honor Great Lakes industry with the name Freighters. Or we could salute Chicago’s Union Stock Yards and the NBA Bulls by naming the team the Steers. That said, we need to remain vigilant in pun prevention. Headlines like this–Management Steers Team in Wrong Direction–would be just one wrong turn.
My pick: Freighters
Cleveland teams were known as the Forest Citys and the Spiders in the late 19th century. In 1899, team owners transferred the best Spiders players to a second team they owned, the St. Louis Perfectos, while changing many of the Spiders’ home games to road games. The result: a record of 20-134 and a pair of unofficial nicknames, the Wanderers and the Exiles.
At season’s end, the American Association put the Spiders out of their misery by contracting the franchise. A year later, a new Cleveland team formed and called itself the Naps in honor of star Nap Lajoie. In 1915, after trading Lajoie, the owner asked newspapers to coin a new name. Some sources claim they chose Indians to honor former player Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot. Others say they emulated the champion Braves.
WWWNTTT: Though many consider the team’s Chief Wahoo logo a racist caricature, most endorse the name Indians. But what if we could avoid the controversy? Forget old history. In the 1950s, local disc jockey Alan Freed helped popularize a fledgling form of music and called it rock ‘n roll. As a name, Cleveland Rocks is taken. We can’t give a baseball team the same name as the theme song of a syndicated TV show. Cleveland Rolls? I don’t know, man. There’s probably a bakery with that name. So, how about this? Cleveland Beats.
My pick: Beats
Organized in 1830, a military unit called the Detroit Light Guard fought in major battles of the Civil War–including those at Antietam and Gettysburg–and the Spanish-American War. Over time, the unit’s nickname became the Tigers. At the turn of the century, the Detroit team received permission from the Light Guard to use the name Tigers.
WWWNTTT: Calling a Detroit team the Tigers is like calling my high school team the Cougars. And that really is my high school team. I’m not a zoologist, but I’m confident no cougar has been sighted within 100 miles of those hallowed halls. So, what would we call the Detroit team now? The auto industry is a major player, but the NBA team has claimed the name Pistons. How about the Motors? Please don’t call them the Mufflers. That seems rude.
We’ve read the history books. We could call them the Trappers or Beavers. Recent history brings us back to Big Auto. But while the Teamsters has a nice ring, we’ll skip it. More harmonious history delivers us to Motown and its sound yet also brings to mind WNBA-ish names like the Rhythm and, alas, the Sound. How about the Supremes? The Pips? Eh, we might run into copyright issues. Recall, however, that Motown’s historic headquarters is Hitsville U.S.A. Yep, we’d have the Hits of Hitsville.
My pick: Hits
Kansas City Royals
America isn’t a monarchy. It’s a constitutional republic, meaning power is shared between the Feds and the states. Accordingly, kings and queens can’t just waltz into mid-sized states and assume the sovereign throne. So, what gives? Why are the Royals the Royals?
After the Athletics moved to Oakland following the 1967 season, Kansas City was left without a pro team for the first time since 1883. State officials then threatened to fight baseball’s antitrust exemption. In response, MLB awarded Kansas City an expansion team and accelerated its debut. In 1969, owner Ewing Kauffman named the team for a local stock show/rodeo called the American Royal.
WWWNTTT: The name Kansas City Royals sounds great to our baseball ears. We are conditioned to its rhythm and desensitized to its absurdity. Were we to name the team today, however, Royals would be as low on the list as Mountaineers or Sharks.
The city is known for its fountains and barbecue, but Kansas City Fountains sounds like a landscape design company. You’d find their fliers on your doorknob. Barbecues? Egad, no. The terrifying specter of eye-rolling headlines–Barbecues Burnt in Houston–is enough to reject it. Of course, the operation that gave rise to KC barbecue–namely, the Stockyards–could serve as inspiration. The Stockmen? The Drovers? Don’t say Abattoirs. It sounds as fancy as Royals, but we know it means slaughterhouses.
The name Cowboys would be excellent and, in fact, graced the jerseys of three local pro teams. But c’mon, man! Do you really think Jerry Jones would allow it? That said, the Dallas Cowboys owner can’t claim a registered trademark on Cowpokes.
My pick: Cowpokes
When the Senators moved to Minnesota prior to the 1961 season, owner Clark Griffith devised a way to broker civic peace between neighboring Minneapolis and St. Paul: He would soothe their century-long rivalry with the name Twin Cities Twins. After meeting with state officials, however, he agreed to a solution that had not been attempted in major league baseball: naming a team for a state. Thus were born the Minnesota Twins.
WWWNTTT: Given America’s current taste for cheap celebrity, we might choose the name Twins only if the Olsen sisters comprised its double-play combo. Otherwise, no. Granted, it’s a great-sounding name–excellent rhythm, subtle assonance–but suffice to it say a majority of our fellow citizens have forgotten St. Paul is included in the capital cities we memorized in fourth grade. Hear them say it: “Twin Cities, Schmwin Schmities.”
Like all states, Minnesota enjoys a history of Native American involvement, but to call the team the Ojibwes or Dakotas is to open a can of PC worms we don’t want. Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but its mid-century basketball team ruined the name Lakers by sending it to L.A. Naming a team for native flora is rarely a good idea–Minnesota Balsam Firs, anyone?–but naming for local fauna can work. Timberwolves? The NBA team took it. Gophers? The college team took it. We could go with the Elk or Bison, but each suffers the misfortune of lacking an “s.” MLB isn’t MLS.
Look instead to the north. The answer is in the greatest of the 10,000 lakes.
My pick: Superiors
Established in 1962 as the Colt .45s, the team became the Astros in 1965 to reflect the city’s role, via NASA, in the U.S. space program. That same year, the Astros moved into the world’s first domed stadium, the Astrodome, which embodied what the name Colt .45s did not: a futuristic identity that separated itself from antiquated themes of the Old West.
WWYNTTT: The name Astros is a good fit. It feels exclusive to Houston and its link to space. Miami Astros? We might as well say the St. Louis Marlins. The problem, as Rangers fans are happy to point out, is that it lends itself to a pair of pejoratives: Lastros and Disastros. With that in mind, even Astros fans might embrace a new name. The name Astronauts is a nonstarter, though, because they’d suffer Lastronauts and Disastronauts.
The NFL’s Oilers no long exist, so that’s an option given the city’s link to Big Oil. Then again, somebody might show up in an Edmonton hockey shirsey. Oilmen? J.R. lived in Dallas, not Houston. Drillers? It might have worked, but the Dodgers Double-A affiliate owns it. Energizers? Too bunny-related. Moonlanders? Nah. Urban Cowboys? Ridiculous.
We could opt for the Hurricanes, but does any team want to evoke catastrophe?
My pick: Astros
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels have one of the weirdest names in sports. First, when people say, “The Los Angeles Angels,” they’re saying, “The The Angels Angels.” Is there an echo in here? Add the fact that the franchise can’t pick a city and what you have is the equivalent of The The Yankees Yankees of Yonkers. Worse, the acronym ends with so many A’s that rival fans employ the pejorative LAAAAA, or LAAAAAAA or sometimes even LAAAAAAAAAAAAA.
How did this happen? The name originated with a minor league team in 1892. A Pacific Coast League team used it through 1957. When the American League expanded in 1961, owner Gene Autry paid $300,000 for the rights to Angels. After moving the team to Anaheim in 1966, he changed it to California Angels. In 1996, the name changed again, to Anaheim Angels. And in 2005, following a legal tug-of-war between two municipalities, it changed once more.
WWWNTTT: The city is famed for Disneyland, so the names Disneys or Mickeys might work. That said, they might not. Cynics could respond by calling them the Corporate Sellouts. Embracing the theme-park theme–remember, the region is also home to Knott’s Berry Farm–we could call them the Attractions, but wags would add the modifier Fatal.
Anaheim is located in Orange County, but Anaheim Oranges sounds like a subsidiary of Del Monte. The boysenberry originated in the area, but among all the berries, Boysenberries might make for the worst name. Seriously, the Anaheim Boysenberries? You’re just begging for ridicule. Though the city isn’t located on the beach, it might be close enough for naming purposes: the Surfers? Breakers? Hang Tens? Yikes.
Of course, we could combine the beach theme and the theme-park theme by employing a double entendre. That said, fans might use it to criticize the Coasters’ late-season approach.
My pick: Coasters
Like California counterparts the Giants and Dodgers, the name Athletics is a relic of a different time and place. Having fielded amateur squads since the 1830s, Philadelphia played host to a team that by the 1860s had become the region’s finest: the Athletic Base Ball Club. When newspapers began publishing box scores, they shortened the name to Athletic. Soon they became the Athletics. Upon turning professional in 1871, the Athletics played five seasons in the National Association and one in the National League before suffering contraction due to financial woes. In 1901, the new Philadelphia entry of the American league revived the name Athletics. When the franchise moved to Kansas City in 1955 and to Oakland in 1968, it retained the name.
WWWNTTT: Athletics is a strange name. So familiar does it sound that we forget the word is an adjective and not a noun. Given this most fourth-grade of language facts, we could just as easily call them the Coordinateds. If the team started today, though, what would we call it? Not the Athletics. And certainly not the Coordinateds. The land that gave rise to Oakland gave rise to oaks, so Oakland Oaks might work. When Spanish settlers claimed the area in the 1840s, it became known as encinal, meaning “oak grove.” Oakland Encinals has a nice ring.
The city sits near the San Andreas Fault, but nobody wants to play for the Faults. We might as well call them the Flaws or Imperfections. Cynics might pitch the Oakland No There Theres. But in truth, a misinterpreted Gertrude Stein line should not a team name make.
My pick: Oaks
Seattle’s first team, the Pilots, performed a touch-and-go before landing in Milwaukee as the Brewers. The second team got its name in 1976 from 600 entries in a name-the-team contest.
WWWNTTT: Today, we can only speculate as to the other entries in the contest. Emeralds? Seattle is known as the Emerald City. Timbers? It has a long connection to the lumber industry. We might also speculate that many of the submissions would remain valid today. The city hasn’t budged from its place on the Puget Sound in the shadow of the Cascades, so if anyone submitted Pugets or Cascades in 1976, their descendants could do so now.
But Seattle, like any city, has changed across four decades. Today’s cognoscenti might submit the Hipsters or Flannels, even if the latter would fit better in a Recent Anachronisms Museum highlighted by Soundgarden. If especially snarky–or enterprising–the same cognoscenti might opt for Seattle Starbucks, seeking either to lampoon the city’s iconic corporate product or to cash in on it. Sincere submitters might embrace the maritime theme that produced the Mariners, perhaps with the Sea Captains or Swabbies.
My pick: Salty Dogs
Upon arrival from D.C. in 1972, the team changed names from Senators to Rangers. Good move. Texas Senators would have represented a demotion, from a federal chamber to that of a state, and anyway, who wants to root for a team whose name embodies partisan rancor rather than a solidarity of support? Foregoing the name of one local minor league team, the Spurs, in favor of another, the team in Arlington took the name of a law enforcement agency created by land empresario Stephen F. Austin in 1823, one whose members, pistol-packin’ and tough, embodied the swagger any team would eagerly adopt.
WWWNTTT: The team’s founding fathers did a sensible thing in choosing the place name Texas instead of Dallas, Fort Worth, Dallas-Fort Worth or, egad, Arlington. With that in mind, what would we name the team today? For better or worse, Texas stands for a lot of things to a lot of people. Coastal elites would call the team the Texas Stupid Rednecks–if they were being nice–but I think we can all agree that the logo would be almost as off-putting as Chief Wahoo. Your Texas-proud types might pick the Texas Revolutionaries, Texas Nationalists or the sort of singular noun that identifies MLS and WNBA teams, something, indeed, like the Texas Proud. Ugh.
More reasonable folks might pick the Wildcatters, given the state’s historical footing in oil and gas, or the Pioneers, Ranchers or Wranglers, given its prominent place in the mythic American West. Forget the Texas Yahoos. Web portals just ain’t folksy.
My pick: Rangers
Orioles is an old name. Three Baltimore teams have employed it in various iterations of the major leagues, the first from 1882 to 1899, the second from 1901 to 1902 and the third from 1954 to Manny Machado. But why Orioles? The team is named for the blackbird whose colors resembled those on the coat of arms of Lord Baltimore himself, George Calvert, who in the 17th century helped establish the Maryland colony and for whom the city is named.
WWWNTTT: Given our druthers, we might still call the team the Orioles. After all, the oriole is the state bird of Maryland. But other options abound. Baltimore gave birth to Francis Scott Key, composer of “The Star Spangled Banner,” so how about the Banners? The city also spawned Billie Holiday and Eubie Blake, so, with a double entendre in play, why not the Keys? The NFL’s Ravens took the name of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, but the native son did produce other works. Still, as a name, the Purloined Letters does seem unwieldy.
The city is famed for crabs, but jock itch jokes wouldn’t begin to exhaust the awfulness of that selection. How about Crabbers? We could stay on the water and choose the Clippers, but a team on another coast and in another sport has claimed it. The harbor skyline is famed for its Dominos Sugar refinery; waterside, the neon sign is a classic. But as a name, the Baltimore Dominoes sounds like a defunct a capella group whose lone hit has faded from memory. And the Baltimore Sugars sounds like a roller derby team in need of cash.
My pick: Banners
Boston Red Sox
In 1908, owner John Taylor basically said, “You shall wear red stockings.”
WWWNTTT: Were we to name the team today, Red Sox Nation wouldn’t be Red Sox Nation. Why name a nation–rather, a team–after a color of menswear? As much as any city in baseball, Boston is old and iconic. The difficulty in choosing a name would stem from too many, not too few, options.
English immigrants settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but the name Puritans does have baggage. We might as well call them the Dogmatists. Colonial Boston boasted elected officials, but something tells me Fence Viewers or Water Bailiffs just wouldn’t be popular. Can you imagine Hogreeves Nation? The Sons of Liberty sparked a revolution by dumping tea, but Liberties sounds like an indoor soccer team. Tea Partiers? Talk about a revolt. The NFL team grabbed the name Patriots, so how about the Reveres?
In the mid-19th century, a group of Harvard grads established themselves as the Boston elite. But while Boston Brahmins might sound good, it could offend those who are more blue-collar than blueblood and confuse those who think it’s a breed of cattle.
Early Boston produced several highbrow writers–Holmes, Hawthorne, Longfellow–but Boston Authors is far too posh and restrictive. How about the Boston Beaneaters? No, it’s been done and won’t be done again. Goodbye, fart jokes! Move to the water. Boston Cod? No. Boston Lobsters? No. Boston Flounders? You’re nuts.
My pick: Reveres
New York Yankees
The Yankees weren’t always the Yankees, despite what the WWWNTTT section implies. First, they were the Highlanders. After the team moved from its elevated location at Hilltop Park to the Polo Grounds, the name Highlanders no longer made sense. Embracing a nickname newspapers had used for years, the team became the Yankees.
WWWNTTT: Love ’em or loathe ’em, the Yankees are MLB’s flagship franchise. The name seems to have been handed down by an almighty god. Or maybe it started with the Big Bang. If we named the team today, I feel certain the name would reverberate across the cosmos, dodging black holes, to enter our collective unconscious.
But what if it didn’t? Thought experiments are fun, even if you know the final answer. How about the Boroughs? Not bad. But does the franchise want to turn inward, to only its local fan base, or outward, to the world it knows is watching? Perhaps compromise is the key. How about the New York Broadways?
Or, look up. Higher. There it is: the Empire State Building. Here we have the perfect name, one paying homage to an iconic building, a state nickname and the Evil Empire itself. Ladies and gentlemen…the New York Empires!
My pick: Yankees (sigh)
Tampa Bay Rays
The 1998 expansion team took the name of the manta ray, nicknamed the devil ray. Following a 2007 season in which the team lost 96 games, ownership rebranded the team by directing the allusion to the Florida sun.
WWWNTTT: The name Tampa Bay Devil Rays had a great rhythm. Tampa Bay Rays does not. It moves too fast, skips a beat. But none of that matters. We’re starting fresh, like ceviche. So, what’s the new name? A local minor league team once bore the name Tampa Tarpons. It works–alliteration, rhythm, a link to the local scene. Sadly, though, it sounds like the name of every third high school team on the Florida Gulf Coast. Manatees are common, and cool, but let’s be honest, they don’t seem particularly athletic.
How about Oysters, Clams, Scallops, Shrimp? Get serious. A baseball team isn’t a sampler platter. The Mullets? Spare us. It’s a common fish, sure, but it’s also a hairstyle that deserves to die. Turn to history. In the 16th century, Spanish maps identified the local bay as Baya de Spirito Santo. So, the Tampa Bay Santos? Yikes. It looks like a Christmastime typo.
My pick: Sun Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
According to Canadian legend, the name arose after a board member looked out his window while shaving and saw a blue jay. Good thing he didn’t see a brown recluse. Or a black widow. We might also add a yellow cab and Gray Line Bus. Of course, the legend is probably apocryphal. It’s a nice story, but real legends rarely begin with a morning shave. Other sources suggest Blue Jays came from a name-the-team contest.
WWWNTTT: After the Expos left for sunny America, the Blue Jays became Canada’s only MLB team and remain so today, drawing America’s Pastime focus from the country’s 36 million people. So, we could name the team the Canadians. (The Montreal Canadiens are using the Canadien spelling, as it were.) Local history might inspire the name Iroquois. In fact, the Iroquois term for “place where trees stand in the water” inspired the word Toronto. Emphasize Ontario and we might choose the Black Bears or Snowshoe Hares. In the realm of team mascots, the Snowshoe Hare would stand–or hop–alone.
With so much water in the region, we could pick the Rivers or Lakes. Eh, how do you say “no way” in Canadian? Toronto Rivers sounds like the name of a faith healer at a three-week folk festival just outside Yellowknife.
My pick: Canadians
Those are my picks. Yours?