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The Origin of Every MLB Team Name

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The Origin of Every MLB Team Name

Postby Coppermine » Wed Jul 25, 2007 10:23 pm

This is a spinoff from the best/worst team name thread that I was originally going to post in to simply post some of my thoughts on MLB team names. That turned into a little research, which blossomed into a lot of research and eventually became a brief history behind the name of every MLB team name. Feel free to comment (or not) or copy and paste, or argue and refute my findings. They're simple, basic, to the point but, most of all, enlightening as nearly every MLB team name has an interesting story behind it. Only the few teams named arbitrarily by the fans in contests (Diamondbacks) or greedy owners (Marlins) stand out as lacking history or depth. But even those lend some charm to Major League Baseball which, in my opinion, once again trumps every profession sports league in tradition, authenticity and charm.

So, here you have it; the team names and their origins:

AL East:


Baltimore Orioles

Est. 1901
Based in Baltimore: 1954
Milwaukee Brewers (1901)
St. Louis Browns (1902-1953)
The name has a rich history in Baltimore, having been used by Baltimore baseball teams since the late 19th century. It is named for an actual breed of bird whose common name is, in fact, the Baltimore Oriole which is also the state bird of Maryland and a team name shared by every professional baseball team played in Baltimore up to establishment of the franchise.

Boston Red Sox
Est. 1901
Boston Americans (1901-1907)
They took their name from the Boston Red Stockings, the original name of the Boston Braves (the first professional ballclub in Boston). They assumed the name, which they were commonly referred to as a nickname by fans and media, after the 1907 season in which the Americans lost 105 games and finished last.

New York Yankees

Est. 1901
Based in New York: 1903
Baltimore Orioles (1901-1902)
New York Highlanders (1903-1912)
Interestingly, the original 1901 Baltimore Orioles became the New York Highlanders in 1903. The name was a reference to the team's location (Hilltop Park in Manhattan) and also to the noted British military unit The Gordon Highlanders, which fit as the team's president from 1903 to 1906 was Joseph Gordon. By 1904, the team was also being called the "Yankees", a synonym for "Americans", but initially "Highlanders" was the most common unofficial nickname of the new team. They officially changed their name to the Yankees in 1913 after adopting the Polo Grounds as their home thus giving "Highlanders" little meaning.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Est. 1998
A contest was held to pick the team name. Although it finished 4th, owner Vince Naimoli liked it, and the name Rays was chosen. Devil Rays won in a phone poll over Manta Rays.

Toronto Blue Jays
Est. 1977
Origin is uncertain; I found two, distinct explanations. The first says: The name "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". "That's an interesting name," a board member said, and it was the first time anyone had mentioned the words blue jay. It was very likely that the new team would have worn blue in any case; blue has been Toronto's traditional sporting color since the Toronto Argonauts adopted blue as their primary color in 1873.
The second says: Named in a contest, winning entry was described as being named because the city’s large bird population combined with all of Toronto’s sports teams having the colors blue and white.
I think it may be a combination of both, but I found no supporting literature that they were named in a public contest.

AL Central:

Chicago White Sox
Est. 1900
Sioux City Cornhuskers (1893-1894)
St. Paul Saints (1894-1900)
White Stockings (1900-1903) – Official name did not include the city name Chicago, although they were based there.
The original name of the Chicago Cubs was the Chicago White Stockings (after the color of their socks) and was thus adopted by Charles Comisky when he was given ownership to the minor league Sioux City Cornhuskers and moved them to Chicago’s South Side in the newly formed American League.

Cleveland Indians

Est. 1901
Cleveland Naps (1905-1914)
Cleveland Bronchos (1902-1904)
Cleveland Blues (1901)
Legend has it that the team honored Louis Sockalexis (a Penobscot Indian, the first Native American to play Major League Baseball) when it assumed its current name in 1915. The spectacular Sockalexis, a Native American, had played in Cleveland 1897-1899.
On the contrary, when the "Naps" sent longtime leader Napoleon Lajoie to the Philadelphia Athletics at the end of the 1914 season, owner Charles Somers asked the local newspapers to come up with a new name for the team. They chose "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. Proponents of the name acknowledged that the Cleveland Spiders of the National League had sometimes been informally called the "Indians" during Sockalexis' short career there, a fact which merely reinforced the new name.

Detroit Tigers
Est. 1894
There are various legends about how the Tigers got their nickname. One involves the orange stripes they wore on their black stockings. Tigers manager George Stallings took credit for the name; however, the name appeared in newspapers before Stallings was manager. Another legend concerns a sportswriter equating the 1901 team's opening day victory with the ferocity of his alma mater, the Princeton Tigers. The earliest known use of the name "Tigers" in the news was in the Detroit Free Press on April 16, 1895.
The truth is revealed in Richard Bak's 1998 book, A Place for Summer: A Narrative History of Tiger Stadium. In the 19th century, the city of Detroit had a military unit called the Detroit Light Guard, who was known as "The Tigers". They had played significant roles in certain Civil War battles and in the 1899 Spanish-American War. The baseball team was still informally called both "Wolverines" and "Tigers" in the news. Upon entry into the majors the ballclub sought and received formal permission from the Light Guard to use its trademark and from that day forth it is officially the Tigers.
In short, the Tigers most likely wore stripes because they were already Tigers, rather than the other way around which is the conventional story.

Kansas City Royals
Est. 1969
Pharmaceutical executive Ewing Kauffman won the bidding for the new Kansas City team, which he 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, a Negro League team. The teams' iconic logo, a crown atop a shield with the letters "KC" inside the shield, was created by Shannon Manning, an artist at Hallmark Cards, based in Kansas City.

Minnesota Twins

Est. 1901
In Minneapolis since: 1961
Washington Nationals/Senators (1901-1960)
The "Minnesota" designation, instead of "Minneapolis" (the Twins were the first professional baseball team to be named for a state rather than a city) comes from the fact that the team is intended to represent the twin cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul (and, presumably, the entire state). This fact is reinforced by the stylized TC logo originally worn on their caps, and by their mascot, TC Bear. The team's original cartoon logo, re-established in 2002, shows two large twins representing the Minneapolis Millers and St. Paul Saints--the two minor-league teams that preceded the Twins in the area--shaking hands over the Mississippi River, which runs through each of the two cities.

AL West:


Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Est. 1961
Los Angeles Angels (1961-1965)
California Angels (1965-1996)
Anaheim Angels (1997-2004)
Given the average age of you FBC’ers, you probably recall the Angels location designation changing in your lifetime from California, to Anaheim to Los Angeles of Anaheim.
The origins of the name date back to 1892, when it was first used by a Los Angeles franchise in the California League. The Angel moniker has always been natural for Los Angeles teams, since The Angels is a literal English translation of the Spanish Los Angeles. It was also a nod to the long-successful PCL team that played in Los Angeles from 1903 through 1957. Because of the unusual length of the team's official name, most news organizations (notably the Associated Press) refer to the club as the Los Angeles Angels. The team is still referred to as the Anaheim Angels within the city of Anaheim and by many in baseball, and as the California Angels by some longtime fans of the team. They are also informally known by their nickname, the Halos.

Oakland Athletics
Est. 1901
Based in Oakland: 1968
Philadelphia Athletics (1901-1954)
Kansas City Athletics (1955-1967)
The Athletics' name—originating in the term "Athletic Club" for local gentlemen's clubs—dates to 1860 when an amateur team, the Athletic (Club) of Philadelphia, was formed (as many similarly formed teams were named). The team name is typically pronounced "Ath-LET-ics", but their longtime team owner/manager Connie Mack called them by the old-fashioned colloquial Irish pronunciation "Ath-uh-LET-ics". Newspaper writers also often referred to the team as the Mackmen during their Philadelphia days, in honor of their patriarch.

Seatlle Mariners
Est. 1977
Fun Fact: The Mariners are majority owned by the Nintendo Company, based in Japan.
The Mariners were created as a direct result of a lawsuit. In 1970, in the aftermath of the Seattle Pilots purchase and relocation to Milwaukee by future Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, the City of Seattle, King County, and the State of Washington (led by attorney general and future U.S. Senator Slade Gorton) sued the American League for breach of contract.
The lawsuit continued until 1976. At trial, the American League offered to give Seattle an expansion baseball franchise in return for dropping the suit. The details were ironed out over the next year. The expansion team was named by the fans in a contest for the local maritime history of the Pacific Northwest.

Texas Rangers
Est. 1961
Based in Dallas/Ft. Worth since: 1972
Washington Senators (1961-1971)
Named by owner Bob Short, who purchased the Senators in 1967, and offered an ultimatum after the disastrous 1970 season—unless someone was willing to buy the Senators for $12 million, he would not renew his lease at RFK Stadium and move the team elsewhere. Several parties offered to buy the team, but all fell short of Short’s asking price.
Arlington Mayor Tom Vandergraff, who had been trying to get a major league team to play in the Metroplex for over a decade, sent an attractive offer to Short along with Turnpike Stadium: a 10,000 seat ballpark built in 1965 to house the AA Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs, but built to major-league specifications. After Vandergraff offered a multi-million dollar up-front payment, Short decided to move the team, receiving approval in 1971. The team was named by Short himself after the State of Texas’ elite law enforcement agency.

NL East:

Atlanta Braves

Est. 1871
Based in Atlanta since: 1966
Cincinnati Red Stockings (1869-1870)
Boston Red Stockings (1871-1882)
Boston Beaneaters (1883-1906)
Boston Doves (1907-1910)
Boston Rustlers (1911)
Boston Braves (1912-1935)
Boston Bees (1936-1940)
Boston Braves (1941-1952)
Milwaukee Braves (1953-1965)
After a long, name-changing history in Boston, the Braves landed in Atlanta in 1966. The team became the Braves for the first time in 1912. Their owner, James Gaffney, was nicknamed "the Brave of Tammany Hall". Tammany Hall was the Democratic Party political machine that played a major role in controlling New York City politics from the 1790’s to the 1960’s. Tammany Hall's symbol was an Indian chief named Tammany.

Florida Marlins
Est. 1993
After being awarded an expansion franchise in 1991 for $95 million, CEO of Blockbuster Entertainment Corporation Wayne Huizenga immediately announced plans to convert Joe Robbie Stadium (later Pro Player Stadium and now Dolphin Stadium) into a multipurpose stadium. The renovation was relatively inexpensive, largely because Dolphins founder Joe Robbie had anticipated that baseball would eventually come to South Florida, and built the stadium with a wider field than is normally the case for the NFL. Huizenga named the team the Marlins himself because he was an avid deep-sea fisherman. He was quoted as saying “I chose the Marlin because the fish is a fierce fighter and an adversary that tests your mettle.”

New York Mets
Est. 1962
We all know the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants left for California in 1957, leaving the largest city in the US without a National League franchise. Two years later, on July 27, 1959, attorney William Shea announced the formation of a third major baseball league, the Continental League. He tried to get several existing clubs to move, but no National League club was interested. Among the charter members of the CL team owners were the former owners of the Giants along with George Herbert Walker, Jr. (uncle of president George H.W. Bush), who served as VP and treasurer of the league until 1977. The existing leagues, having considerably more autonomy at the time, responded with plans to add four new teams to MLB; two in each league. One of these was offered to CL’s Shea to be located in New York.
The new team required a new name and many were suggested. Among the finalists were Bees, Burros, Continentals, Skyscrapers, Jets as well as the eventual runner-up, Skyliners. Although part owner/founder Joan Whitney Payson had admitted a preference for Meadowlarks, the owners ultimately selected Mets because it was closely related to the club’s already-existing corporate name, New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc. and hearkened back to Metropolitans, a historically significant name used by an earlier New York team in the American Association from 1880 to 1887.

Philadelphia Phillies
Est. 1883
Philadelphia Quakers (1883-1889)
In 1883, sporting goods manufacturer Al Reach (a pioneering professional baseball player) and attorney John Rogers won an expansion National League franchise for Philadelphia. They were awarded the remains of the Worcester Worcesters, a franchise which had folded in 1882. The new team was named the Quakers. They were re-named the Phillies, in homage to their home city, in 1884 and retain that name to this day.

Washington Nationals

Est. 1969
Based in Washington since: 2005
Montreal Expos (1969-2004)
When the Expos were re-located to the nation’s capital following the 2004 season, MLB decided to rename the team the Nationals based on the city’s rich baseball history. 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 in the District of Columbia objected to the name Senators because the District of Columbia does not have voting representation in Congress. Another reason is because the Texas Rangers (the second Washington Senators team) still owned the rights to the Senators name.

NL Central:

Chicago Cubs
Est. 1876
Chicago White Stockings (1870-1889)
Chicago Colts (1890-1897)
Chicago Orphans (1898-1901)
In 1902, the Chicago Daily News became the first-known entity to pen the Cubs nickname as a team moniker, referring to the number of young players the team had. The name simply stuck.

Cincinnati Reds
Est. 1882
Cincinnati Red Stockings (1876-1882)
Cincinnati Reds (1882-1953)
Cincinnati Redlegs (1953-1958)
Although some dispute whether the two teams are the same, according to The Baseball Encyclopedia, the Cincinnati Red Stockings left the American Association in 1890 to play in the National League. One of the main reasons had absolutely nothing to do with the team directly--the upstart Player's League, an early, failed attempt to break the reserve clause in baseball. The league's impending presence severely weakened both previously existing leagues, and, because the National League decided to expand and the American Association was weakening, the team decided to accept the invitation to become members of the stronger National League. It was also at this time that the team first shortened their nickname from Red Stockings to Reds based on the teams history of being called both the Red Stockings and Redlegs from the red-colored socks they wore.

Houston Astros
Est. 1962
Houston Colt .45’s (1962-1964)
On April 9, 1965, the Houston Colt .45s became the Houston Astros and inaugurated indoor baseball in the Astrodome.The Sporting News Official Baseball Guide for 1965 had this to say about 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."
Regardless of trademark issues, "Astros" was a good fit for the futuristic ambiance of the revolutionary domed stadium and also since Houston was by then the home of NASA's astronaut program. The scoreboard retained subliminal references to the old nickname, as it featured electronically animated cowboys firing pistols, with the "bullets" ricocheting around the scoreboard, when an Astros player would hit a home run. Early on, the groundskeepers also wore astronaut spacesuits to promote that futuristic image.

Milwaukee Brewers
Est. 1969
Based in Milwaukee since: 1970
Seattle Pilots (1969)
The Milwaukee Brewers were a Minor League Baseball team based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They played in the American Association from 1902 through 1952, named as such for the city’s well-known beer industry. The legacy of the American Association Milwaukee Brewers continues in the major league Milwaukee Brewers, which took its name from the 1902-1952 club.
After the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1965, local automobile dealer and Braves part-owner Bud Selig created a group to lobby for a new major league club in Milwaukee. As a name for his group, he chose "Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, Inc.", after the American Association club he grew up watching. As a logo, he chose the Beer Barrel Man in navy and red - traditional Brewers colors.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Est. 1887
Pittsburg Alleghenies (1882-1889)
Pittsburgh Innocents/Infants (1890)
Fun Fact: Burgh is the Scots language and Scottish English cognate of the English language borough, which has other cognates in words and place names in virtually every Indo-European and Semitic language, as well as others. The first recorded reference using the current spelling is found on a survey map made for the Penn family in 1769. In the city charter, granted on March 18, 1816, the Pittsburgh spelling is used on the original document, but due to an apparent printing error, the Pittsburg spelling is found on official copies of the document printed at the time. On December 23, 1891, a recommendation by the United States Board on Geographic Names to standardize place names was signed into law. The law officially changed the spelling of the city name to Pittsburg, and publications would use this spelling for the next 20 years. However, the change was very unpopular in the city, and several businesses and organizations refused to make the change. Responding to mounting pressure, the United States Geographic Board (a successor to the original United States Board on Geographic Names) reversed the decision on July 19, 1911, and the Pittsburgh spelling was restored.

The original name of Pittsburgh's National League franchise was the Pittsburgh Alleghenies. Some contend this is from the county in which Pittsburgh is the seat of government. Others say that it was named after the mountain range in the region. Others maintain that Allegheny, Pennsylvania, which became Pittsburgh's north side after a 1907 annexation, was the tale behind the moniker. It is also one of the three major rivers in the city (the river of that name joins the Monongahela River to form the Ohio River). In the 1890s, the club was referred to as the Pittsburgh Innocents before the Pirates name stuck by the end of that decade.
When the renegade Players League dissolved after the 1890 season, most of the league's player contracts were assigned to National League and American Association clubs, mostly to their previous clubs provided they had been "reserved" by their former teams' owners. Highly regarded second baseman Lou Bierbauer, who had previously played with the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association, was awarded to the Pittsburgh team on the grounds that the Athletics had not reserved him. This led to loud complaints by the Athletics that the Pittsburgh club was "pirates". This incident quickly accelerated into a schism between the leagues that contributed to the demise of the A.A. The colorful epithet stuck with the Pittsburghers, and eventually became the club's official nickname. It was first acknowledged on the team's uniforms in 1912, but even by the 1903 World Series, Pirates was in common usage.

St. Louis Cardinals
Est. 1882
St. Louis Brown Stockings/Browns (1882-1898)
St. Louis Perfectos (1899)
The St. Louis Browns joined the National League in 1892 following the bankruptcy of the American Association. They were briefly called the Perfectos in 1899 before settling on their present name, a name reportedly inspired by switching their uniform colors from brown to red. There was already a "Reds" team at Cincinnati, so the St. Louis team became Cardinals, reportedly because a woman spectator exclaimed that the uniform was "a wonderful shade of Cardinal.” It was only later that the nickname became associated with a bird.

NL West:


Arizona Diamondbacks
Est. 1998
In the fall of 1993, Jerry Colangelo, majority owner of the Phoenix Suns, the area's wildly popular and successful NBA franchise, announced he was assembling an ownership group, "Arizona Baseball, Inc.," to apply for a Major League Baseball expansion team. This was after a great deal of lobbying by the Maricopa County Sports Authority, a local group formed to preserve Cactus League spring training in Arizona and eventually secure a Major League franchise for the state.
Colangelo's group was so certain that they would be awarded a franchise that they held a name-the-team contest for it; they took out a full-page ad in the sports section of the February 13, 1995 edition of the state's leading newspaper, the Arizona Republic. First prize was a pair of lifetime season tickets awarded to the person who submitted the winning entry. The winning choice was "Diamondbacks," after the Western diamondback, a rattlesnake native to the region known for injecting a large amount of venom when it strikes. The choice of name suited Colangelo very well; he had been one of the first sports executives to adopt an idea of naming a franchise after animals and other elements native to the area.

Colorado Rockies

Est. 1993
After failed attempts going back as far as the 1880s, the National League approved Denver and Miami, Florida as the sites for two expansion teams to begin play in 1993. The team is named after the Rocky Mountains which pass through Colorado.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Est. 1883
Based in Los Angeles since: 1958
Brooklyn Atlantics (1884)
Brooklyn Grays (1885-1887)
Brooklyn Bridegrooms (1888-1890, 1896-1898)
Brooklyn Grooms (1891-1895)
Brooklyn Superbas (1899-1910, 1913)
Brooklyn Dodgers (1911-1912)
Brooklyn Robins (1914-1931)
Brooklyn Dodgers (1932-1957)
Excluding the already interesting history of the Brooklyn franchise team’s name throughout the years, the team first earned the nickname Trolley Dodgers, later shortened to Dodgers, while at Eastern Park during the 1890s because of the difficulty fans (and players) had in reaching the ballpark due to the number of trolley lines in the area. The name Trolley Dodger is recorded separately in two newspapers on September 3, 1895.

San Diego Padres
Est. 1969
The Padres adopted their name from the Pacific Coast League team which arrived in San Diego in 1936. That minor league franchise won the PCL title in 1937, led by then-18-year-old San Diegan Ted Williams. The name is derived from the Spanish word for Priest of the Roman Catholic Mission San Diego de Alcala, which was founded in San Diego in the 1700’s.

San Francisco Giants
Est. 1883
Based in San Francisco since: 1958
New York Gothams (1883-1885)
New York Giants (1885-1957)
One of the most storied clubs in American professional sports, the Giants began life as a second baseball club founded by John B. Day and Jim Mutrie. The Gothams (as the Giants were originally known) were their entry to the National League in 1883, while their other club, the Metropolitans (the original Mets) played in the American Association. It is said that after one particularly satisfying victory, Mutrie (who was also the team's manager) stormed into the dressing room and exclaimed, "My big fellows! My giants!" From then on, the club was known as the Giants.
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Re: The Origin of Every MLB Team Name

Postby JRM4833 » Thu Jul 26, 2007 2:13 pm

Very cool. Love this kind of info. ;-D
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Re: The Origin of Every MLB Team Name

Postby daullaz » Thu Jul 26, 2007 4:29 pm

Great read. Thank you much!
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Re: The Origin of Every MLB Team Name

Postby CadensDad » Thu Jul 26, 2007 5:37 pm

Sweet article thanks alot for it
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Re: The Origin of Every MLB Team Name

Postby stevethumb » Thu Jul 26, 2007 10:40 pm

lotsa real good stuff in here...very nicely done...one quibble, the florida marlins were predated in south florida by the miami marlins..so huizenga really didnt name the team.. he was recapturing the legacy of one of the best lower professional teams ever
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Re: The Origin of Every MLB Team Name

Postby Danger » Fri Jul 27, 2007 2:37 am

great read, thanks ;-D
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Re: The Origin of Every MLB Team Name

Postby jphanned » Fri Jul 27, 2007 7:28 am

Good work, thanks for the information. ;-D ;-D
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Re: The Origin of Every MLB Team Name

Postby Absolutely Adequate » Fri Jul 27, 2007 2:28 pm

Interesting. Thanks.
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Re: The Origin of Every MLB Team Name

Postby Coppermine » Fri Jul 27, 2007 6:05 pm

stevethumb wrote:lotsa real good stuff in here...very nicely done...one quibble, the florida marlins were predated in south florida by the miami marlins..so huizenga really didnt name the team.. he was recapturing the legacy of one of the best lower professional teams ever


Excellent, thank you; I'm actually looking for quibbles like this. I think maybe Huizenga took the credit himself, but surely this would have factored in his decision to name the team.
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