MLB History: What’s in a name? How several teams were named

William Parlee

The New York Yankees were not always the Yankees. Several teams that we recognize now were not always called what we have become accustomed to. From a historical perspective, how some of the teams were named can be interesting. In the early days of baseball, teams were normally named by the owner, although some names didn’t stick and they became known by their media names. Many modern club names were selected after running naming contests. Here’s just a look at some of the baseball clubs and how their names came about.

The New York Yankees:

The New York Yankees were not always the New York Yankees. Believe it or not, in 1901, they were known as the Baltimore Orioles. The team was sold and moved to New York City, so they had to rename the team, but what they would rename it wouldn’t stick. In 1903 the team was renamed the New York Highlanders, mostly because they played on a hill in a park located in the Washington Heights section of Manhatten. But at the same time, they were also called the “Americans” and the “Yankees.”

The Highlander name didn’t stick, and they were officially called the New York Yankees in 1913. They are normally referred to as the Yankees or Yanks. They are also known as the “Bronx Bombers.” The Yankees since 1923 have played at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. They opened a brand new state fo the art stadium in 2009.

The New York Mets:

The New York Mets are one of the first expansion teams; it was founded in 1962 to replace the departing National League teams, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. Those two teams had easy name changes, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants, named after the cities they moved to. But the Mets weren’t always the Mets. When they started out they were named the Metropolitan Baseball Club Inc. Well, the baseball writers weren’t going to put up with that name and started to call them the Mets in their stories. Shortly thereafter, the team officially changed their name to the New York Mets. The Mets play at Citi Field in the borough of Queens.

UPI reported that many suggested names for the team were coming in from across baseball in the early days before the name change. The most popular was the “New York Empires,” but others considered were the Dinosaurs, the Boroughs, and, believe it or not, the “Big City Boys.” I think we are all happy they stuck with the Mets.

The Cleveland Indians:

The Cleveland Indians are an interesting team to include in this article as they are in the process of changing their name. In an era of political correctness, many feel the name Indians is demeaning to the American Indians. The club has been named the Indians for 100 years. The new name will be announced soon, and the new nickname will debut at the start of the 2022 season. No one has clue what that name will be.

Although they have carried the Indian moniker for 100 years, they were not always called the Cleveland Indians. After becoming a charter member of the American League, they played games as the Cleveland Blues (1901), Cleveland Bronchos (1902), and Cleveland Naps (1903-14). The Naps were named in honor of Hall of Fame player (and sometimes player-manager) Nap Lajoie. In 1915 the name was changed to the Indians. Far from being demeaning to American Indians, it was named in honor of the first American Indian baseball player Louis Sockalexis.

The Philadelphia Phillies:

The Philadelphia Phillies, although in place for over one hundred years, its a pretty mixed-up story. The Phillies became the Phillies after playing in Worcester, Massachusetts, and moving to Philadelphia. In the early days (1883-1889), they were called the Philadelphia Quakers (referring to a denomination living in the area). The Western League that became today’s American League wanted a team in Philadelphia. They created a team and called it the Philadelphia Athletics. Phillies former catcher Connie Mack bought a 25% ownership in the new team. That team later became the Kansas City Athletics and finally the Oakland Athletics.

Back to the Phillies, after fans and owners alike became disenchanted with the Quaker’s name, the team was renamed the Phillies in 1890. The origin of the name is unclear; some say it was just the shortening of the name Philadelphia others think it refers to a female horse. But the Phillies might not have ended up the Phillies as a contest was held to rename the team. One leading suggestion was the Philadelphia Blue Jays. 1910, owner Horace Fogel decided that the new name should be the Philadelphia Live Wires, but the name never stuck.

The Arizona Diamondbacks:

Being in Arizona and with a name like Diamondbacks, it obvious to anyone that knows the area it refers to the snakes that roam the surroundings. But wait, it’s not quite that simple. When the expansion team was awarded to Arizona, the name was already in place in1995. There was a name-the-team contest, and the owners got to choose from the five finalists.

The finalists included the Arizona Pheonix, Coyotes, Rattlers, and Scorpions, with the last one being the presumptive favorite. The reason being that the logo looked really cool. But the top finalist was The Arizona Pheonix; the owner didn’t like that as it sounds more like a newspaper than a ball team. In the end, the owner couldn’t go with the Scorpion name either because those nasty insects freaked him out. So the name was left as the Diamondbacks. Here’s the catcher; the name doesn’t refer to the snake at all; it’s named after the baseball diamond.

The San Diego Padres:

There was another name-the-team contest, this time to re-name the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League when they moved to San Diego in 1938. When they joined the National League as an expansion team in 1968, there was no sense in changing the San Diego Padres’ successful branding.

In the naming contest, popular votes referred to the Don Juans, Tars, Aviators, Sandies, Gaels, and random animals like Tunas and Gorillas. In the end, they decided to stay with the Padres. The team’s name Padres is Spanish for “fathers,” refers to the Spanish Franciscan friars who founded San Diego in 1769. But in 1974, the team almost became the Washington Stars, referring to the old name Hollywood Stars. The team was in the throws of being purchased and moved to Washington D.C., but lawsuits made that impossible. Mac Donald’s billionaire Ray Croc bought the team and saved baseball for San Diego fans.

The Houston Astros:

Before the Houston Astros were the Astros in 1962, they were called the Colt 45’s. This is another expansion team that had a naming contest. There were over 12,000 entries. There were seven judges, three from newspaper editors and four from the Houston Sports Association. Besides the Colt 45’s they could have chosen Rebels, Russlers (strange spelling), Madmen, Meanies, and Boasters. There even a suggestion that they are called the “Swindlers,” wouldn’t that have been appropriate for the 2017 team that was proven to cheat.
In the end, the judges chose the Houston Colts. But that name wouldn’t last even though it was quite catchy. However, after the 1963 season, the Colt Manufacturing Co. of Hartford, Connecticut, that manufactured the Colt 45 pistol, started to inquire about licensing fees; then-owner Roy Hofheinz changed the name to Astros on his own. But before he did that, he was committed to using the full “Houston Astronauts,” but that didn’t stick, and settled out as the shortened Astros.

The Miami Marlins:

The Marlins has a naming contest, but in the end, the then-owner Wayne Huizenga picked the name when he hated the winner of the contest. That name was the Florida Manatees, which would have been perfect, but Huizenga chose the name Marlins instead. The Marlins name is appropriate as well; it’s a fish, it’s regional, and unique. Some of the other finalists were the Beachers, Maniacs, Magnets, and ReneGlades, referring to the nearby Everglades National Park.

From 1993 the Marlins played ball in Miami Gardens, 20 miles north of Miami, Florida but in 2012, the team moved to the newly built Marlins Park on a plot of land just blocks from downtown Miami, that was previously the location of the Orange Bowl. Marlins Park is owned by Miami-Dade county. When they moved into the new park in 2012, to do so, they had to change their name from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins according to the deal.

The Tampa Bay Rays:

The Tampa Bay Rays are another team that was not always known by that name. Then-owner Vince Naimoli wanted the Stingrays, but a team in Hawaii owned the rights to it, and he didn’t want to pay them to change it, so a naming contest ensued in 1995. The four top choices were the Manta Rays, Devil Rays, Barracudas, and the Pelicans. Naimoli picked the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  However, there was much backlash as the name ruffled Christians saying that Satan doesn’t need any free advertising.

Regardless of the name’s unpopularity, it remained the baseball team’s name until after the 2007 season when Stuart Sternberg purchased the team.  Sternberg thought the name was too long, and shortening it to the Rays which would solve that and satisfy those who hated using the word Devil. On a side note, many that don’t live in the area think that the team is located in Tampa; it isn’t; they play at Tropicana Field, a domed stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The Toronto Blue Jays:

The Toronto Blue Jays were an expansion team in 1977. They have carried the Blue Jays name since there were founded. Its name was determined by vote. It was chosen through a name-the-team contest, with a panel of 14 people, including 10 members of the Toronto media, voting on the final choice. Regardless of the submissions, you had to believe that Blue would be in the name somehow. The Labatt Brewing Company originally owned the club. (Labatt Blue).

Some of the submissions were unbelievable, and some just the names of 46 other species of birds. Other votes were for animals; still other were off the wall. Can you imagine the “Boozers,” “Beerbellies,” or even the “Dingbats?” I don’t think I would want to be routing for the Dingbats. When all the dust settled, they were named the Blue Jays.

But one of the highest vote getters was the Toronto Owls. This writer thinks they missed the boat naming the team the Blue Jays, one of most obnoxious birds known to man that constantly squawks and steals other birds eggs. The Owl on the other hand is much more majestic, smart and dangerous. Several other teams have interesting names too but not as interesting as these.

EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow him on Twitter @parleewilliam