The history of baseball is full of team names that no longer exist. Just this year, for example, the Cleveland Guardians have taken the place of the team known as the Cleveland Indians. This brings up the question, however: what is each city’s BEST former baseball identity? And are they better than the current one?
I’m going to look and find out, starting with the American League.
A few rules:
- These are professional team identities only. No amateur teams.
- For cities with multiple teams, I’ll go with either a team that is located in the same general area or which has historical connection.
- Team names that have migrated (such as Giants or Athletics) can’t be reused.
Let’s begin after the jump:
Current team name: Baltimore Orioles (since 1954)
Reason for team name: Maryland state bird, longtime name of teams in the city.
Previous team identities in the city: Baltimore Elite Giants, Baltimore Black Sox, Baltimore Stars, Baltimore Sox, Baltimore Terrapins, Baltimore Lord Baltimores, Baltimore Monumentals, Baltimore Canaries, Baltimore Marylands, literally just “Baltimore”
My pick for best previous Baltimore team identity: Baltimore Terrapins. The name of the Federal League team of 1914/15. Why “Terrapins?” Because the state reptile of Maryland is the diamondback terrapin! It’s the same reason why the University of Maryland calls its teams the Terrapins. Their uniforms, not surprisingly, had a turtle on them.
Is that better than the current team identity?: Absolutely not. The black and orange and the many renderings of the Oriole Bird are some of the best in baseball. A turtle just can’t compete with that.
Current team name: Boston Red Sox (since 1907)
Reason for team name: They wore red socks. In addition, an earlier MLB team in Boston (which are now known as the Braves) were called the Red Stockings.
Previous team identities in the city (not including ineligible names like Braves): Boston Blues, Boston Royal Giants, Boston Bees, Boston Rustlers, Boston Doves, Boston Americans, Boston Beaneaters, Boston Reds, Boston Resolutes, Boston Reserves, Boston Red Stockings
My pick for best previous Boston team identity: Boston Beaneaters. Alliteration is fun, and Beaneaters (which the now-Braves were called for over 20 years) is just such a folksy oldtimey name.
Is that better than the current team identity?: No. Why? Because there is just such a great simplicity in having team name that allows a very drunken Bostonian with a thick accent to yell “GO SAWX!”
NEW YORK CITY (YANKEES CATEGORY)
What this includes: Teams/identities that played in the Bronx or are directly related to the Yankees as they exist today.
Current team name: New York Yankees (since 1913)
Reason for team name: Longtime unofficial name since newspapermen didn’t couldn’t easily fit “Highlanders” in headlines but “Yankees” or “Yanks” was easier.
Previous team identities: New York Black Yankees, New York Highlanders (the Quarrymen of baseball), New York Knickerbockers
My pick for best previous Yankees-category team identity: New York Knickerbockers, a short-lived team that played in the Bronx in 1912.
Is that better than the current team identity?: Oh god no. Can you imagine if the Yankees were called the Knicks? That’d be so damn weird.
TAMPA BAY AREA, FL
What this includes: Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida. Note that “Tampa Tarpons” is ineligible as it has now been taken up by the Yankees A-ball affiliate.
Current team name: Tampa Bay Rays (since 2008)
Reason for team name: There are a lot of stingrays around Tampa, but a college winter league team in Hawaii already owned Stingrays. They went with Devil Rays but people didn’t like having “devil” in it, so eventually they just changed it to Rays. This also allows them to reference rays of sunlight.
Previous team identities: Tampa Devil Rays, St. Petersburg Saints, Tampa Smokers, Tampa Krewes
My pick for best previous Tampa-area team identity: The Tampa Krewes. Named for the organizations that put together events for Gasparilla, it sounds like the name of a modern independent league team, but actually existed for one season in the 1928 Southeastern League.
Is that better than the current team identity?: I want to say yes. I mean, other that New Orleans, no other city could have that name. It’s cool to have teams with unique names tied to their city. Plenty of places have stingrays and sun rays.
Current team name: Toronto Blue Jays (since 1977)
Reason for team name: The most popular name in a name-the-team competition was “Blues,” but that’s the name of the University of Toronto team. The jury for the contest instead selected Blue Jays. The person who won the contest said he thought it’d work well to continue the bird theme of the Cardinals and Orioles while still having blue in the name.
Previous team identities: Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Beavers, Toronto Royals, Toronto Canucks, Toronto Canadians, literally just “Toronto”
My pick for best previous Toronto team identity: Maple Leafs, of course. Look at those uniforms, those are classics.
Is that better than the current team identity?: Yes, but it’s understandable that they wouldn’t be able to use the name given the hockey team’s existence. On the other hand the bird is cool, so I’m not complaining.
SOUTH SIDE OF CHICAGO
What this includes: The south side of Chicago as well as teams genuinely connected to the White Sox in some way.
Current team name: Chicago White Sox (since 1904)
Reason for team name: Appropriated from the White Stockings name once used by the now-Cubs, and then shortened by newspapermen.
Previous team identities: Chicago American Giants, Chicago Leland Giants, Chicago Union Giants, Chicago Pirates
My pick for best previous south side team identity: Chicago American Giants. One of the giants (heh) of the Negro Leagues.
Is that better than the current team identity?: Not really. It’s pretty generic.
Current team name: Cleveland Guardians (since this 2022 season)
Reason for team name: Reference to the art deco statues found around Cleveland, particularly on a bridge near the stadium.
Previous team identities: Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Buckeyes, Cleveland Clippers, Cleveland Bears, Cleveland Red Sox, Cleveland Giants, Cleveland Stars, Cleveland Cubs, Cleveland Tigers, Cleveland Hornets, Cleveland Elites, Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Tate Stars, Cleveland Spiders, Cleveland Naps, Cleveland Bearcats, Cleveland Green Sox, Cleveland Forest City, Cleveland Bronchos, Cleveland Blues, Cleveland Lake Shores, Cleveland Infants, Cleveland Forest Cities, Cleveland Forest Citys
My pick for best previous Cleveland team identity: Cleveland Spiders. That’s what should have been the new name. For one, it honors the team of Cy Young (and also the worst team ever, but nothing is perfect). For another, think of the merchandising and uniform possibilities. They could have nicknamed the stadium the Spiders’ Web, they could have gone full Spider-Man on the uniforms, they could have sponsored PSA about how spiders are actually important parts of the ecosystem that don’t deserve the hate they get. Alas, it was not to be.
Is that better than the current team identity?: Yes. See above.
Current team name: Detroit Tigers (since 1901)
Reason for team name: Either a reference to striped socks or a reference to a local military unit.
Previous team identities: Detroit Wolves, Detroit Motor City Giants, Detroit Black Sox, Detroit Stars, Detroit Cubs, Detroit Giants, Detroit Creams, Detroit Wolverines
My pick for best previous Detroit team identity:
Is that better than the current team identity?: No. A tiger could beat a wolverine in a fight, unless that wolverine is the X-Man Wolverine.
Kansas City, Mo.
Current team name: Kansas City Royals (since 1969)
Reason for team name: Winner of a contest, a reference to the American Royal livestock show.
Previous team identities in the city (not including ineligible names like Athletics): Kansas City Blues, Kansas City Monarchs, Kansas City Packers, Kansas City Cowboys, Kansas City Blue Stockings
My pick for best previous Kansas City team identity: The Monarchs, of course. The name of the old Negro League team is so famed that a independent team in Kansas City, Kansas has taken it up.
Is that better than the current team identity?: Yes. The name of one of the great Negro League franchises is definitely better than a livestock show.
Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
Current team name: Minnesota Twins (since 1961)
Reason for team name: The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Previous team identities in the cities: Minneapolis Loons, Minneapolis Millers, just “Minneapolis”, Minneapolis Minnies, Minneapolis Browns, St. Paul Apostles, St. Paul Millers, St. Paul Freezers, St. Paul White Caps, St. Paul Red Caps
My pick for best previous Twin Cities team identity: The Millers. It was the longest-running minor league identity there that isn’t already in use.
Is that better than the current team identity?: No. Unlike the Minneapolis and St. Paul names, this one can stand for both cities.
Current team name: Houston Astros (since 1965)
Reason for team name: Houston’s role in the space program.
Previous team identities in the city: Houston Colt .45s, Houston Apollos, Houston Buffs, Houston Buffaloes, Houston Eagles, Houston Black Buffaloes, Houston Wanderers, Houston Magnolias, Houston Mudcats, Houston Babies, Houston Red Stockings
My pick for best previous Houston team identity: It has to be the Colt .45s. Such an incredibly Texas name.
Is that better than the current team identity?: No. The Colt .45s could never have given the world the Tequila Sunrise. And what type of world would it be if we never had that? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t want to risk it.
Current team name: Los Angeles Angels (since… it’s complicated)
Reason for team name: Reference to long-time Pacific Coast League team name, itself a references to LA being the “City of Angels.” Later turned to California Angels and then Anaheim Angels due to their being located in Anaheim. Then turned back to Los Angeles Angels because Los Angeles is more well-known to people, but with the official name of “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” in order to fulfill some legal requirements in their stadium lease. Now just Los Angeles Angels, officially. That won’t stop me, though, from making funny jokes about them being the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Orange County, California, United States of America, North America, Western Hemisphere, Planet Earth, Sol System, Milky Way.
Previous team identities in the city (using just Anaheim): Anaheim Valencias, Anaheim Aces
My pick for best previous Anaheim team identity: Anaheim Aces, the name of a team that existed in the California League in 1941. Love some alliteration.
Is that better than the current team identity?: Yes, in that it actually has the team’s location in the name.
Current team name: Oakland Athletics (since 1968)
Reason for team name: One of the oldest monikers in American sports, having survived two moves. Originated in Philadelphia in tribute to the 19th century baseball team of the Athletic Club of Philadelphia. The white elephant of the A’s is derived from an insult by John McGraw.
Previous team identities in the city: Oakland Oaks, Oakland Larks, Oakland Commuters, just “Oakland”, Oakland Heeseman, Oakland Reliance, Oakland Clamdiggers, Oakland Colonels, Oakland Morans, Oakland Tribunes, Oakland Clevelands, Oakland Greenhood and Morans, Oakland Pioneers
My pick for best previous Oakland team identity: Oakland Oaks. It’s just such a simple and obvious name that it just works despite being so simple and obvious. It’s so obvious of a name that an ABA team took it up later.
Is that better than the current team identity?: No, but only because the name “Athletics” should never be erased regardless of city.
Current team name: Seattle Mariners (since 1977)
Reason for team name: Reference to Seattle’s history of nautical activity.
Previous team identities in the city: Seattle Rainiers, Seattle Pilots, Seattle Angels, Seattle Steelheads, Seattle Indians, Seattle Giants, Seattle Turks, Seattle Siwashes, Seattle Clamdiggers, just “Seattle”, Seattle Yannigans, Seattle Rainmakers, Seattle Hustlers
My pick for best previous Seattle team identity: The Rainmakers! Seattle is famous for how many days it has rain, so why not have that as the name? Sadly it only was used in part of 1896. Rainiers is probably the second-best previous team name, and that was the old PCL team name.
Is that better than the current team identity?: No, because as great as the name is it doesn’t really work well for baseball, a sport infamous for how there can be rainouts and rain delays.
Current team name: Texas Rangers (since 1972)
Reason for team name: Reference to the Texas Rangers law enforcement agency.
Previous team identities in the city: Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs, Dallas(-Fort Worth) Rangers, Dallas Eagles, Dallas Rebels, Dallas Steers, Dallas Submarines, Dallas Marines, Dallas Giants, Dallas Griffins, Dallas Colts, Dallas Navigators, Dallas Hams, Dallas Tigers
My pick for best previous Dallas team identity: The Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs. Because cowboys, obviously.
Is that better than the current team identity?: Nope. Texas Rangers just rolls off the tongue very well.
Later this week: The National League