The history of baseball is full of team names that no longer exist. 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. I started with the American League, and now on to the National 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 again after the jump:
Current team name: Atlanta Braves (since 1966)
Reason for team name: The Boston Braves took the name in 1912 as a reference to the Tammany Hall political machine of which new owner James Gaffney was a member. Members of Tammany were often called “Braves” because the word Tammany was derived from that of a native chief and some chapters used native head dresses as emblems. Aside from a five-year detour into the “Boston Bees” in the 1930s, the name has held ever since despite much controversy.
Previous team identities in the city: Atlanta Crackers, Atlanta Black Crackers, Atlanta Firemen, Atlanta Colts, Atlanta Atlantas, Atlanta Windjammers, Atlanta Firecrackers, just “Atlanta”, Georgia Champions
My pick for best previous team identity: Atlanta Firecrackers. Only used in 1892 in the Southern League, having it now would honor both the “Atlanta Crackers” and “Atlanta Black Crackers” while also providing some awesome opportunities for visuals.
Is that better than the current team identity?: Yes, if only because it wouldn’t be as controversial.
Current team name: Miami Marlins (since 2012)
Reason for team name: A reference to old minor league teams in the area, and of course the fish itself. Interestingly, it was the fourth choice. Initially Wayne Huizenga wanted to call them the “Florida Flamingos” before he was talked out of it. The Manatees (which won a name-the-team poll) and Panthers (which later were used for Huizenga’s NHL team) were also considered. The Florida Marlins became the Miami Marlins when they moved to their current stadium.
Previous team identities in the city: Miami Diamantes, Miami Miracle, Miami Orioles, Miami Amigos, Miami Beach Flamingos, Miami Sun Sox, Miami Tourists, Miami Seminoles, Miami Ethiopian Clowns, Miami Wahoos, Miami Hustlers
My pick for best previous team identity: Miami Sun Sox. Aside from the Marlins, it’s probably the most-notable team name in Miami’s history, and plus you can never go wrong with a hosiery-related team name.
Is that better than the current team identity?: No. The Marlins franchise has done plenty wrong during its existence, but the name and visuals have been great.
NEW YORK CITY (METS CATEGORY)
What this includes: Teams that played in New York City but not the Bronx or Brooklyn and which have no relationship to the Yankees as they currently exist.
Current team name: New York Mets (since 1962)
Reason for team name: Catchy short abbreviation derived from “New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc.” Also a reference to the New York Metropolitans team of the 1880s.
Previous team identities in the city (not counting ones like the Giants): New York Cubans, New York Lincoln Giants, New York Metropolitans, New York Gorhams, New York Gothams, New York New Yorks, New York Quicksteps, New York Mutuals
My pick for best previous team identity: New York Gothams. Of course, nowadays you probably wouldn’t be able to name them that without paying a license to DC Comics and Warner Brothers.
Is that better than the current team identity?: No, for the above reason.
Current team name: Philadelphia Phillies (since 1883*)
*The Phillies were also known as the Quakers in the 1880s and Blue Jays in the 1940s, but never abandoned the Phillies identity.
Reason for team name: Because Philadelphia, obviously.
Previous team identities in the city (not counting things like Athletics): Philadelphia Stars, Philadelphia Bacharach Giants, Philadelphia Hilldale Giants, Philadelphia Quaker City Giants, Philadelphia Tigers, Philadelphia Colts, Philadelphia Quakers, Philadelphia Pythians, Philadelphia Keystones, Philadelphia Defiance, just “Philadelphia”, Philadelphia Whites, Philadelphia Centennials
My pick for best previous team identity: Philadelphia Keystones (used in the 1884 Union Association), in reference to Pennsylvania being the Keystone State.
Is that better than the current team identity?: No. Philadelphia Phillies is just a joy to say.
Current team name: Washington Nationals (since 2005)
Reason for team name: Nationals was selected for several reasons. The obvious choice, Washington Senators, was passed over because DC doesn’t have any voting representation in Congress and also the Texas Rangers still held the trademarks (although surely a deal would have been made if needed). Instead, suggestions focused on “Nationals,” although the then-mayor suggested “Grays” in honor of the Homestead Grays (which were technically based in Pittsburgh but who played many of their games in DC). Ultimately Nationals was selected both because of its historical background (many old Washington teams- including some known as the Senators- were technically named the Nationals), and because it indicated a fresh break from the Senators and Expos. It didn’t hurt that they’d be in the National League, as opposed to how the Senators were traditionally in the American League.
Previous team identities in the city: Washington Senators, Washington Black Senators, Washington Elite Giants, Washington Potomacs, Washington Pilots, Washington Black Sox, Washington Braves, just “Washington”, Washington Little Senators, Washington Statesmen, Washington Blue Legs, Washington Olympics
My pick for best previous team identity: Washington Senators, of course.
Is that better than the current team identity?: No, although that would change if the other issues preventing the use of Washington Senators were cleared up.
NORTH SIDE OF CHICAGO
What this includes: The north side of Chicago as well as teams genuinely connected to the Cubs in some way.
Current team name: Chicago Cubs (since 1903)
Reason for team name: Apparently, Chicago’s roster was on the young side in the early 1900s, and it could fit well on a newspaper headline.
Previous team identities in the city: Chicago Brown Bombers, Chicago Whales, Chicago Chi-Feds, Chicago Keeleys, Chicago Orphans, Chicago Colts, Chicago White Stockings, Chicago Maroons, Chicago Fairbanks
My pick for best previous team identity: Exempting Chicago White Stockings for obvious reasons, I’ll go with Chicago Colts in order to keep alliteration.
Is that better than the current team identity?: No. “Colties” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Cubbies.”
Current team name: Cincinnati Reds (since 1890*)
*Not counting 1954-1958 when they were known as the Redlegs due to the Red Scare.
Reason for team name: Shortening from “Red Stockings.”
Previous team identities in the city: Cincinnati Clowns, Cincinnati Buckeyes, Cincinnati Tigers, Cincinnati Giants, Cincinnati Cuban Stars, Cincinnati Pippins, Cincinnati Kelly’s Killers, Cincinnati Red Stockings, Cincinnati Outlaw Reds
My pick for best previous team identity: Red Stockings, but that can’t work because of the fact a form of it is now used by the Red Sox. Instead I’ll go with Buckeyes, which was the name of one of the Negro League teams that existed in Cincy.
Is that better than the current team identity?: Yes on a meaningful level, but no on a historical level since Reds is one of the oldest and most historical names in baseball.
Current team name: Milwaukee Brewers (since 1970)
Reason for team name: Milwaukee’s beer industry, as well as the name of historic baseball teams in Milwaukee.
Previous team identities in the city (not counting Braves): Just “Milwaukee”, Milwaukee Giants, Milwaukee Bears, Milwaukee Creams, Milwaukee Cream Citys, Milwaukee Grays
My pick for best previous team identity: Milwaukee Creams, although admittedly it’s not exactly a great list to choose from given that…
Is that better than the current team identity?: …Brewers is the only name that truly works for Milwaukee.
Current team name: Pittsburgh Pirates (since 1891)
Reason for team name: Pittsburgh’s team signed away players who were expected to go to other teams, leading some to call them pirates.
Previous team identities in the city: Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Pittsburgh Keystones, Pittsburgh Stars, Pittsburgh Rebels, Pittsburgh Filipinos, Pittsburgh Burghers, Pittsburgh Alleghenys, Pittsburgh Allegheny (no s)
My pick for best previous team identity: Pittsburgh Crawfords, the name of one of the Negro Leagues teams in Pittsburgh. And unlike the Homestead Grays, the Crawfords never half-moved to Washington, D.C.
Is that better than the current team identity?: No. Alliteration and the great origin story of the name beat it out.
ST. LOUIS, MO
Current team name: St. Louis Cardinals (since 1900)
Reason for team name: Reportedly because a newsman overheard somebody complementing the red tones of their uniforms as a “lovely shade of cardinal.” It became popular and then was officially adopted.
Previous team identities in the city: St. Louis Browns, St. Louis Stars, St. Louis Terriers, St. Louis Perfectos, St. Louis Whites, St. Louis Maroons, St. Louis Brown Stockings, St. Louis Red Stockings
My pick for best previous team identity: St. Louis Terriers, the name of their Federal League team. Why? Because dogs are awesome, that’s why.
Is that better than the current team identity?: No. Again, this is a case where the name has been around for so long and is so iconic that it’s hard to argue anything would be better than it.
Current team name: Arizona Diamondbacks (since 1998)
Reason for team name: The original winner of a name-the-team poll done internally (working on suggestions from fans) was Scorpions, but the managing partner of the team was afraid of scorpions so they went with Diamondbacks instead, partly because of the play of having a baseball “diamond” in the name.
Previous team identities in the city (excluding Arizona Complex League and Arizona Fall League): Phoenix Firebirds, Phoenix Giants, Phoenix Stars, Phoenix Senators
My pick for best previous team identity: Phoenix Firebirds. A phoenix is a mythological bird born from fire, so why not have the team be named the Firebirds? It’s such a great name. The reason why it wasn’t considered, by the way, is almost certainly because they wanted to have the team be a representative of the State of Arizona instead of just Phoenix, and calling them the Arizona Firebirds doesn’t have that wordplay.
Is that better than the current team identity?: Yes, but impossible given the need to have the team represent the whole state.
Current team name: Colorado Rockies (since 1993)
Reason for team name: For the Rocky Mountains, obviously.
Previous team identities in the city: Denver Zephyrs, Denver Bears, Denver Grizzlies, Denver Gulfs, Denver Mountaineers, Denver Solis, Denver Mountain Lions, just “Denver”
My pick for best previous team identity: Denver Bears, the most common minor league name and also one that lends itself to plenty of merchandise and so on. However, it probably could never have worked due to the existence of the Chicago Bears. Honorable mention to Mountaineers and Mountain Lions.
Is that better than the current team identity?: Yes if we’re going for just Denver, but not if you are going for all of Colorado.
LOS ANGELES, CA
Current team name: Los Angeles Dodgers (since 1958)
Reason for team name: People going to games in Brooklyn had to dodge trolleys. Of course, Los Angeles hasn’t had many trolleys since the great streetcar conspiracy of the 40s and 50s, but it still fits Los Angeles better than “Lakers” does.
Previous team identities in the city (not counting Angels): Los Angeles White Sox, Los Angeles McCormicks, Los Angeles Maiers, just “Los Angeles”, Los Angeles-Pacific, Los Angeles Merchants, Los Angeles Angelenos, Los Angeles Rabbits, Los Angeles Seraphs
My pick for best previous team identity: Given the slim pickings above, the best one is probably the Los Angeles Seraphs, since a seraph is a type of angel. Personally, I’d go with the Hollywood Stars instead, but that doesn’t technically fall under being based in/representing Los Angeles.
Is that better than the current team identity?: No. Well, Hollywood Stars would be, but Los Angeles Seraphs is too esoteric and would require people to look up the meaning. Plus, hey, people can still dodge cars in Los Angeles, so it sort of fits.
SAN DIEGO, CA
Current team name: San Diego Padres (since 1969)
Reason for team name: Tribute to old Pacific Coast League team name, itself a reference to the Franciscan Friars who founded the first Spanish colony in the area.
Previous team identities in the city: San Diego Surf Dawgs, San Diego Aces, San Diego Bears San Diego Pantages, just “San Diego”, San Diego Fullers
My pick for best previous team identity: Aces. Would fit well with the military presence in San Diego.
Is that better than the current team identity?: No. There’s a reason why San Diego Padres has been the name of choice for San Diego teams since 1936: it’s great.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Current team name: San Francisco Giants (since 1958)
Reason for team name: Historically it’s said that manager and co-founder Jim Mutrie referred to his players as “my giants” after a comeback victory, but research suggests it just was a nickname given by newspapers.
Previous team identities in the city: San Francisco Seals, San Francisco Baby Seals, San Francisco Orphans, just “San Francisco”, San Francisco Wasps, San Francisco A’s, San Francisco Brewers, San Francisco Athletics, Imperials of San Francisco, San Francisco Metropolitans, California of San Francisco, San Francisco Californians, San Francisco Hot Peanuts, San Francisco Friscos, San Francisco Folgers, San Francisco Haverlys, San Francisco Emersons, San Francisco Pioneers, San Francisco Damianas, San Francisco Knickerbockers, San Francisco Star, San Francisco Occidental, San Francisco Woonsocket, San Francisco Niantic, San Francisco Reddingtons, San Francisco Nationals, San Francisco Reno, San Francisco Mystics, San Francisco Bay City, San Francisco Californias, San Francisco Eagles, San Francisco Unions, San Francisco Mutuals
My pick for best previous team identity: San Francisco Seals, the name of the long-time PCL team that is still honored by the team to this day with their mascot Lou Seal.
Is that better than the current team identity?: Yes, but you are never getting rid of Giants.
So what did we learn from all of this?
- Most of the current team names are actually pretty good and fit better than previous ones, or are so historic that they could never be changed.
- Seemingly every city east of the Rocky Mountains had a Negro League team named “Giants” at one point or another.
- A lot of teams got their names because of the decisions of newspapermen long ago or by executives overruling other decisions.
And now you know!