Explaining the Origin of All 30 MLB Teams' Nickname
Each Major League Baseball team has a little bit of a story behind how it got its nickname and some of those stories may not be as well known as others.
For instance, some are related to where teams are located geographically, but others seem to have come out of thin air. I bet you didn’t know the fans determined multiple teams’ nicknames.
But they did play a major role in the naming process. Thousands of suggestions were sorted through and judged before anything was set into stone. Other teams didn’t care what the fans thought.
Don’t know how your favorite team was named? Ahead lies the answer.
*All information related to the origin of each team’s nickname was obtained via SportsNet.ca unless otherwise noted.
American League East
The Orioles’ story isn’t very interesting at all. Maryland’s state bird is the oriole so when the St. Louis Browns moved in 1954, the decision was made to name the team the Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore could’ve gotten much more creative than just using the state bird as the nickname, but it’s certainly better than some of the other options ownership could’ve gone with. Imagine if it was the Baltimore Marylanders?
Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox were once known as the Boston Americans because they didn’t have a real nickname and happened to play in the American League. It’s worth mentioning that Boston also had a National League team that wore red socks. When the NL stopped wearing the red socks, the AL team’s owner decided his team would wear them and be called the Red Sox going forward.
New York Yankees
The New York Yankees used to be called the Highlanders back when they came over from Baltimore. The Highlanders were named after a military unit, but the press also started calling the team the Yankees because of their rival, the Boston Americans. While both names were used, eventually Yankees started to be used more often and Highlanders was weeded out. The Yankees, who rarely wear throwbacks, should put on a Highlanders uniform every once in a while.
Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay owner Vince Naimoli never really thought too hard about the naming process clearly. When he was awarded a team back in the mid-1990s, he had an abundance of options to choose from, all of which came from fans. He decided on the Devil Rays. Christians, however, didn’t care for Devil being in the name and after several poor seasons, Tampa Bay dropped it from the name and became just the Tampa Bay Rays. Ever since, they’ve played much better.
Toronto Blue Jays
While the Maple Leafs' nickname was off limits when Toronto finally got a big league club, ownership felt that it should hear what the fans of the city had to say. Over 30,000 suggestions were sent to the team and a panel of 14 judges narrowing it down to 10 finalists. Eventually, the Blue Jays were born. Toronto did, however, use a red maple leaf on its spring training hat this season.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox
Much like their in-state counterpart, the Cubs, the media also played a big role in the naming of the Chicago White Sox. After moving from St. Paul, the press started to call the White Stockings the White Sox. The name has stuck ever since and definitely sounds a lot better than stockings. Stockings is an obsolete word in terms of what athletes wear today. Baseball players wear socks, not stockings.
Cleveland was forced to make a big decision after Nap Lajoie, who was a great player-manager with the club, left. Taking note of the Boston Braves’ success in 1914, ownership and sportswriters felt that the Cleveland team should do something related to that. Then, the Indians were born. Although the Indians are a unique nickname, it’s crazy to think that those making the decision thought they would be successful because a team with a similar name already was.
Before the Detroit Tigers were called the Tigers, they had to get permission from Michigan’s oldest military unit beforehand, considering that’s where the name came from. The Tigers, however, were primarily called the Wolverines. Detroit decided to go with Tigers after permission was granted back in 1901, when the team also joined the American League. Not many teams in any league are named after a military unit so it was relatively clever to decide on it.
Kansas City Royals
Fan suggestions played a big role in the determination of what Kansas City’s expansion team was going to be called. Over 15,000 suggestions were sent in from fans and since Kansas City used to be a major market for livestock and it played host the American Royal Livestock Show annually, ownership decided to go with the Royals. While naming a team the Royals isn’t terrible, the livestock part is a little weird. I’m sure that there were better, more normal options to choose from.
The origin of the Minnesota Twins’ nickname is all about keeping the peace and making friends. When Minnesota was awarded a team in 1961, both Minneapolis and St. Paul wanted the club. Instead of bickering over which city deserved it more, the team was named the Twins, after the Twin Cities, to give each a piece of the pie. You’ll notice that the Twins’ hats have a TC on them, which stands for Twin Cities.
American League West
Houston used to be called the Colt .45s, as many fans would know considering the team has worn the old uniforms as throwbacks in recent memory. Just a few years after their first game, the Colt .45s were changed to the Astros, as management wanted a “futuristic feel.” Ownership also considered the proximity from the ballpark to the NASA training facilities. If Houston were going to change its name, it would’ve when it moved to the American League. Looks like it’s staying.
Los Angeles Angels
While the Los Angeles Angels’ full name has a rather detailed past, the Angels nickname isn’t all that interesting. The Angels were a minor league team in Los Angeles and ownership decided that it was going to pick it up. It may be noteworthy to some that the Angels were originally the Los Angeles Angels then the California Angels then the Anaheim Angels and then back to the Los Angeles Angels. Oh yeah, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was also a thing once. Baseball writers, myself included, have to be happy about that name change.
The Oakland Athletics originate from Philadelphia and back in the 1800s, the team was known as the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia. That’s an extremely long name so it was more commonly known as the Athletic. Later, however, it was pluralized and that’s why it’s now known as the Athletics. The original team actually didn’t make it very long, but it was brought back in 1901 and then the team moved to Kansas City before finally coming to Oakland in 1968.
The Seattle Mariners are a relatively new team compared to the others in baseball and the franchise was also one to incorporate the fans in the naming process. Over 600 names were entered into a fan contest and since Seattle is right near the water, ownership felt it was appropriate to call the team the Mariners. I would like to see what Seattle’s other options were at the time or at least if ownership may have liked another option as well.
The origin of Texas’ nickname shouldn’t be too difficult to decipher. After moving from Washington D.C. to Arlington, Texas in 1972, the team decided to drop the nickname the Senators and to go with something much more local, the Rangers. The team is named after the state law enforcement agency in Texas. The Texas Senators just wouldn’t make much sense considering it’s not really the hub of politics.
National League East
The Braves got their name via suggestion by a random man, John Montgomery Ward. James Gaffney, the team’s future president at the time, was a part of an organization that had the Braves' logo and Ward told him that he should stick with it. This all happened, however, while the team was still based in Boston. There has been controversy surrounding the team, but about the practice logo, not the name.
Until recently, the Miami Marlins had been known as the Florida Marlins. The team had to make the swap because of the city’s funding for a new stadium. The Miami Marlins sounds much smoother than the Florida Marlins anyway. The team’s nickname isn’t very special and was just taken from previous minor league teams in the area. It’s pretty obvious that owner Jeffrey Loria isn’t going to ask for the fans’ opinions on a potential name change going forward.
New York Mets
Back in 1961, when New York was awarded a team, fans were asked to send in their suggestions for what the new club should be called. There were several options including the Rebels, Bees, Avengers, Burros and Jets, among others. Mets, however, won by a large margin, coming from the original name, the New York Metropolitans, which were a team in the late 1800s. I think it would be pretty cool to go and see a New York Skyscraper game. It’s certainly very fitting unlike some of the other options like Bees.
The Philadelphia Phillies were once called the Blue Jays, believe it or not. When they actually became a team back in the 1880s, they were known as the Phillies, though, which was short for the Philadelphias. When a new owner arrived, he held a contest to see what the new name should be. Blue Jays ended up being the winner, but it never really caught on and eventually the name was changed back to the Phillies. What would Toronto’s name be if Philadelphia’s were still the Blue Jays?
Washington hasn’t had the most success with baseball teams in the past. Washington teams, named as the Senators or the Nationals, have moved twice in the game’s history. The fans originally named the team the Nationals, but the press didn’t like it so it kept calling the team the Senators instead. After Washington was awarded a third team in 2005, the Nationals were back one again.
National League Central
The media can take credit for a lot of things, including but not limited to, the nicknames of players and what the general population thinks of a player, team, decision, etc. But the Chicago media can also take credit for the naming of its National League team, the Cubs. A local newspaper was responsible for the change of name, which was previously the Orphans, after a managerial change in 1902.
How Cincinnati eventually went with Reds as its nickname is actually one of the more interesting stories you’ll read about in this piece. Cincinnati changed its nickname from the Red Stockings to the Redlegs and then to the Reds. But in 1953, they went back to Redlegs. Why? During that time, the word “Reds” was associated with communism. Less than 10 years later, though, it was Reds again.
Milwaukee is commonly known as one of the brewing capitals of the country so it makes plenty of sense that its baseball team is called the Brewers. What you probably didn’t know is that before the team was called the Brewers, it was actually called the Cream Citys, considering how big the cream brick industry was in the area. I can’t imagine a team in this day and age being called the Cream Citys, especially if it meant giving up a great name in the Brewers.
You’ll never guess why Pittsburgh’s nickname is the Pirates. When the business of baseball used to be in shambles compared to what it is today, players didn’t care for the way they were paid so they created their own league. Their old teams still had their rights in case something happened and they wanted to return. Two Philadelphia Athletics players ended up signing with the Pittsburgh team despite it being against the rules. Fans then started calling Pittsburgh the Pirates since they stole players.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Brown Stockings was never going to be a good name and as we’ve seen, Stockings never really catches on anywhere. St. Louis was also know as the Browns for a while, but eventually made the switch to the Perfectos, also changing the uniforms from brown to red. A member of the press said that the new jerseys had “a lovely shade of Cardinal.” From thereon out, St. Louis has been known as the Cardinals.
National League West
When the Arizona brass found out it would be awarded a team, it turned to the fans to help determine what the team’s name should be. The options included the Coyotes, Rattlers, Phoenix, Scorpions and the Diamondbacks. Obviously, the Diamondbacks ended up being the favorite, but that doesn’t mean that the losers weren’t worthy. It would be cool to see an Arizona Scorpions game at Chase Field.
Here’s a case where ownership didn’t seem to care much about what the fans wanted. A newspaper poll showed that fans preferred to have its Colorado baseball team called the Bears, but instead, ownership decided that since the team was located so close to the Rocky Mountains that the Rockies was a more fitting nickname. Although ownership should’ve taken the fans’ opinion into account, the Colorado Bears don’t sound like an exciting team.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Many people know that the Los Angeles Dodgers originated from Brooklyn, moving from New York to the west coast in 1958. In Brooklyn, people were often called “trolley dodgers” and in the late 1800s, the team was called the Trolley Dodgers. That didn’t last very long, though, as Brooklyn changed its name to just the Dodgers shortly thereafter. It would be fun to watch Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw suit up in Trolley Dodgers uniforms, but that doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.
San Diego Padres
Would it be weird if San Diego’s team was called the Fathers instead of the Padres? Well, that’s what the nickname means in English. So why is it in Spanish? Well it’s because San Diego had the first Spanish mission in the state of California and there was a minor league team known as the Padres so when ownership was awarded a team, they liked the name and went with it. And yes, it would be weird if the team were now known as the San Diego Fathers.
San Francisco Giants
Throughout this piece, we’ve learned that usually the press or the fans have a say in what the team is eventually called. But with the San Francisco club, which originated in New York, it was the manager. Known as the New York New Yorks and also the New York Gothams, the manager, Jim Mutrie, started calling the players “My big fellows! My giants!” The name started to catch on and eventually stayed with the team through its move to the west coast. Why not the New York Fellows, though?