Spotlight on Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers History: The Nickname

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Spotlight on Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers History: The Nickname

*Note to Bleacher Report editors: "Baseball" was known as "base ball" for many years. Please do NOT edit such references.

 

When I was a kid, I had a very arbitrary reason for becoming a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers. (For more details, see this article.)

 

Over the years, it occurred to me that the nickname "Dodgers" was very unusual. I vaguely remembered a literary character in the book "Oliver Twist," by Charles Dickens, called "the Artful Dodger," and just assumed that somehow, this became the team’s mascot.

 

I was dead wrong!

 

Many years ago, while in my twenties, I finally decided to sit down and research the origins of the Dodgers’ nickname. Today, what I learned then (and subsequently) will be the focal point of my weekly "Spotlight on Dodger History" column.

 

Dodger history began way back in 1856, with the Brooklyn Atlantics of the National Association of Base Ball Players. The Atlantics, in fact, were the inaugural members of the Association, and were joined in 1857 by eight other teams from the New York area.

 

In those early years, the original Brooklyn club (there were other, minor pretenders to the throne at several junctures) was known as the Atlantics when they played at the Long Island Cricket Club, but as the Eckfords when they were the home team at the Manor House Grounds.

 

Still later, the team was the Atlantics at the Atlantic Grounds (established in 1859) and the Eckfords at Union Grounds (opened in 1862). The Union Grounds had the distinction of being the first fully enclosed base ball field in the country; the Capitoline Grounds, open for business in 1864, was the second.

 

These base ball-only facilities helped accelerate the growth of professional base ball (as it was still known) and mark it as superior to amateur endeavors.

 

For the next decade, the club continued with their dual-name status, playing under the moniker "Atlantics" when at Capitoline, and "Eckfords" when at Union. The clubs were technically separate, but shared many of the same players.

 

The clubs were generally among the best amateur outfits in the game.

 

The Atlantics/Eckfords joined the fledgling National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (established in 1871) in its second year of existence, 1872. The team inhabited the cellar, however, as they lost most of their best players to the pro league in the first year.

 

Struggling to remain relevant, they abandoned Capitoline and soldiered on at Union Grounds, changing their name exclusively to the Mutual Base Ball Club of New York, or just the Mutuals, in 1875 (after switching back and forth between the Atlantics and the Mutuals since 1871, similar to the Atlantics/Eckfords for so many years).

 

Confused yet?

 

It got even murkier when yet another professional league inhabited the scene.

 

The National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (yes, the precursor of the National League) came into existence in 1876. Exclusive National League rights to Brooklyn were handed over to the Mutuals, effectively ending the long run of the Atlantics as a force in big time base ball.

 

The Mutuals, however, finished in sixth place in the eight-team league, 21-35, a mind-numbing 26 games back. With such a poor performance, the squad was a terrible draw at the gate, cash-poor, and unable to pay its obligations.

 

They were expelled from the NL after the 1876 season, after earning the distinction as the first team ever to turn a triple-play, May 13, 1876, versus the Hartford Dark Blues.

 

William Cammeyer, who ran the Union Grounds, had lost his best draw; he moved quickly to fill the breach.

 

The Dark Blues caught Cammeyer’s eye, finishing third in the league (47-21), leading the circuit in complete games and boasting the progenitor of the curveball, eventual Hall of Famer Candy Cummings.

 

So, Cammeyer decided to pursue the Dark Blues, signing them essentially as a one-year rental to be the main draw at his grounds. As the Brooklyn Hartfords, sans Cummings and several other stars, the team finished 31-27, 10 games back in the final standings.

 

The team subsequently disbanded, and professional base ball in Brooklyn ceased to exist for the better part of a decade.

 

Meanwhile, a new field was built in Brooklyn, Washington Park. Minor league ball returned to the city of Brooklyn (it only became a borough of NYC in 1898) in 1883, in the Inter-State Association. The team was known alternately as the Grays or Atlantics.

 

The remnants of this team, which moved up to the American Association, were the first true precursor of what is now the Dodgers; in 1884, they were known as the Grays.

 

Steadily moving up from ninth place, the Grays reached the precipice of a league title in 1888, finishing in second, 88-52, six-and-a-half games back.

 

Four of the team’s stars became married during the season and the offseason. In honor of this, and to do something different to christen the New Washington Park, the team was re-named the Bridegrooms. They won the flag by two and a half games with a stellar 93-44 mark.

 

Though many other nicknames would ensue, Brooklynites fell into calling the home team the Bridegrooms or just Grooms for the better part of two decades.

 

In 1890, even more confusion reigned. The Bridegrooms jumped to the National League.

 

The players' desire to increase wages led them to form the Player’s League that year. Conveniently enough, PL teams were plunked down in most of the major markets already inhabited by the National League or American Association. That meant most of the prime cities in the league had two professional teams.

 

Brooklyn was different; they had three teams.

 

The American Association representative was the Gladiators, who played at Ridgewood Grounds.

 

The Player’s League squad was called Ward’s Wonders, for manager John Montgomery "Monte" Ward, the baseball legend who would be very important to the development of professional play.

 

In the National League, the Bridegrooms were the Brooklyn team.

 

The AA Gladiators were a disaster, finishing in ninth-place under Jim Kennedy.

 

Ward piloted his Wonders to a second-place finish, 20-games over .500. Their home field was Eastern Park, which was bounded on two sides by trolley car tracks.

 

Keep that little detail in mind.

 

The NL’s Grooms were big winners, claiming the pennant by six games under Bill McGunnigle, finishing with a sizzling 86-43 mark.

 

In 1891, the moribund Gladiators folded, and New Washington Park burned to the ground. The entire Player’s League had gone belly up, and Charlie Bryne, lead investor and primary owner of the Grooms, scooped up the fiery law student, Monte Ward, and tabbed him as player-manager.

 

Ward used his influence to help the team secure Eastern Park as their home, and Bryne allowed Ward to keep the moniker Ward’s Wonders, too.

 

The results were less than wonderful, however; the team finished in the second division, a distant 25 and a half games back.

 

Ward piloted the Wonders/Grooms to a third-place finish in 1892 (with a 95-59 record) before fleeing back to the cross-town Giants in 1893 to finish his groundbreaking career.

 

Dave Foutz was brought in to manage the NL team, and the team name became Foutz’s Fillies, and sometimes (derisively) Foutz’s Follies. Though finishing over .500, the team was relegated to the second-division again, seventh-place.

 

The Fillies continued to inhabit the nether regions of the National League until Foutz was finally let go. Manager William Barnie was brought in and the team nickname became the Trolley Dodgers.

 

The name was taken from the trolleys that ran down two sides of Eastern Park. Brooklyn citizens were known in general as trolley dodgers because of the intricate network of street car lines criss-crossing through the city.

 

It took time for the name to hold sway over other pretenders to the throne.

 

The team reverted back to the Grooms in 1898, when Brooklyn was annexed as a borough of New York City; the Superbas from 1899-1910, after a popular traveling vaudeville troop named Hanlon’s Superbas (the Brooklyn manager’s name was Ned Hanlon, though no relation to the troupe); and the Infants or Dodgers from 1911-'13.

 

Ebbett’s Field opened in 1913, and Wilbert “Uncle Robbie” Robinson became the manager in 1914. Robinson was so popular that the team was called the Robins from 1914-'25. This was a period of sustained success, including two NL titles (1916, 1920).

 

Robinson’s management style led to lax play, and they were referred alternately to as the Flock, the Daffy Dodgers or just the Daffiness Boys.

 

In 1926, however, Uncle Robbie upset the management of the Brooklyn Sun with his bitter complaints about a sports cartoon in the paper. The sports editor, in turn, ordered his writers to use the name Dodgers instead of Robins, as a form of protest.

 

When Robinson was fired in 1932, all of the other Brooklyn papers uniformly switched to calling the hometown team the Dodgers again, this time for good.

 

The only other informal nickname levied on the club was “Dem Bums,” or just “Bums.”

 

Scripps-Howard’s cartoonist Willard Mullin once heard his cab driver ask a bystander, "So how did those bums do today?" The question referred to the teams’ losing ways; he was resigned to bad news.

 

Mullin conceived an exaggerated sketch of legendary circus clown Emmett Kelly, and used the caricature in his syndicated New York World-Telegram cartoon strip with the heading "Dem Bums."

 

Brooklyn fans embraced the informal nickname and the drawing. It became so popular that several Dodger media guides between the years 1951 through 1957 featured a Willard Mullin illustration of the famous Brooklyn Bum.

 

And that’s the story of the MLB team with more nicknames than any other!

 

 

Leroy Watson, Jr. is a Los Angeles Dodger Featured columnist for Bleacher Report

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