Don't Be So Sensitive. It Is an Honor Not a Put Down
Ok I hope you are ready because I am about to go off on a political tangent of sorts. I was reminded today of a pet peeve of mine with regard to sports nicknames. Before I go there, however, I want to talk a little about the history behind some of those nicknames. The New York Yankees began life as the Baltimore Orioles in 1901. On January 09, 1903 the defunct Orioles were bought by Frank Farrell and Bill Devery for $18,000 and moved to Manhattan where they played as the New York Highlanders. In April 1913, after moving to the Polo Grounds, the Highlanders are finally renamed the Yankees. From their origins as an original doormat of the old American League the Yankees went on to dominate the baseball landscape for decades as the far and away leaders in World Championships.
The first openly professional team was the famous Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869-1870. They began as an amateur organization in the National Association of Baseball Players in 1866, as interest in baseball grew substantially after the Civil War. Interest in the Red Stockings themselves grew as they compiled an impressive winning streak while mostly on a road tour or "barnstorming". The new version of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, (later shortened to Cincinnati Reds), became prosperous. The team won the first American Association pennant, and survived the first eight of the Association's ten-year existence. In 1890, the Reds were readmitted to the National League, and continue to play in Cincinnati to this day.
With the Cincinnati Red Stockings dissolved, four of its players regrouped in Boston to join the new National Association and formed the Boston Red Stockings, which eventually evolved into the Boston Braves. Those Braves kept their nickname as they moved to Milwaukee for the 1958 season and kept it yet again upon their move to Atlanta as today's Atalanta Braves.
I know many people think that the Red Stockings were the origin of todays Boston Red Sox. NOT TRUE! In 1901, the American League, and their outspoken President Ban Johnson, declared themselves equals to the National League, (Not true then and not true now), and established a competing club in Boston. For seven seasons, the AL team wore dark blue stockings and had no official nickname. They were simply "Boston" or "the Bostons"; or the "Americans" or "Boston Americans" as in "American Leaguers", Boston being a two-team city. Their 1901-1907 jerseys, both home and road, simply read "Boston". The temporary decision by the Boston National Leaguers to drop the color red from their uniforms led to a history-making decision: "Red Stockings had been part of all Boston National League teams up to 1907, but the manager that year, told a Boston Journal baseball writer, he would abandon the red stockings tradition in favor of white stockings, because of the danger that colored stockings might cause leg injuries to become infected. The very next day the Boston club president announced he was grabbing the name Red Sox and that his American League team would begin wearing red stockings the very next season.
Todays Pittsburgh franchise was originally known as the "Alleghenys" named for the city of Allegheny across the river from Pittsburgh. It wasn't until the Philadelphia Athletics committed a clerical error and did not reserve the services of two players and Pittsburgh signed the two stars. After an official ruling upheld the signings the Athletics, (yes they are the A's of Oakland now) called Pittsburgh "a bunch of pirates" in the press. The name stuck.
My favorite team, the Dodgers, have had a pretty remarkable anthology with their nickname as well. Going all the way back to the original Brooklyn team in 1883 they were the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. Only a few years later they changed it to the Superbas. However it was the famous Ebbets Field that gave this franchise its current name. During their years at Ebbetts, players and fans alike often dodged trolley cars to reach the ballpark leading to the nickname "Trolly Dodgers" later shortened to "Dodgers" which has remained the name to this day and I think it travelled well on it's journey west from Brooklyn. Another interesting note was a temporary name change that lasted from 1914 until 1931. Brooklyn was known as the Robins. It was an honor not to the bird but to their beloved manager Wilbert Robinson. Upon his retirement the team reverted back to the Dodgers.
Ok, with all of that said, I will get to my pet peeve. I believe that nicknames are a source of pride and bring with them an historical significance. Would the Kansas City Royals have the same image if they were the Kansas City Slugs? Should all Kings and Queens feel insulted by the name Royals being used in this way? Do people of Norweigien decent have a legitimate gripe because Minnesota has a franchise called the Vikings? Again, no! These names are more of a way to pay homage. To hold that image in a higher place to be admired and not at all to be looked down upon.
In the old Negro Leagues names like the Black Yankees and Birmingham Black Barons existed as a badge of honor and history reflects that. When Stanford University changed their name to the Cardinal instead of Indians they didn't do Native Americans a service. They took away an honor and a gesture of respect. I hope that other names in sports don't go in that same direction and that the likes of Cleveland's Indians, Atlanta's Braves and Washington's Redskins continue to cast honor on the original native Americans for years to come. After all, if a nickname really is adverse I want to get together to take action against the Chicago White Sox in a class action suit on behalf of all of us that wear white socks. Trust me, my feet are very sensitive in this matter.
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