Red Sox, White Sox, Jazz, and Heat: A Quick Note On Pluralization

Asher ChanceySenior Analyst IAugust 30, 2010

Red Sox, White Sox, Jazz, and Heat: A Quick Note On Pluralization

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    As a sports writer, there is a phenomenon that I find to be very frustrating, and it is summed up in the following sentence:

    "Shaquille O'Neal has signed with the Boston Celtics for the 2010 season, which brings the number of teams he's played for to six.  In addition to being a Celtic, he has been a member of the Orlando Magic, a Laker, a member of the Miami Heat, a Sun, and a Cavalier."

    In short, the thing that drives me crazy is dealing with pluralization, or lack thereof, of certain sports team names.

The Utah Jazz

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    I suppose we have the original New Orleans Jazz to thank for all of this.

    It was in New Orleans, after all, that a professional sports team first decided to refer to itself as a collective concept rather than as a collection of individual items.

    Thus, Pistol Pete Maravich became one of the first big name players about whom we had to say that he was a member of thing, rather than one of many similar things.

The Miami Heat

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    And so it is that LeBron James goes from being "a Cavalier" to being "a member of the Heat."

    You know, in chemistry we learn that heat is measured in either joules or calories.

    Could we call LeBron a "joule"?

The Orlando Magic

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    Unlike the Jazz and the Heat, there is some fun to be had with the concept of a team named "the Magic."

    Dwight Howard doesn't just have to be "a member of the Magic"; rather, he can be "part of the Magic" or even a "Magic man."

The Boston Red Sox

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    Of course, basketball got the ball rolling on naming teams after concepts rather than items, but the NBA was not the first league to screw up pluralisation.

    Over a hundred years ago, back in the old National Association and then in the National League, teams were often named after the color of the stockings they wore.

    The Chicago Cubs were originally called the "White Stockings" while the Cincinnati Reds were originally the "Red Stockings." When the American League began play (officially) in 1901, the new Chicago team took on the name the "White Sox", and the new Boston team eventually became the "Red Sox."

    From time to time we refer to players like David Ortiz as "a Red Sock." Phonetically this makes since, as a red sock is clearly the singular of red socks. But in writing this doesn't make sense at all; "Red Sox" is not the plural of anything, it is just a nonsensical word.

    Thus, while I would gladly refer out loud to Ortiz as a red sock, in the written word I would never refer to him as anything other than "one of the Red Sox."

The Philadelphia Phillies

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    For all of our Jazz and Heat and Red Sox and White Sox, perhaps no pluralization issue puzzles me more than that of teams like the Philadelphia Phillies.

    The Phillies, with their "ies" suffix, are clearly (at least to me) pluralized in much the same fashion as we would pluralize the name Billy, short for William, the word filly, as in a young female horse, or the word lady.

    Thus, Billy becomes Billies, filly becomes fillies, and lady becomes ladies.

    And yet, with startling regularity sportswriters will refer to Ryan Howard as a Phillie, with an ie, as opposed to a Philly. What sense does this make.

    I don't live in West Phillie, and I don't park in South Phillie; it is West Philly and South Philly, and thus Ryan Howard should be a Philly.

The Colorado Rockies

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    And what of the Colorado Rockies? This is a team that plays in Denver, and whose logo features a rocky mountain.

    Clearly, the Colorado Rockies are an homage to the Rocky Mountains.

    And yet, when we ponder the MVP candidacy of Carlos Gonzalez, we continually refer to him as a Colorado Rockie. It makes no sense.

    Sylvester Stallone didn't star in Rockie, after all.

The Cincinnati Reds

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    I've never known what, exactly, the Cincinnati Reds were supposed to be, and I have always been impressed that the team name survived the Red Scare and the Cold War.

    Nevertheless, I am forced to the conclusion that if the team were to have been named in the last 20 years, rather than over 100 years ago, that today we would be watching a team called the Cincinnati Red.

The Kansas City Royals

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    And as we watch Billy Butler develop into potentially the next great right-handed hitter, I ponder whether the Kansas City franchise might have been named the Royalty, or perhaps even just the Royal.

The Oakland Athletics

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    Frankly, a singular rather than a plural might make more sense in the case of the Oakland baseball franchise; after all, how many hours I have spent pondering what, exactly, an "athletic" is supposed to be.

    If we can name teams after non-plural nouns, like the Heat, Magic, and Jazz, then why not name a team after a non-plural adjective.

    Ladies and gentlemen, the Oakland Athletic.

The Florida Marlins

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    Ironically, while I would like to live in a world in which we came up with easily pluralized nicknames for our not-so-easily pluralized teams, we seem to be going in the other direction.

    Thus, we call the Florida Marlins "the Fish"...

The Cleveland Indians

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    ...we refer to the franchise known as the Cleveland Indians as "the Tribe"...

The New York Yankees

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    ...and we call the New York Yankees "the Evil Empire."


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    At the end of the day, though, we discover one thing that trumps all others:

    The language of sports is its own language, for only in the language of sports can we say things like:

    "the Heat are on"

    rather than "the Heat is on"; or

    "Dante Bichette is a former Rockie"

    rather than a former "Rocky."

    Only in the world of sports would the following sentence make sense:

    "Remember in the 1970's when Utah stole the Jazz from the city of New Orleans."

    That last one doesn't make any sense at all.