Right Name/Wrong Name: Fixing the MLB’s names for fun

There are some team names in professional sports that don’t match their location or history very well. What if I had the power to change those names to something more appropriate? The inspiration for this exercise was thinking about how messed up it is that there’s a team called the Jazz in Utah, a team called the Lakers in L.A. and a team called the Grizzlies in Memphis, about 1,000 miles outside of the Grizzly Bear’s natural habitat. So I fixed those names and a few more in the NBA. Done and dusted.

And then I thought: What about the other leagues in North America? I could only think of a couple other names off the top of my head that don’t feel like they fit, across all the leagues. Maybe the NBA was the league with the most broken names, and doing this for the rest of the leagues would be mostly boring?

Let’s test that hypothesis by fixing the broken names in the league with the next-most number of names that leap out at me as in need of fixing: Major League Baseball. As before, I’ll go through each team, and where the team name fits, I’ll say so, explain why, and move on. But for the teams that need new names, I’ll use my unlimited power as the writer of this small blog to make the controversial decisions and fix things. You’re welcome, Atlanta. You’ll barely remember anything was ever different in a few years.

Anyway, let’s dive in, going alphabetical by city name:

Wrong name: Arizona Diamondbacks
I have a couple beeves with this one. I’m not a huge fan of the “represent the whole state” team name, like Golden State Warriors or Indiana Pacers (though I don’t mind the second as much as the first). In the second case, there are at least no other pro basketball teams in Indiana, so it sorta makes sense. I guess Arizona kind of falls into that category as well, though the Phoenix-based big-four teams are split on whether to go by the city (NBA’s Suns and NHL’s Coyotes) or state (D’backs and NFL’s Cardinals). Decide!

My other beef is with Diamondbacks. It’s too clever by half. Diamondback is a name for a rattlesnake, right? Before this team came along, who ever would have known what a Diamondback is? Why isn’t it just Arizona Rattlesnakes or Arizona Rattlers? And “D’backs” is just really lame, despite my own use of it in the last paragraph. Yuck.

Right name: Arizona Vipers
Vipers has the benefit of being a shorter, cooler, more general name that’s still pretty specific to Arizona. I mean sure, you can find nasty poisonous snakes in several states, especially in the Southwest, but nobody else’s big pro teams are using that iconography, so this team can continue to embrace that. And it’s got a sort of timeless feel, like I could imagine a team established in the 1900s having been called the Vipers; not so much the Diamondbacks. And let’s go ahead and stick with Arizona, since there probably aren’t as many snakes in Phoenix proper as there are in the more remote areas of the state.

REALLY wrong name: Atlanta Braves
It’s a name with history, but it’s unfortunately also a pretty racist mascot situation. The name “Braves” itself wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if it wasn’t so tied to Native American iconography, including a really tone-deaf “tomahawk chop” fan gesture, coupled with stereotypical native-inspired whooping and chanting. This is a name that many people have been hungry to change for a long time, and a lot of other people are just as hungry to keep. Since I’ve got all the power in this scenario, though, I’m telling those latter people to kick rocks: We’re plucking this turkey.

Gorgeous Peaches mock-up courtesy of Hunt the Jones blog

Right name: Atlanta Peaches
To be honest, I kind of wanted to go with Atlanta Kings here, as a nod to Martin Luther King Jr., but the name is already in use by several other more minor Atlanta-area sports teams, and I don’t feel great about ripping lacrosse and minor hockey teams off. But seeing as how Georgia is probably known as much for its glorious peaches as anything else, and seeing how the name Peaches already has some history with the Macon minor league team (which was in the Atlanta farm system, and is now known as the Rome Braves — ugh) as well as the famous Rockford Peaches of the all women’s baseball league depicted in the movie/TV series “A League of Their Own,” it feels like a strong, classic, very specific name for a baseball team.

And as it turns out, this is a pretty popular idea with a lot of other folks, too. I’ve found blog posts and articles stretching back several years talking about “Peaches” as a great replacement for Braves. This guy is one of many who put together some uniform concepts, and honestly, pretty much all the concepts I’ve seen look pretty great, and they’re definitely unique. Why wouldn’t Atlanta, who inherited “Braves” from Milwaukee (who inherited it from Boston) anyway, want to get a fresh start with a really local name everyone can enjoy?

Right name: Baltimore Orioles
This one is easy. It’s historic, it’s specific, it’s unique, it’s iconic. It’s a bird. No reason at all to change it.

Right name: Boston Red Sox
Even though the “Sox” thing has always bothered me on some level (why not “Socks” or the original “Stockings?”), there’s also no reason to change this. It would, however, behoove both of the league’s “Sox” teams to ACTUALLY wear the color socks they’re named after at all times. You can stripe it with another team color, but the socks need to be mainly red. The Red Sox are pretty good about this, home and away, but there have been some navy sox situations as well. Make it make sense!

Right name: Chicago Cubs
Just from a totally ahistoric point of view, removing everything else we know about the Cubs in Chicago, this name works. It’s not just “Bears,” it’s a twist on that. It lends to cuter mascots. It gives you a slanted alliteration with the city name. Add in the history of the name with the team, “lovable losers” and all, and it just doesn’t make sense to change it.

Right name: Chicago White Sox
Same deal as the Red Sox. There’s just an absolute ton of history here. If there was a movement to start calling them the White Stockings again, I’d be on board, but that wouldn’t be a name change as much as using a team’s proper nickname, like calling the New York Knicks the Knickerbockers. That’s their actual name, just nobody uses it! Also, make sure you’re actually wearing white sox — err, socks as much as possible. Their socks are usually black, which is a real head scratcher.

Right name: Cincinnati Reds
Like the NBA’s Knicks, the Reds have been in professional leagues since the very beginning of the sport. They were kicked out of the original National League in the 19th century for serving beer at their games (which was apparently against league rules). They helped form some other leagues. They’ve been known as the Red Stockings, the Redlegs, and originally and most often as the Reds. Why? Why not? When you’re one of the first teams on the scene, you can just grab a color and make it yours. There was also a team known as the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in those early days, so obviously people were still figuring out what makes a good team name (although “Bridegrooms” would be a sneakily fun name nowadays). But yeah: The Reds. Forever and always.

Wrong name: Cleveland Guardians
Guardians is a big improvement on Indians, to be sure, and while I like the hyper-local specificity of naming your team after some statues on a bridge right outside your stadium, there was another old Cleveland baseball team name that would have been so much cooler.

Right name: Cleveland Spiders
Like Vipers, Spiders is an under-used, cool-ass team name. Cleveland had a team called the Spiders way back in the late 19th century, and while they weren’t a very good team, the name is still heckin’ great. Apparently the original Spiders were named that because their players were all skinny and spindly, like spiders. So random!

Right name: Colorado Rockies
This is pretty good, especially for a 1990s expansion team. Yes, it’s another example of a team representing a whole state. Yes, they could just as easily be the Denver Rockies. But once again, there are no other major-league baseball teams in the state, so it’s not a problem. Colorado’s fellow 1990s-era expansion team, the Florida Marlins, renamed to Miami Marlins after another team had been established in the Sunshine State. Good going, Marlins (spoiler alert!), but given the circumstance, the Rockies are fine to stay as they are.

Right name: Detroit Tigers
Baseball’s got a lot of really long-lived teams with a bunch of history and lineage. The Tigers are just another one of those, having been the Detroit Tigers since even before Ty Cobb started roaming the outfield in 1905. Beautiful uniforms, great name, long history. Keep it all.

Right name, sorta: Houston Astros
As I mentioned earlier, there are some teams out there with lengthier nicknames that go by shorter names, like the NBA’s Knickerbockers going by the Knicks. The Astros aren’t one of those. You’d think, with the name honoring NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, it’d be the Houston Astronauts, and everyone just calls them the Astros. But it’s not! I’m here to say: It should be! Just make them the …

Better name: Houston Astronauts
… and everyone can keep calling them the Astros (or the ‘Stros if you’re really lazy).

Right name: Kansas City Royals
I’ve never really been sure what to make of the Royals. First of all, though I’ve never been a fan, I’ve always loved their home jerseys and their caps. They’re just really clean and classic. And I really don’t have a problem with the name Royals, I just always wondered if it had any actual connection to Kansas City, or if it was just a name people liked when they were added to the American League in 1969.

Well, as it turns out, there’s a lot of history with that Royals name. First off, the American Royal is a livestock show, horse show, rodeo, and BBQ competition held every year in the city since — get this — 1899. That’s it, that’s all you need. That’s everything I could possibly associate with Kansas City right there in one event. But then beyond that, the Royals name was also used for two Negro League teams, including one that featured Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson.

So, OK, the Royals is a good name for this team. Got it!

Right name: Los Angeles Angels
Now that they’ve been able to ditch the stupid “of Anaheim” tag they had to carry due to a weird agreement they had with their former host city/suburb, I think the L.A. Angels is a very suitable name. It’s the name used by the first professional team based in L.A., a former Pacific Coast League team that played at the original Wrigley Field in South L.A. (fun little bit of trivia there for you). The MLB franchise was one of the first official expansion teams, as well, so while it may not have the longevity of the Reds in Cincinnati, it’s still got some legs. Never mind that the name of the town translated to English is just “the angels,” which would make the name of the team “The Angels Angels,” we’re sticking with it.

Wrong name: Los Angeles Dodgers
This is almost exactly the problem we ran into with the Los Angeles Lakers. You have a very popular, very historically significant, very successful, very iconic team that happens to have moved to L.A. from another town and never bothered changing its very specific name, and so now you have a team name that makes little to no sense in its current locale. The Brooklyn Dodgers were named for the way pedestrians in the NYC borough tended to duck and dodge between streetcars in the road. Los Angeles’s streetcars were decommissioned just a few years after the Dodgers moved there. There are very few lakes in the Los Angeles area on which to be a Laker, and there are no streetcars of which to be a Dodger.

Right name: Hmmmm …
It’s really too bad I already told the L.A. Clippers to become the Hollywood Stars, because that’s also the name of an old Pacific Coast League baseball team dating back to the 1920s, and it’d be great to have two Los Angeles-based MLB teams with names derived from classic PCL teams. Is it lazy to have recommended the same name to two mis-named L.A. teams in two sports? Or is it … an opportunity?

Right club name: Hollywood Stars Athletic Club
In Europe, you have these gigantic sports organizations like Real Madrid in Spain, Olympiacos in Greece, England’s Everton, and Sporting in Portugal, to name a few, that provide training and education to youngsters in myriad sports, and field clubs at the top competitive levels across the continent. How/why have the super competitive and super rich buttholes running American sports clubs not arrived at this model? Why hasn’t Magic Johnson and the Dodgers ownership group gone to Steve Ballmer and the Clippers and said: Let’s get together? Pool your money, pool your resources, grow something that many organizations in Europe have already proven can work: A multisport club. The Clippers and the Dodgers would become the cornerstones of the new Hollywood Stars A.C.

To be clear, I don’t know if there are specific laws in the United States against this kind of thing, or if they would run afoul of the weirdly strict and insular league structures run by the aforementioned owners/rich buttholes across the country. It seems unlikely, as there are a few people, like L.A. Rams/Colorado Avalanche/Arsenal FC owner Stan Kroenke, who already own several teams in several leagues, they just haven’t mushed their operations together. Assuming there aren’t any rules against it, I think the Dodgers and Clippers should make this happen, or the Dodgers and Lakers, whoever is more ready to make this leap. Pull one of the L.A. NFL teams and an MLS team in, too, or maybe the NHL’s Kings, whose owners also already own the Staples Center, where half these dang teams play. Let the Stars shine, L.A.!

Right name: Miami Marlins
Marlins is such a neat, unique name, and since they changed Florida to Miami, it’s just about perfect. Too bad the same can’t be said about the team itself!

Right name: Milwaukee Brewers
Speaking of perfect names! Although Milwaukee is no longer THE epicenter of American beer-making, there’s still plenty of it happening there, and none of the other cities that have emerged on that scene identify with that name and that history as much as Milwaukee. I even love the new uniforms, which draw in a lot of team history and still look snazzy. Those previous navy/gray outfits with the boring M/grain logo were dated on arrival.

Right name: Minnesota Twins
The Twins are great: a really local team with a really local reference (Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul) and a cool selection of retro logos. The only tiny disconnect here is that it’s the Minnesota Twins and not the Minneapolis/St. Paul Twins, to really drive home that reference, but let’s face it, that would be pretty unsightly as a team name. This works, it has a bunch of great history, and I wouldn’t change it.

Right name: New York Metropolitans
Naming a New York City team the Metropolitans is one of those home run (pardon the pun) decisions that’s pretty hard to improve upon. So I won’t try! They’re a crummy team most years, but you can’t hate on their perfect name.

Right name: New York Yankees
I wouldn’t touch this one with a foul pole. If the team had just been named in the 1970s or something and hadn’t won any titles, I might toy around with some other ideas, but the Yankees are iconic in just about every way. The name — a slang word for an American person generally, especially northern ones — arrived as the team’s nickname organically in the 1910s, when the press started referring to the then-Highlanders as the Yankees (or Yanks) in the papers. In 1913, the owners got on board and re-named the team the Yankees.

Right name: Oakland Athletics
The Athletics is a foundational baseball name. They were a charter member of the American League in 1901 as the Philadelphia Athletics, spent some time in Kansas City in the mid-20th century, and wound up in California in the 1960s. It’s a great, old-timey name with a great logo and some classic uniforms. I’m just glad they didn’t lose the name in either of their relocations.

Right names: Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, and San Diego Padres
In the interest of moving things along, I’ll give a thumbs up to these three all at once. I’m thankful for the alliteration in both Pennsylvania-based teams (the double Ph for the Philly team is particularly inspired). And I especially like the Padres for being an almost silly choice for a mascot that really works given the history of Franciscan friars in the founding of San Diego.

Wrong name: San Francisco Giants
Here’s another California-based team that kept its New York-based name when it moved across the country in the late 1950s. There’s nothing really that giant in San Francisco. Maybe the bridges? It’s a name that has history and a sort of inertia, but it doesn’t make much sense when you think about it for a second.

Right name: San Francisco Missions
Baseball has an insanely long history in San Francisco and the Bay Area, considering how geographically isolated it is from the rest of the county and how difficult it would have been to find opponents for local teams in the early days. But I found a Chronicle article that talks about how the city welcomed the famous Cincinnati Red Stockings for a pair of exhibition games all the way back in 1869. It’s probably not a coincidence that was the same year the first transcontinental railroad — with its western terminus in San Francisco — was completed.

All this to say: There are an awful lot of good team names to choose from when you’re combing through San Francisco baseball history. You could draw one out of a hat and generally end up with a more appropriate name for the local team than “Giants.” The obvious choice would have been the San Francisco Seals, which is a name that’s had a lot of use in the Bay Area through the years by teams in various sports and cities. But that’s just it, it’s been used a lot. I certainly wouldn’t argue with any other omnipotent blog deities who wanted to use that name in their own recreations of the baseball universe, but for me, there’s a more interesting choice: The Missions. They were the city’s second Pacific Coast/California League team after the Seals. They played in a crummy, beat-up park with broken outfield fences. They had some star players, but they weren’t usually that great. The name itself, though, ties deeply into the history of San Francisco, with the San Francisco de Asis mission being the oldest structure in the city, an institution so central to the city (literally and figuratively) that the surrounding downtown neighborhood is named for it. It’s very San Francisco. Plus it kind of creates a neat synergy with the other team named for Franciscans, the Padres.

Right names: The rest of them
Looking at the end of the alphabetical list of MLB teams, they’re all winners for simple reasons:

  • St. Louis Cardinals: History plus great uniforms plus bird-based mascot equals a winning name. Notice that I haven’t changed any of the bird-based mascots in the Major Leagues. They’re all great, and we need more of them, honestly. The next expansion teams should be birds, no matter where they hail from.
  • Seattle Mariners: The only other name I could even think of that I’d like close to as much as I like the Mariners is the Seattle Sounds (another water-based name). But it wouldn’t lend itself to logos as easily as “Mariners” does.
  • Tampa Bay Rays: I’m glad they dropped the “Devil” from Rays, even if it did lend a sort of poetic/lyrical cadence to the name (Tam-pa-Bay-Dev-il-Rays … it almost feels like a stadium chant).
  • Texas Rangers: Almost too perfect, really.
  • Toronto Blue Jays: Just re-read what I said about the Cardinals. The Jays don’t have as much history, but everything else stands.
  • Washington Nationals: It’s exactly what you want from a name based in a nation’s capital. Nationals, Capitols, Senators, Presidents, Monuments (ahem) … it’s an easy call, but it’s also the right one. And it’s a name with plenty of pre-existing baseball history. Well done, D.C.

In the end, I only elected to outright change five teams’ names, plus a slight tweak to the Houston name. That is, as I guessed it would be, a lot fewer than the 13 teams I renamed in the NBA. I could have gone really nuts and started arbitrarily finding reasons to come up with new names for teams, but as silly as this little exercise is, I’m trying to keep it at least somewhat grounded in rationality.

Admittedly it’s not as much “fun” to leave about 80 percent of the teams as-is, but I’m trying to be a responsible blog-based demigod here. It’s still interesting, at least for me, to delve into the histories of some of these teams and figure out why they’re named the way they are. Like the Royals: I didn’t know Kansas City had a giant livestock show and rodeo called “American Royal” that’s been around 120-some years at this point. That makes the name make sense, and I’m glad I know that now. I probably would have re-named them if I hadn’t done the research, and the irony is I probably would have picked something livestock related like the Bulls or the Ranchers. Royals is better! I can’t argue against it, even as a joke on my blog!

I’ll probably do the NFL next, and save the NHL for last, because I’m having a hard time thinking of more than a couple teams in that league I would makeover. Anyway, let me know if you have any other teams you’d rename or other names you’d use in your fictional realities in the comments.

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