Sunday, April 6, 2014

The origin of team names: American League

I have often made mention of the Washington Senators in my previous blog posts.  Ever wonder what happened to them?  What about the St. Louis Browns?  Where did they go?  Did you realize that the Yankees were not always the Yankees, the Red Sox were not always the Red Sox and the Indians were not always the Indians? 

Today's article is a history of American League team names and movements.  If you ever wondered where teams came from or where teams disappeared to here is your answer:

American League East:

Baltimore Orioles:
There was a Baltimore Orioles club in the American Association from 1882-1892.  The current team is not the same franchise.  That organization kept the name Baltimore Orioles and moved to the National League beginning in 1893 and stayed until 1899.  This team was tremendously successful featuring future Hall of Fame players like Ned Hanlon, John McGraw, Hughie Jennings, Wilbert Robinson and many other great players.  This is also not the same team.  When the American League started in 1901 there was a Baltimore Orioles team.  Still not the same one.  The current Baltimore Orioles started out as the Milwaukee Brewers and played the first American League season (1901) in Milwaukee.  At the end of that season they became the St. Louis Browns and played as the Browns from 1902-1953.  As the Browns they had very minimal success, only reaching the World Series once (1944) when many stars of the league were overseas in the military.  They moved to Baltimore in 1954 and became the Baltimore Orioles that we know and love (some of us anyways) today.  They have had great success in Baltimore, though the last twenty years have been a tough period.

Boston Red Sox
The Boston franchise is one of the original American League franchises.  They were created with the league in 1901 and were introduced as the Boston Americans from 1901-1907.  At the start of the 1908 season the new owners were looking for a new identity and the son of the owner gave it to them.  The son loved the red color of the uniforms, particularly the stirrups.  Due to this fascination the Red Socks were born.  The "cks" was abbreviated to x to make it easier for newspapers to fit the name in headlines.

New York Yankees:
Try to keep up with me on this one because this could get confusing for everyone.  The New York Yankees were originally...wait for it...the Baltimore Orioles and although Birdland would love to be able to add an extra 27 World Series championships to their current total of three, there is no connection between the two.  Remember above when I told you that John McGraw had played for the Orioles American Association team from 1882-1892?  This is not the same Orioles.  This was the Baltimore Oriole team that was created with the American League in 1901.  Still with me?  John McGraw was brought into the American League by Charles Comiskey and Ban Johnson as a drawing card for the American League franchise.  Because McGraw was so strongly associated with the successful Baltimore organization of the American Association, he was the perfect choice to lead the new incarnation.  McGraw resented the control Johnson tried to take of the league and also was tired of the losing ways of the team so during the 1902 season, the second American League season, McGraw decided to go back to the National League New York Giants and took most of his team with him.  Unable to field a competitive team,  the Orioles were moved.  The American League had already been looking for a way to get a team in New York anyways and this was their chance.  The problem was McGraw and the Giants owners had friends in very high (and corrupt) places so the franchise struggled to find a place to play.  Finally, a week before the season started in 1903 they were given land high on top of  a hill in Manhattan.  The new franchise was nicknamed, what else, the Hilltoppers but their official name was the New York Highanders.  When they moved out of Hilltop Park after the 1911 season they agreed to a part time rental of the Polo Grounds , where they alternated home series with the Giants.  They have been named the New York Yankees since the 1913 season (though their success would not come until the 1920's).

Tampa Bay Rays:
The Rays have only been in the league since 1998 and were created as an expansion team at the same time as the Diamondbacks.  Their original team name was the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  Their entrance into the league blocked a rumored move by the Seattle Mariners to the Tampa Bay area.  The Devil Rays were the joke of the league (and Orioles fans thanked God every year that Tampa Bay was in their division because it meant they wouldn't be last).  The team finished 5th out of five teams in all but one of their first ten seasons, reaching the blissful heights of 4th place (poor 2004 Blue Jays) once.  Then came the 2008 changes.  They became the Tampa Bay Rays (as in rays of sunshine) in 2008 and the change was immediate. They reached their only World Series that year but have been consistent contenders ever since. 

Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays were created in the 1977 expansion draft that brought the Seattle Mariners into the league.  An ownership group led by Jack Kent Cook (future owner of the Lakers, Redskins and several other successful teams), Toronto was very nearly part of the 1961 expansion, however, at the last moment Gene Autry won the rights to bring an American League team to Los Angeles.  This team entered the league as the Blue Jays and have remained as the Blue Jays ever since though they are commonly referred to as the Jays.  Their logo and uniforms have changed drastically over the years but the name remains.

American League Central:

Chicago White Sox
These White Sox have been the White Sox and nothing else.  They joined the American League from the very beginning in 1901 and have remained consistent ever since.  The Black Sox name so commonly associated with the club was not officially the team name, for obvious reasons.

Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland franchise was another American League original but the team name changed continuously for the first few decades.  Their first season was played as the Cleveland Blues.  1902 was the Cleveland Bronchos.  When Napoleon LaJoie, one of the greatest second basemen of all time, joined the team, the organization renamed themselves the Naps out of respect for LaJoie.  The team name Indians came into the fold in 1915 after LaJoie left and a team name was needed.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer held a contest to name the team.  Cleveland had previously had a team in the American Association called the Cleveland Blues (1887-1888) and moved to the National League from 1889-1899.  The most popular player on the team was a Native American named Louis Sockalexis.  In honor of this player, the team name Indians won out.

Detroit Tigers
Along with the White Sox, the Tigers are tied for the longest stay in a single city with a single name.  Although they were sometimes referred to as Wolverines, their official name is and always has been the Detroit Tigers. 

Kansas City Royals
When the Athletics picked up and left Kansas City the league wanted to get a team back in the area as quickly as possible.  The problem was solved when the league expanded in 1969 and added the Washington Senators and the Kansas City Royals.  They have never played  under any other name.

Minnesota Twins
The Twins were one of the original eight American League teams but they entered the league as the Washington Senators.  Although there was a strong push by some to call them the Nationals, the Senators retained their identity until their move to Minnesota for the 1961 season. Clark Griffith, their owner and one of the founding members of the American League, originally wanted to call them the Twin Cities Twins but the league wanted a specific geographic area in the name so Minnesota gave birth to the Twins.  The failed attempt to name the team Twin Cities Twins can still be seen when the players wear the alternate caps with the intertwined T and C.

American League West:

Houston Astros:
Some of you may remember a recent article that briefly mentioned the Houston Astros' original name.  The Houston franchise was added to the National League in 1962 along with the New York Mets.  Luckily for Houston, known as the Colt .45's until 1964, the Mets were one of the worst teams in history, allowing the Colt .45's to avoid the attention of being a bad team.  The team changed it's name to the Astros to start the 1965 season and have remained so ever since.  The name Astros is a reference to the space program based in Houston.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels have probably changed their geographic name more than any team while actually moving the shortest distance to get to the new location.  The city of Los Angeles had a team called the Angels in the old Pacific Coast League (PCL) which was in town from 1903-1957.  The team played in Los Angeles's Wrigley Field (most famously used for the Home Run Derby program of the 1960's) bordered by Avalon Street,  41st Street, 42nd Place and San Pedro Street and was a minor league affiliate of the Cubs.  The site is the current location of the Kedren Community Mental Health Center.  In 1957 the Cubs sold the affiliation rights for the Angels to Walter O'Malley and the Dodgers, who  really only wanted territorial rights to the Los Angeles area.  The PCL Angels moved to Spokane, WA and the Dodgers moved to LA.  Just a few years later, when the American League expanded to add two new teams in 1961, the Los Angeles Angels were born.  Gene Autry needed a stadium for his new team.  Wrigley Field was too small, Gilmore Field (now the site of the Grove and CBS Studio City at 3rd and Fairfax) was not for sale.  The LA Coliseum, used by the Dodgers in their first years in LA had proved impractical for baseball so the Singing Cowboy signed a lease to share Dodgers Stadium while the Dodgers were on the road.  The terms were very one sided but one of Autry's close friends had a way out for him.  His good friend Walt Disney was trying to build up the city of Anaheim around Disneyland and wanted more tourist attractions in the area.  Walt convinced Autry that Anaheim was the Angels' city of tomorrow so Autry renamed the team the California Angels for the 1965 season and moved them 35 miles south to Anaheim.  The team remained the California Angels until 1996.  In 1997 the Disney Corporation, at that time also owners of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, decided that Anaheim needed more national recognition so the California Angels became the Anaheim Angels.  The current owner, Arte Moreno felt that the Angels, although in Anaheim, deserved a cut of the Los Angeles market but still had a lease with the city of Anaheim and so the team became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Another change in name could come in the next few years as the lease in Anaheim will expire and Moreno may change the name to the Los Angeles Angels.

Oakland Athletics
The team name of Athletics has been in existence since the start of the American League.  In fact, the old National League had a Philadelphia Athletics team (not connected to the Philadelphia Athletics team formed with the American League in 1901) as far back as 1876.  The team name disappeared after that one season but another Philadelphia Athletics team played in the American Association from 1882-1890.  A separate Philadelphia Athletics team began play in the Players' League in 1890 and after one year that team moved to the American Association for one year.  The Philadelphia Athletics name disappeared until 1901 when the American League opened for business.  The team has kept the name Athletics since that time but they have moved quite a bit.  They stayed in Philadelphia until the 1954 season.  When it became more and more clear that cities could not support more than one team, the Athletics abandoned Philadelphia for Kansas City and played there from 1955-1967.  1968 was their first year in Oakland and they have been there ever since, although there are rumors of a move to San Jose in the near future.  One last note on the Athletics: ever wonder why their logo has an elephant?  When teams were forming for the American League they had to find players to fill out their rosters.  When John McGraw saw the Athletics' roster he said that Connie Mack had found himself a nice collection of white elephants (at the time a white elephant was a cheap trinket you would find at a flea market).  McGraw meant it as an insult but Mack turned it into a term of empowerment that lasts through today.

Seattle Mariners
In 1977 the league had the last expansion until 1993 and introduced two new teams:  Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners.  The original ownership team in Seattle included Danny Kaye.  The Mariners were not very successful and attendance at the doomed Kingdome was dismal.  By 1995 the team was on the verge of moving.  Tampa Bay was probably the leading candidate to receive the team but a funny thing happened on the way out of town.  The Mariners got good.  The team made their first playoff appearance because of a surprise Angels collapse in 1995 and they made the playoffs four times between 1995 and 2001.  For the foreseeable future the Mariners will remain in Seattle.

Texas Rangers
When the American League went through their first expansion in 1961 they did it at the same time that the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota to become the Twins.  In an almost snap decision, the AL decided to beat the NL to the punch and instead of planning for an extra year and doing things right they placed teams in Los Angeles and Washington before they had ownership groups in place.  The result was a new Washington Senators team replacing the one that had just moved to Minnesota.  While the Twins would develop into a World Series team by 1965 the new Washington Senators finished as high as 4th once in their first ten seasons (and that was after the league had gone to the two division format so it was really 4th out of 6 teams).  Even Gil Hodges, who would lead the miracle Mets to a World Series in 1969, couldn't get the team out any higher than 6th out of 10.  At the end of the 1971 season the nation's capital saw the last baseball team until the Nationals arrived from Montreal/San Juan in the early 2000's.  The Senators picked up and moved to Texas to become the Rangers.  Although they had a few second place finishes in the 1970's and early 1980's, the team really took off in the mid to late 1990's and have been fairly competitive ever since. 

The American league first expanded in 1961 adding the Washington Senators to replace the version of the Senators moving to Minnesota and the California Angels.  Since that first expansion the league has added the Kansas City Royals, Seattle Pilots (check back next week to find out what happened to them), Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays.  There are a total of four World Series wins among them.  Which American League expansion team was the first to win it all?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
In 1916 the Boston Red Sox faced the Brooklyn Robins in the World Series. In Game 1, former Giants star Rube Marquard faced off against the Red Sox ace Ernie Shore. Helped by 4 Brooklyn errors and three unearned runs, Shore and the Red Sox took a 1-0 series lead with a 6-5 win.  On Monday, October 9, 1916 the teams faced off for Game 2.  The Robins scored first in the top of the first.  The Sox tied it up in the bottom of the third.  There was no more scoring until the Red Sox pushed across the winning run in the bottom of the 14th inning.  Brooklyn's Sherry Smith pitched 13 1/3 innings allowing 2 runs.  Boston's pitcher did even better.  After allowing the run in the bottom of the first, Babe Ruth pitched 13 shutout innings for the win.


  1. Great history lesson.
    The name Boston Beaneaters, was that the Boston Braves?
    I was confused on the reference on Boston to "cks" and "x" for the newspaper.
    For the Yankees being the high profile name and organization they sure had a confusing and tuff start.
    Interesting on how the Indians got their nickname. I assumed that it was because Cleveland is located on the Cuyahoga River which is an Indian name.
    In my childhood my favorite NBA team was the Cincinnati Royals with Oscar Robertson and Bucky Bochhorn. In the early 60's they moved to Kansas City and became the Kansas City Royals. They eventually shared their home games with Omaha and I think became the Kansas City- Omaha Royals/ Kings. They eventually became the Sacramento Kings.Do you think the basketball name had any influence on picking the baseball nickname?
    I think Houston changed their name from the Colt.45's because of the reference to the gun. MLB wanted to change that negative image.similar to the NBA changing the name of the Baltimore Bullets to the Baltimore (now Washington) Wizards.Too many shootings in Baltimore.

    My guess on the trivia is the KC Royals in 1985. Kansas City was really good back in the mid 80's.


    1. You will have to check back next week to find out about the Boston Beaneaters. Next week will show the history of the National League names. The "cks" and the 'x' explained why the team has the odd spelling of the team name. The newspapers wanted to save space so they took the 'cks' from the word socks and turned it into an x to create the Red Sox. Pronounced the same it saves space in large headlines.

      I have found no reference to the Royals of the NBA being linked to the Royals of MLB, although that is definitlely a possibility. If I find an update on that I will be sure to update you.

      You are very correct about the removal of the Colt .45's nickname being seen as a negative image. Because the space program was based in Houston it was an obvious choice.

  2. I didn't realize they weren't the "devil" rays anymore! Oops! I've seen the old school logos so it's cool to know where they came from and how they evolved.


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