Sunday, April 13, 2014

The origin of team names: National League

Last week we reviewed the origin of American League team names and you found out what happened to the Senators, Browns and even the New York Highlanders.  This week you'll find out who the Boston Doves, Brooklyn Bridegrooms and Chicago Orphans became.

National League East:

Atlanta Braves: 
The Braves organization started in the National League way back in 1876 making them one of the oldest existing franchises in the game.  The team played in Boston from 1876-1952 and in that time had moderate success but a lot of different names.  They have been known as the Boston Red Stockings (1876-1882), Boston Beaneaters (1883-1906), Boston Doves (1907-1910), Boston Rustlers (1911), Boston Braves (1912-1935 and 1940-1952) and the Boston Bees (1936-1940).  The team moved to Milwaukee in 1953, retaining the name Braves and moved again to Atlanta for the 1966 season still holding on to the Braves name.

Miami Marlins:
The Marlins did not enter the National League until 1993. Their mascot name has remained the Marlins since their inception but they were originally called the Florida Marlins until 2012 when, in an attempt to rebuild their image of a losing ballclub, they changed their name to Miami Marlins.

New York Mets:
The Mets have had the same name in the same city since they entered the league in 1962.  When the Dodgers and Giants left for the west coast, the National League was left without a New York team.  The league expanded and the Mets were born.  One thing that many people may not know about the Mets is the reason for the uniform colors.  The team owners took the orange from the Giants uniforms and the blue from the Dodgers uniforms and combined them into the Mets orange and blue color scheme.

Philadelphia Phillies:
The Phillies are one of the few National League teams in the original city in which they started.  They joined the National League in 1883 as the Philadelphia Quakers and played  under that name until 1889 when they changed the name to the Phillies.  Their name has officially remained that way since then, although they did briefly play (unofficially) as the Live Wires (1910) and the Blue Jays (1943-1949)  for a few years.  Pictures from this time period show a uniform patch of a Blue Jay on the sleeve of Phillies' uniforms.

Washington Nationals:
The current Washington Nationals are the third attempt by Major League Baseball to have a successful team in the Nation's capital.  (See the Minnesota Twins and the Texas Rangers for the other two).  This Washington franchise was born as the Montreal Expos in the 1969 expansion.  They remained in Montreal (and had some very successful competitive seasons) until moving to Washington and becoming the Nationals for the 2005 season.  In the few years prior to moving to Washington the Expos actually played some of their home games in San Juan Puerto Rico, making them the Montreal/San Juan Expos. The most common question about the Expos is why the name Expos?  Montreal had held a world exposition in 1967 and the effect on the local economy was tremendous.  Because of the fond memories of the exposition the team became the Expos.

National League Central:

Chicago Cubs
The National League Chicago franchise is as old as the league itself.  Al Spalding, the original manager and owner of the Cubs , may sound familiar.  After he left the team he started a successful sporting goods company that still exists and is still closely associated with the game of baseball.  When Spalding's Chicago team entered the league they were called the White Stockings (1876-1889).  They then changed to the Chicago Colts from 1890-1897.  When their long time manager Cap Anson jumped teams they changed their name to the Chicago Orphans (1898-1902).  Based on their surplus of young players in their organization (players like Tinker, Evers, Chance, Johnny Kling and Three Finger Brown) the local papers started calling them the Cubs.  The name stuck and they have been the Cubs ever since.

Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds joined the American Association of Professional Baseball in 1882 as the Cincinnati Red Stockings.  Setting the tone for what has become one of the more successful National League teams, they finished first in a league of six in their first year.  They stayed there until 1889 .  In 1890 they moved to the National League and changed their names to the Reds.  The team name has remained the Reds consistently with the exception of 1954-1959 when they were known as the Redlegs to avoid any association with the term "red" relating to communism.

Milwaukee Brewers:
The Brewers are not generally considered one of the more successful teams in the history of Major League Baseball. All things considered they haven't done that badly.  This organization was created as part of the 1969 expansion that also welcomed the Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos (see Washington Nationals).  The Brewers actually spent the 1969 season as the Seattle Pilots but the ownership was a disaster and the team was bought by the Selig family, moved to Milwaukee and renamed the Brewers for the 1970 season.  Although they have been in the same city since 1970, they have actually moved more than any other team in the league.  The 1969 expansion coincided with the change to the division format and Seattle started the season in the American League West.  When the league's geographical landscape shifted (see Texas Rangers) the league realigned and dropped the Brewers into the American League East.  They remained there until the league went to a three division format in 1994.  When this format was adopted the team was moved to the American League Central.  When the Rays and Diamondbacks joined the majors in 1998 the league had a problem.  If they didn't shift a team to keep an even number of teams in each league they would need to have an inter league series every day.  The Brewers, owned by Bud Selig, made the sacrifice and jumped from the AL Central to the NL Central and have remained there ever since.

Pittsburgh Pirates:
Similar to the Reds, the Pirates entered the American Association in 1882  They were known as the Pittsburgh Allegheneys.  They remained with the American Association until 1886 and remained the Allegheneys, even after joining the National League for the 1887 season.  When the Philadelphia Phillies owner felt that the Allegheneys were too cut throat in pursuing available players he declared that the Pittsburgh team was pirating players and the name stuck.  The team officially became the Pirates for the 1891 season.  They have not changed their name since that time.

St. Louis Cardinals:
The Cardinals are the most successful team in the National League with 11 World Series wins and numerous additional NL Pennants.  They joined the American Association in 1882 (same as the Reds and Pirates) and were known as the Brown Stockings for their inaugural season.  That was shortened to just the Browns from 1883-1898 (it remained consistent when they joined the National League in 1892). For the 1899 season they were known as the St. Louis Perfectos (though a 5th place finish was far from perfecto).  For the 1900 season they renamed themselves the Cardinals. The name has not changed.  The logo of the bird perched on the bat did not come until the 1920's when General Manager Branch Rickey, the same man who signed Jackie Robinson, designed the logo for the team.

 National League West:

Arizona Diamondbacks:
This franchise is the baby brother of the National League.  They were created in 1998 as part of the most recent expansion.  Although they have been in the league for just 15 years they have been extremely successful.  They have reached the playoffs five times (and were in contention for most of 2013) including one World Series win.

Colorado Rockies:
The Rockies came to life in the 1993 expansion with the Miami Marlins.  Their first few years were surprisingly successful including a playoff appearance in 1995 and a World Series appearance in 2007.  The team has not changed names or locations during their time in the league.

Los Angeles Dodgers:
Most people realize that the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles but few people realize how long it took to reach the name Dodgers.  Brooklyn entered the American Association in 1884 as the Brooklyn Atlantics.  After one season they became the Brooklyn Grays.  That name lasted from 1885 to 1887 when they changed their name to the Bridegrooms for the 1888 season.  After three seasons as the Bridegrooms they spent five seasons as just the Grooms (1891-1895) before returning to the Bridegrooms for three seasons (1896-1898).  Finally giving up on the theme in 1899 they played as the Brooklyn Superbas from 1899-1910 before becoming the Dodgers for 1911 and 1912 then returning back to the Superbas for 1913.  When the team hired Wilbert Robinson as their manager for the 1914 season they adopted the name Brooklyn Robins in his honor and played under that name until 1931 when Robinson left the team.  They came back to the Dodgers name for 1932 and remained the Brooklyn Dodgers until moving to Los Angeles for the 1958 season.  The name Dodgers comes from the city run trolleys the fans had to dodge on the way to Ebbetts Field.  Although the trolleys were missing in Los Angeles, the name was so identifiable when they moved that the moniker remained.

San Diego Padres:
The Padres became an expansion team for the 1969 season.  From 1936 to 1968 the minor league Pacific Coast League had a San Diego Padres organization.  The final owner of that team won the bid for a Major League expansion franchise, closed down the minor league team and created the Major League Baseball version of the San Diego Padres.  The Pacific Coast League Padres featured some famous players on their way to the majors including Ted Williams and Tony Perez.  The name Padres comes from the Franciscan fathers who founded San Diego.  The Padres have remained in San Diego since entering the league and have played under only one team name.

San Francisco Giants:
The Giants are one of the teams that has kept the same name for the longest amount of time, but they were not always the Giants and they were not always from San Francisco.  They joined the National League in 1883 as the New York Gothams and played under that name for  two seasons.  They changed their name to the New York Giants for the 1885 season and did not alter it until their move to San Francisco for the 1958 season. They have played as the San Francisco Giants ever since.

The move of the Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee to play as the Brewers was odd to say the least.  When did the Pilots become the Brewers?

The American League originally expanded in 1961 by adding the Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Senators (now the Texas Rangers).  The Angels won their first World Series title in 2002 but the Rangers have yet to win it all.  1969 saw the second expansion with the Seattle Pilots (now the Milwaukee Brewers) and the Kansas City Royals.  The Pilots/Brewers have never won the World Series but the Royals won their first World Series in 1985.   Following 1969's expansion the Blue Jays and Mariners joined the league in 1977.  The Blue Jays have won two World Series titles (1992 and 1993) but the Mariners have never reached the World Series.  The final expansion in the American League saw the Tampa Bay Devil Rays join in 1998.  The Rays have never won the World Series.


  1. I did know about the story of the Mets colors.
    Very interesting how the Cubs got their nickname.
    I remember Cincinnati being called the Redlegs in then 50's. Since that is when I started following baseball at that time I always assumed that the Redlegs was the official nickname(i.e. Red Sox,White Sox) and the name Reds was a derivative,
    The Seattle Pilots logo is ugly. Maybe nobody went to the games because they were too embarrassed by the logo. (Like Ostriches).
    Great information on the Pirates nickname.
    I didn't know Brooklyn maintained the nickname Robins for 18 years.

    My guess on the trivia is a week before the 1970 season.


  2. It's so interesting to read how some of the nicknames stuck and how some of the team names just came out of nowhere. I also found it interesting that there were actual stories behind the colors and they weren't necessarily random (like with the Mets). I had no idea Branch Rickey designed the cardinals logo. Cool article. :) P.S. You didn't get into it but was there any particular reason why the Diamondbacks and Rockies got those names besides their geographical location?

  3. Great post. I love info like this. Keep up the good work. I fondly remember the Marlins and Rockies coming into the MLB. I also recall how it was the "in" cap to wear, especially the CR logo.


    1. I also remember the novelty of having the new teams in the league. For our generations it was the first time we had experienced expansion in any of the sports. Now it seems like leagues expand every few years.


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