The Sports Lounge presents… What’s Behind a Nickname: The MLB

Every sports fan has their favorite team. Whether it be based on their geographic location, hometown, or just a favoritism of a logo, everyone has “their” team. But do you know why your team is named what they are? Or why any other team has their nickname? In this blog, I’ll look at each MLB team and the reason why they are named what they are. Some are self-explanatory, such as Rangers and Rockies. But some have deeper meanings that I will look at right here.

For the meaning behind the nicknames of teams in other leagues, check out my blogs on the NHL, NBA, and NFL.


AL East


1. Baltimore Orioles: The St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore and took the nickname of the old Baltimore baseball club, the Orioles. The Oriole is the state bird of Maryland and the orange and black colors of the oriole resemble the coat of arms of Lord Baltimore.

2. Boston Red Sox: The Boston franchise played for a while without a nickname and then eventually used a few different nicknames, such as Americans and Bostons. Then, when the team began to use red as their primary color, they became known as the Red Socks. The spelling of “Red Sox” first appeared in 1912 and has stuck with the team since then.

3. New York Yankees: When the original Baltimore franchise moved to New York, they were named the Highlanders. But they also became known as the New York Americans. But in 1904, New York press editor Jim Price gave the team the name Yankees because it was easier to fit in the paper’s headlines. Yankee is a synonym for Americans and the name has remained with the team since then.

4. Tampa Bay Rays: In 1998, Major League Baseball awarded Tampa Bay with an expansion franchise and they chose the name Devil Rays. Their uniforms depicted a manta ray and this name until 2007. The club then dropped the Devil part of the name and started to go by Rays, as in rays of the sun, since Florida is the Sunshine State. Although the manta ray is still used on their jerseys, it is used mainly as a reminder of their past.

5. Toronto Blue Jays: Blue Jays was selected after the franchise held a name-the-team contest. The name may also have been picked because at the time of the team’s formation, it was owned by Labatt Breweries and their best-selling brand of beer was named “Blue.”

AL Central


1. Chicago White Sox: When Charles Comiskey moved the St. Paul Saints to Chicago, he adopted the abandoned nickname of their National League rival Cubs, the White Stockings. The name was soon after shortened to White Sox, with the team first wearing “Sox” on their uniforms in 1912.

2. Cleveland Indians: The team was originally known as the Cleveland Naps, a name that came from all-star player-manager Napoleon Lajoie. But when Lajoie was traded, the team was in need of a new name. Team management and newspaper writers agreed on Indians as their new nickname. It is believed that the name Indians was picked because the Boston Braves had recently won the World Series and Cleveland wanted a similar name hoping for the same fortune.

3. Detroit Tigers: Detroit’s original baseball club was called the Wolverines, but were also known as the Tigers, the nickname given to the members of the 425th National Guard infantry regiment, the oldest military unit in the state of Michigan. When Detroit made the switch to the newly formed American League in 1901, they asked, and received, permission from the Detroit Light Guard to use their logo and nickname.

4. Kansas City Royals: When Kansas City was given an expansion franchise in 1969, the team held a contest to name the team. Royals was the name picked from the contest and comes from the American Royal Livestock Show, which has been held every year in Kansas City since 1899.

5. Minnesota Twins: The name Twins was born out of the fact that Minneapolis and St. Paul are collectively known as the Twin Cities. Both cities had wanted a team in their city, and when the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota, the team was named the Twins to recognize both cities, even though they are located in Minneapolis.

AL West


1. Houston Astros: Houston was originally known as the Colt .45’s until Judge Roy Hofheinz, the team president, wanted to change the name in 1965. He said he wanted to change with the times, but there is speculation that they were pressured to change the name by Colt Firearms Company, the makers of the Colt .45 gun. Regardless of the reasoning behind the change, the team became known as the Astros. The name, according to Hofheinz, sounded more futuristic and Houston was becoming known for its NASA facility. The name Astro is also Greek for star.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The city of Los Angeles gained their second franchise in 1961 and they adopted the name of the Los Angeles Angels that played in the Pacific Coast League from 1903-1957. And while the Angels nickname has not changed since the team’s inception, the location part of the name has went from Los Angeles to California to Anaheim and now to Los Angeles AND Anaheim. Can we just say Southern California?

3. Oakland Athletics: The name Athletics came from the club’s beginnings in Philadelphia when they were known as the Athletic Baseball Club of Philadelphia. The name stuck with the team from Philly to Kansas City and then finally to Oakland in 1968. The more interesting thing with Oakland is their elephant logo. This odd logo was born out of John McGraw, manager of then Athletics’ rivals New York Giants, calling the Philadelphia club a ‘white elephant’, a term basically calling Philadelphia useless. Today, the team is mostly known by A’s, an abbreviated nickname for Athletics.

4. Seattle Mariners: Mariners was the name picked from a contest when the city was awarded a franchise in 1976. The name is an allusion to the marine lifestyle and its relation with the people and the city.

5. Texas Rangers: First, the Washington Senators left for Minneapolis. Then Washington got another franchise named the Senators. When they decided to leave the nation’s capital, they went to Arlington, Texas. The team was named by owner Robert Short who named them the Rangers after the Texas law enforcement agency that formed in the 1820s.


NL East


1. Atlanta Braves: Starting in Boston, the team was called the Doves. Then, the name Braves was born out of political corruption. James Gaffney, who became president of Boston’s National League franchise in 1911, was a member of Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party machine that controlled New York City politics throughout the 19th century. The Tammany name was derived from Tammamend, a Delaware Valley Indian chief. The society adopted an Indian headdress as its emblem and its members became known as Braves. Thus, the Boston team became known as the Braves and the name stuck with the franchise through its move to Milwaukee and then Atlanta in 1966.

2. Miami Marlins: In 1993, Wayne Huizenga named his new expansion team the Marlins after the minor league team of the same name that played off-and-on from 1956-1988.

3. New York Mets: Mets was the top vote-getter in a contest to name the expansion team in 1961. The name was chosen in part due to the historical association with the New York Metropolitans, a team that played in the American Association in the 1880s.

4. Philadelphia Phillies: The team started in 1883 as the Quakers and then changed their name to the Philadelphias, which became shortened to Phillies. At one time, Blue Jays was voted as a new name and the team wore Blue Jays patches for a few seasons, but it never stuck and was eventually dropped altogether.

5. Washington Nationals: The first Washington Nationals franchise was named the Senators, but was also known by fans as the Nationals. They moved to Minneapolis and then Washington gained another franchise named the Senators. They moved to Texas and kept the rights to the Washington Senators name. So when the Montreal Expos moved to Washington, D.C. in 2005, they adopted the Nationals nickname. As a side note, the Expos were named for Expo 67, a world’s fair held in Montreal two years before the team began playing.

NL Central


1. Chicago Cubs: The club was first known as the White Stockings. When the team started getting rid of their experienced players, the local papers began calling them Anson’s Colts, a reference to player-manager Cap Anson’s youthful roster. Colts had stuck with the team until Anson left and then they were nicknamed the Orphans, one of the worst nicknames in sports history. In 1902, newspaper writers began calling the team the Cubs, once again because of their youthful roster. This time the nickname stuck and has remained since.

2. Cincinnati Reds: The team began as the Red Stockings simply because they wore red socks. The name eventually changed to Redlegs and then shortened to just Reds. Then, in 1953, the team went back to Redlegs, dropping the Reds name fearing some may associate the team with Communism. This was the McCarthy era, so it wasn’t unusual at the time in the United States to have this fear. Eventually, the fear subsided and the team became known as the Cincinnati Reds again.

3. Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers nickname was used often by many baseball teams throughout the city’s history. The name is a nod to the city’s beer industry and when the Seattle Pilots relocated to Milwaukee, owner Bud Selig used the Brewers nickname for his club as well.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates: When the Players’ League collapsed in 1890, the Pittsburgh club from the National League signed two players that the Philadelphia Athletics had forgotten to put on their reserve list. One of the players was Lou Bierbauer and a Philadelphia writer claimed that Pittsburgh “pirated away Bierbauer” and the team became known as the Pirates from then on.

5. St. Louis Cardinals: The St. Louis Browns changed their name to the St. Louis Perfectos in 1899. That same season, a columnist for the St. Louis Republic supposedly heard a woman refer to the team’s shade of red as “a lovely shade of Cardinal.” He wrote this in his column and it was popular with fans, so the team officially changed their name to Cardinals in 1900.

NL West


1. Arizona Diamondbacks: Arizona’s expansion franchise held a name-the-team contest to let fans vote on the team’s nickname. Diamondbacks won the vote on a list that also included Coyotes, Scorpions, Rattlers, and Phoenix. Thank goodness they weren’t named the Arizona Phoenix, from Phoenix, Arizona. That would have been confusing!

2. Colorado Rockies: When Colorado was awarded an expansion franchise in 1993, team officials chose Rockies as its nickname, the same nickname of the former NHL franchise in Denver. But they didn’t believe they should be compared to the hockey team, instead just thought it was a strong nickname. Fans preferred Bears, a nickname used by a Denver minor league baseball team, but Rockies CEO John Antonucci described the Rockies nickname as  “strong, enduring, majestic.”

3. Los Angeles Dodgers: The franchise started in Brooklyn and were known as the Bridegrooms, Superbas, and the Trolley Dodgers. Trolley Dodgers referenced the people who dodged trolleys in the streets of Brooklyn. The team then began to be known as the Robins in honor of manager Wilbert Robinson. But when he retired, they used the nickname Dodgers and kept it when they moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season.

4. San Diego Padres: San Diego was awarded a franchise in 1969 and chose Padres as their nickname, the same nickname as the Pacific Coast League team in the city. The name Padres is Spanish for priest and is a reference to San Diego being the first Spanish Mission in California.

5. San Francisco Giants: The club started out known as the New York Gothams, or just the New Yorks. They were not called the Giants until, in the 1885, manager Jim Mutrie was quoted as saying, “My big fellows! My giants!”. After this, the name stuck and the team officially adopted it. They moved to San Francisco in 1957 and kept the Giants nickname.
Thanks to the following sites for information: MLBWikipedia, and mental_floss

Daryl Karpinski Jr.