Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Naming Wrongs

Shortly after I started working at the Hall of Fame library, I discovered a wonderful book published in the 1990s by Peter Filichia, titled Professional Baseball Franchises. It lists every minor-league team from the 1880s forward, including nicknames, league affiliations, classifications, renamings, and years of existence. It is indispensable for locating where people played, which we are often asked to do in the library.

It’s also a very entertaining book because of those nicknames, many of which are dandies. Today a big issue is “naming rights,” the policy of major-league franchises selling out to corporations who put their names on ballparks whose identities used to be linked with important people. For instance, Mets fans, instead of taking their kids to a stadium named for the man (William Shea) who brought the majors back to the National League, they can all go to a stadium named after a company that took $200 million in federal bailout money and used a good chunk of it to put a sign on a building.

I’m here to talk about something else, which I call “naming wrongs”. I have scoured Filichia’s book and some more recent sources to find the most ridiculous nicknames for minor-league teams. Most raise the question “what the hell were they thinking?” Ideally, a team’s nickname presents an image of stalwart, formidable competitors, or at least trumpets some aspect of the city’s civic pride. The name should be positive, strong, and somehow resonant with the players’ (presumed) desire to take on any opposition and fight for victory with all their energy.

However, Filichia’s book is replete with examples of teams that couldn’t conceive of the notion of trying to intimidate the opposition, and cities whose civic identity involved the self-absorbed myopia of modest aspirations. What am I saying? Their nicknames sucked. Many of them existed in the period from 1890-1920, when lots of leagues and teams came and went and were seemingly named by their owner’s whim, but there are plenty of recent examples. Sometimes a whole league was apparently populated by teams trying to outdo each other in strangeness. A recent example is the 1997 South Atlantic League and its odd menagerie of teams, including the Shorebirds, Sand Gnats, Boll Weevils, Alley Cats, Bats, Crocs, River Dogs, and Crawdads. Going way back, how would like to go on a road trip in the 1902 Missouri Valley League and face these teams: the Nevada Lunatics, the Jefferson City Convicts, and the Iola Gasbags?

In making my list of favorite nicknames, I chose only unique names. If more than one team used a nickname, it was disqualified, which eliminated a team that used to exist not far from Cooperstown, the Johnstown-Amsterdam-Gloversville Hyphens. Other dandies that had to be discarded included the Goobers, Gassers, Infants, Smoke Eaters, and Cannibals. I’ve divided my finds into groups, presented here in no particular order. As you read them, ask yourself “If this team came to my town, would I be scared of them or laugh at them?”

WEIRD MENAGERIE
Lafayette Brahman Bulls
Pocomoke City Salamanders
Poughkeepsie Honey Bugs
Denison Katydids
Winston-Salem Warthogs
Batavia Muckdogs
Portland Sea Dogs
Piedmont Dry Bugs
Omaha Omahogs
Erie Sea Wolves

BAD HABITS
Sterling Rag Chewers
Akron Rubbernecks
Green Bay Duck Wallopers
Fort Dodge Gypsumeaters
Corsicana Gumbo Busters
Regina Bonepilers
St. Joseph Clay Eaters

DON’T INVITE THEM TO DINNER
LaCross Outcasts
Bridgeport Misfits
Jacksonville Lunatics
Iola Gasbags
Paterson Intruders
Rockford Indignants
Waycross Blowhards
York Yahoos

INTIMIDATORS—NOT!
Troy Washerwomen
Bloomington Suckers
Bluffton Dregs
Hopewell Powder Puffs
Centralia Zeros
McAlester Sighs
Oakland Monday Models
Norwich Bonbons
Muncie Fruit Jars

AGAINST THE LAW
Omaha Kidnappers
North Wilkesboro Flashers
Salina Insurgents
Asheville Moonshiners
Adrian Yeggs
Graham Hijackers

POLITICALLY INCORRECT
Canton Chinks
Tarboro Tarbabies
Lawton Medicine Men
Canon City Swastikas

GET A BETTER JOB!
Americus Pallbearers
Beatrice Milkskimmers
Nazareth Cement Dusters
Vancouver Horse Doctors
Kirksville Osteopaths

NOT-SO-GREAT BUFFET
Kalamazoo Celery Eaters
Lebanon Pretzel Eaters
Bay City Rice Eaters
Sanford Celeryfeds

JUST PLAIN STRANGE (how did they even think of these as baseball teams?)
Hartford Wooden Nutmegs
Memphis Fever Germs
Lowell Bingling Pans
Waterloo Microbes
Albuquerque Isotopes
Freeport Comeons
Saginaw Wa-Was
Ottumwa Standpatters
Sacramento Gilt Edges
Worcester Riddles

I’ve saved my Top 10 favorites for last. Some of these names have specific stories behind them, like the 1891 outbreak of violence at a Pittsburgh steel mill owned by Andrew Carnegie (#3). Some are backed up by logic; you say “sure” but still wonder why someone tagged a ballclub with them (#7). Some just make you scratch your head (#4). Put yourself in the players’ places. Did they write home to their families and declare “I’m so proud to be a _______”? Here they are, counting down from #10 to my all-time favorite:

#10: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (located on California’s earthquake fault-line, they do play in the park with the coolest name, the Epicenter)
#9: Lansing Lugnuts (oooh, scary!)
#8: Bonham Boogers (would you even want to tag them out?)
#7: Zanesville Flood Sufferers (an odd source of civic pride)
#6: Schenectady Frog Alley Bunch (enter at your own risk)
#5: Hoquiam Perfect Gentlemen (except for all that tobacco spit)
#4: Taylorville Taylored Commies (played in 1910, before The Revolution)
#3: Shenandoah Hungarian Rioters (some claim to fame!)
#2: Lincoln Missing Links (the opposition made monkeys out of them)
#1: Minot Why-Nots (why not indeed? North Dakota’s finest)

4 comments:

Michael Lugo said...

The "Albuquerque Isotopes" name comes from an episode of The Simpsons. Springfield (in the show) has a team named the Springfield Isotopes, which sort of makes sense because one of Springfield's major employers is a nuclear power plant. The plot of one episode revolves around the team threatening to move to Albuquerque. Not long after that, a team moved to Albuqerque and took that name. Not surprisingly, they sell lots of merchandise.

(Oh, and there are lots of scientific facilities having to do with nuclear things in New Mexico, such as the Los Alamos labs. But really, that's not the reason.)

Also, some names of major league teams would sound pretty silly if you weren't used to hearing them. I'm thinking mostly of the two teams whose names are just repetitions of the names of their cities, the Philadelphia Phillies and los Angeles de Los Angeles.

Robin said...

My unlce went to a college in Ohio, at the time called Heidelberg College now Heidelberg University. There had been a novel, and a film, about the Student Prince in Old Heidelberg, so of course the university would name the mascot the Student Princes. Prior to 2008, their mascot colors even included purple. I would have to put the Heidelberg Student Princes at the top of my list for weird names. Not a minor league team name, but just interesting info.

Nice article.

Lenny DiFranza said...

I had to look up 'yegg' (safe cracker or thief, of unknown origin), and am stumped by 'bingling pan.' Is it a reference to the Buddhist Bingling Temple Grottoes in Tibet or China? Or is it a pan-shaped bat used to hit a 'bingle?' Would you care to enlighten me?

Freddyland said...

How come you didn't include Hopey-Changies, To Be Determined or Sonic Death Monkey in your lists?