Ranking MLB team nicknamesby Chris Jaffe
February 01, 2010
Wanna read something stupid and pointless? Lucky you, because I'm in that kind of mood.
I like lists. Anyone who reads my columns on a semi-regular basis may even have noticed it already. I recently had a random (if unoriginal) idea: a column ranking the nicknames for all 30 MLB teams.
On the face of it, this is a frivolous exercise. Look at it more closely, and it's still frivolous. OK. It's only baseball after all. Nicknames don't matter, yet they kind of do. It's our first exposure to teams, and it certainly helps if a squad had a cool sounding nickname.
All lists are inherently subjective, but this one is completely so. Even still, I have some general guidelines for making my picks:
- A nickname should be distinctive.
- The nickname should ideally tie in to the local community somehow.
- Above all else, a nickname should sound cool.
There is no magic formula for putting it together, but those are the main things I'm looking for here. With that in mind, here is the Complete and Inarguable Ranking of MLB Nicknames:
1. Seattle Mariners. This has everything a nickname ought to have. First, it's distinctive. It's the only professional team ought there with that nickname. Second, it relates to the city, as Seattle is a major fishing town.
Finally, it sounds cool. It's another way to say seafarer. While that's a cool word in and of itself, "Mariner" has the added bonus of conjuring up bizarre drug-fueled poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Awesome. This is what a nickname should be. Plus "The Deadliest Catch" has given me an appreciation for sailing professions in general.
It's also a part of an overall trend in Seattle for cool sports nicknames. The city lacks an NHL team, but the NFL's Seattle Seahawks also feature a distinctive nickname that relates to the city. Personally, I think Mariner sounds better than Seahawk, but both are good.
And of course, for many decades the city was home to the best of all nicknames in American pro sports: the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics. That's just perfect. There is no other nickname out there like it, the name relates to the area's aerospace industry, and it just sounds so friggin' cool! As an added bonus, it allows for some alliteration with all the "s"s.
Unfortunately, the team is now the Oklahoma City Thunder, which isn't nearly as good a nickname. It sounds like some after-school program put together by the local chamber of commerce in tandem with the Oklahoma State department of meteorology.
What's even more annoying is that the NBA has a long-standing tradition of letting teams keep their nicknames when the move from one town to another, no matter how non-sensical the results. Thus we have waterlogged desert dwellers and swingin' Mormons (not that kind of swingin' Mormon. This is the other fictional kind). But pro sports is now without any sonics, super or otherwise.
Oh, where was I? Oh, right - baseball nicknames. I'm supposedly writing a column about baseball nicknames. Better move on.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks. It's distinctive, relates to the region, and sounds cool. Depending on the mood I'm in, I might rank this one over Seattle. It's between those two of the top slot, and then there's a gap before the rest.
3. Texas Rangers. This is just a great idea for a nickname. The Rangers are already something of an iconic force in Texas, so call the Dallas team "Texas" and name them the Rangers. There are several college teams called the Rangers, but "Texas Rangers" just has an extra added flavor to it.
4. Colorado Rockies. Like the Texas Rangers, this isn't the most shockingly original nickname of all-time, but it makes up for that by being so dang appropriate. When many think of Colorado, the Rockies are the first thing that come to mind.
5. Milwaukee Brewers. It's a fitting nickname, given all the beer making going on in Wisconsin. It's certainly unlike any other team nickname.
6. Houston Astros. This nickname (obviously) ties into the space center located in town. It would rank higher than Milwaukee if it wasn't for that damn dog on the Jetsons having the same name. I never did care for that show much.
7. New York Yankees. Really, anything north of the Mason-Dixon Line can be called Yankee, I suppose. But if you're only going to go with one city, it's got to be New York.
8. Kansas City Royals. There are a lot of different words you can use to describe a king: highness, monarch, ruler, inbred freak - but royal might be the best. It doesn't relate to Kansas City itself too clearly -- their name actually derives from a livestock and horse show -- but it's a nice nickname nonetheless.
9. Toronto Blue Jays. Pretty bird. Pretty nickname. Nice colors to go with it. I just like it.
10. Baltimore Orioles. My rationale for this one is about the same as for Toronto, except I just personally find Blue Jays to be a more interesting nickname. I don't have a reason why - I just do.
11. Philadelphia Phillies. Maybe I should deduct points for being so lazy in their nicknaming as the nickname so blatantly comes from the city's own name. However, it's so blatant I can kind of respect it. More importantly, "Philadelphia Phillies" just sounds good together like that. And as animals go, horses are one of the better ones.
12. Pittsburgh Pirates. It's a bit generic, and a bit odd for an inland team to have a nickname referring to the bandits of the high seas. (If I recall correctly, they got the nickname for landing Lou Bierbauer in the 1890s. Something like that totally unrelated to the modern world). That said, their nickname sounds cool and goes well with the city's name. It's a Pennsylvania thing, I suppose.
13. Minnesota Twins. Well, this nickname solves the problem of aligning itself with the two cities on the river: Minneapolis and St. Paul. It associates itself with both, thus presenting an original nickname and one that reflects local circumstances.
It's probably the worst nickname in Minnesota sports. The Timberwolves reflects natural life, the Vikings the residents (Minnesota has a very high percentage of residents with Scandinavian heritages), and the old North Stars and Lakers both noted the area's geography. This just notes that there are in fact two cities in the Twin Cities.
14. Florida Marlins. A fish? They named their team after a fish? I know there's a bunch of other teams named after all sorts of animals, but for reason a fish just sounds odd to me. Points for originality and fitting the region, but ... a fish?
15. Detroit Tigers. This is the sort of nickname that belongs right in the middle. It's fine and there's nothing wrong with it, but it sure is generic. Any team in any town could be called the Tigers.
16. St. Louis Cardinals. This is actually a fine nickname, and the cardinal is a very pretty bird. The problem is that it's such a fine nickname that it's one of the most overused ones in all sports. There's a Cardinals in the NFL and a slew in college. I'll give St. Louis a little extra credit because I think they're the first or at least one of the first teams with this nickname, but it's too overdone for me to rank it much higher.
17. Washington Nationals. It's distinctive and relates to the area, but also strikes me as rather lazy. Well, I suppose it's better than calling yet another lousy baseball team the Washington Senators.
18. Los Angeles Dodgers. Part of me likes how the team kept their nickname even though it has nothing to do with the current situation at all. Back in the 19th century, a trolley system was installed in Brooklyn. As a result, the team was nicknamed the Trolley Dodgers, which in time became Dodgers. There is no longer a trolley system operating anywhere near Brooklyn and the team itself is 3,000 miles away. But they still are the Dodgers.
I just love the random bizarreness of it. By my own standards above, this should rank lower, but it makes me grin, so I'm not going to worry about consistency.
19. San Francisco Giants. Again, it's not a bad nickname, just one that's generic. It's like the Detroit Tigers, only I think Tigers sounds cooler.
20. Oakland Athletics. I always think of them as the A's, but I suppose it's the Athletics. Couldn't all teams in any major league sports be called the Athletics, though? If anything, this one should rank lower.
21. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In a weird way, this is an appropriate nickname for the franchise given their current town-name confusion. Just as their name indicates they represent two separate areas, the nickname is redundant of the area's leading city. If I remember my high school Spanish correctly, Los Angeles means "the Angels." Thus the full nickname is "The Angels Angels of Anaheim." Perhaps it's better if we don't translate.
22. San Diego Padres. Hmmmm ... on the one hand, this meets a lot of my own guidelines. It relates to the town, as it was founded as a Spanish mission way back when. It's also certainly distinctively. In this case, however, I can see why no other team adopted the nickname. Padres? Really? I'm imaging a team of Father Mulcahys taking the field. That's not the image a team wants for itself.
23. New York Mets. To me, this baseball nickname sounds like some really stupid kid mispronouncing "Mitts." I'm sure this is too low, but when I hear this nickname, it sounds like someone stupid who doesn't know what he's talking about.
This probably isn't fair as the nickname is, of course, short for Metropolitans. It's akin to the New York Knicks - short for Knickerbockers. Both refer to the nation's mightiest metropolis. Along those lines, a 19th century ball club was called the Gotham. That said, of all the possible NYC-inspired nicknames, Metropolitans does the least for me. Gothams sounds like something from Batman, not some dumb kid mispronouncing Mitts.
24. Tampa Bay Rays. It's pretty bad when a new team has to give up on its nickname after less than a decade. Hopefully this one will stick for them.
25. Cincinnati Reds. This nickname reminds me of an insult Rogers Hornsby once hurled at sportswriters: We all learn how to write at an early age, but most of us go on to other things. We all learn colors pretty early, but we get over that accomplishment.
Actually, part of me wants to rank the Reds a lot higher, because it's a throwback. This reveals how nicknames began. Initially, they just started out with colors, then grew from there. In that regard it's less a bad nickname than an old one. This nickname shows how the game has evolved, and evolution does not inevitably mean progress.
Yeah, but then again, evolution doesn't inevitably negate the notion of progress either. And this nickname is just lame.
26. (TIE): Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves. Ah, these ones. A nickname shouldn't make you feel defensive. These nicknames do that. We could have a nice little debate on whether someone should feel defensive, if this is just symbolic politics or go off on a thousand other little tangents, but the point is when these nicknames are brought up, one has to begin by defending them. That's no fun. Who the hell wants to get in a political debate over nicknames anyway?
The Indians probably have a better claim to their nickname with Lou Sockalexis, but then again they also have the Chief Wahoo caricature.
28. Chicago Cubs. There is only one thing worse than a nickname that is cute, and that's one that's cuddly. This one is both. Making it even worse, many fans call them the "Cubbies." It's cutsey-pie enough to make me want to barf.
Last. (TIE): Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox. It's bad enough that fans from opposing teams will want to claim a team stinks - does a franchise really want a nickname that encourages them to do so?
Like the Cincinnati Reds, these nicknames show how baseball nicknames evolved over time. Once they moved from mere colors, they began to notice the clothing that was colored - socks. As such, this proves the point made above. This was one time when evolution most certainly was not progress. As lame as a color sounds, it sure beats the nickname that conjures up the image of sweat-stained and foul-smelling cloth.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.