The joy of Sox

A couple of years ago, Amarillo was awarded a franchise in the American Association. They announced to all and sundry that the team would be known as the Gold Sox, a tribute to days of yore (off and on in various leagues from 1939 to 1982) when the hometown team utilized that same name.

Not so fast! It turned out that the name Gold Sox had been expropriated by a summer wooden bat team, the Marysville (CA) Gold Sox, who trademarked the name in 2002. Well, Amarillo hadn’t used the name in 28 years (a team in Helena had also used the name from 1984 to 1986), and Marysville was in the heart of 49ers Gold Rush country, so the name made sense for them.

But what about that new team in Amarillo? Did they come up with an alternative nickname? Not really. During the 2011 season the team was known as the Sox. I figured that was just a stopgap measure, and the team would come up with something better in 2012.

They didn’t. Throughout the 2012 season, the team was still known as the Sox, though their gold-colored uniforms indicated where their hearts were.

Well, I think two years of the Amarillo Sox is enough. That name is way too generic. It’s OK as an abbreviated version of Red Sox or White Sox, and it would be a perfect fit for sports teams in Argyle (Wisconsin or Minnesota), but otherwise it is insufficient.

Surprisingly, Amarillo isn’t the only franchise in baseball history to go with the unembellished Sox as a nickname. The Toledo Sox of the American Association took the field from 1953 to 1955, and the Knoxville Sox followed suit in the Southern League in 1973. Knoxville, however, adopted the more distinctive nickname Knox Sox the following season.

Somehow the nickname Sox just doesn’t cut it without an adjective. Imagine a team name with other generic items of clothing … the Shirts, the Caps, the Pants. Now Gold Shirts or Green Shirts (red shirts would be too confusing for a college team) might work, but not just the Shirts. Same for caps … the Gold Caps, Green Caps, Blue Caps, fine … but not just the Caps.

Shoes present an interesting case. As footwear goes, they are at least as important as socks, so why have they been pushed to the side when it comes to naming baseball teams? Red Shoes? Blue Shoes? Green Shoes? Never happened.

In a way, that’s a shame because Shoes could be corrupted to Shooz, just as Socks has been corrupted to Sox. Also, Shoes or Shooz rhymes with lose and snooze, making headline writing a snap for a sports editor covering a lousy team.

So why didn’t Shooz catch on while Sox proliferated throughout various levels of baseball? My guess is that in days of old, baseball shoes were like Henry Ford’s model T: available only in black. Socks, then as now, were available in multiple colors, so the possibilities for team names were correspondingly greater.

In fact, stocking colors as team names are as old as professional baseball itself. The Cincinnati Red Stockings, generally acknowledged as the first pro baseball team, were founded in 1869. Other teams utilizing stocking colors as nicknames came on line in the 1870s, and by 1882 stocking color was deemed so important that the National League dictated to each team what color its players should wear. No surprise that Boston was assigned red and Chicago was assigned white. As for the other cities in the league:

Buffalo (gray)
Cleveland (navy blue)
Detroit (old gold)
Providence (light blue)
Troy (green)
Worcester (brown)

The teams were not required to include stocking color in their nicknames, but the Worcester team went with Brown Stockings in 1882 (the franchise moved to Philadelphia the following season and was known forever more as the Phillies). The other five NL franchises chose non-Sox nicknames—not that it made much difference. In those days nicknames were more fluid, lasting only a season or two in many cases.

Despite a rainbow of possibilities, the White Sox and the Red Sox are still the only major league teams to incorporate Sox into their nicknames. The Boston American League franchise flirted with a number of nicknames before settling on Red Sox in 1908. Hard to believe, but before then, they actually wore blue socks.

At the inception of the American League, the Chicago franchise was officially known as the White Stockings (the name was abandoned by the 19th Century National League franchise that became the Cubs). The shortening of Stockings to Sox was a result of the need to truncate words to shoehorn them into newspaper headlines. The shortened version caught on and the White Stockings officially became the White Sox in 1904.

Major league ball is stuck on red and white, but minor league teams have not hesitated to don different-colored socks. The color wheel time machine reveals a mind-boggling assortment of team names.

According to Pete Filichia’s essential reference work, Professional Baseball Franchises: From the Abbeville Athletics to the Zanesville Indians (Facts on File, Inc., New York, 1993), there have been 15 professional teams known as the Blue Sox, and I’m guessing that name is still in the public domain.

Also, in 1901, there was a team called the Spokane Blue Stockings. I’m guessing that name didn’t catch on because bluestocking is an old slang term for a female intellectual and, aside from being gender-inappropriate, carries a negative connotation (think Victorian female nerd). Indeed, the nickname was scrapped after one season in favor of the Smoke Eaters!

The Green Sox would make a great name for an eco-friendly franchise or the Irish national team. According to Peter Filichia, six teams (the two most appropriate were in Dublin, GA and Greensburg, PA) have used that name, and there was a team in Omaha that used Green Stockings. A cursory internet search reveals that the name is still popular. It is even used by a coed, slow-pitch softball team in the UK.

The current Pacific Coast League franchise in Reno is known as the Aces, but there was a time when the Reno minor league team went by the name Silver Sox. The name harks back to the region’s colorful history of silver mining and the enormous Comestock Lode in the quondam boomtown of Virginia City.

When it comes to mining, gold and silver make for pretty good names to accompany sox, but I don’t think nickel and tin would work so well. A gypsum mine wouldn’t cut it either. The Gyp Sox? I don’t think so.

The name Brown Stockings isn’t terribly inspiring either, but the it does have a history. As mentioned earlier, the 1882 Worcester entry in the National League used Brown Stockings. Worcester brought the name back in 1884 for a team in the New England League. The name Brown Stockings had been used in St. Louis (eventually, the Mound City went directly to Browns, skipping over Brown Sox) as early as 1875. Also, in 1879 a team in Davenport, Iowa used the Brown Stockings nickname.

As uninspiring as brown, gray has not been popular as a team name combined with Stockings or Sox, though it would appear to be ideal for a senior league team. The name Grey Sox did make an appearance in Montgomery in 1932. The most curious use of that team name is in Vermillion, South Dakota, home of an amateur team called the Vermillion Grey Sox, which sounds like a contradiction.

Believe it or not, the name Black Sox has had five incarnations. Understandably, the nickname bore no stigma when it was in use Montgomery, Grand Rapids, and Battle Creek before the famed 1919 World Series scandal. And one can understand why the name was retained by a Negro League team in Baltimore long after the scandal had peaked. The real curiosity is its use in Evansville from 1919 to 1924. Given the headlines coming out of Chicago in those days, one would think the odds would have been heavily in favor of a name change.

If you were going to name a team today, you could probably take your pick of those colors that you used to find in those really, really big crayon sets. You know, mauve, chartreuse, magenta, cyan, violet, turquoise, teal, that sort of thing. Admittedly, such colors are highly unlikely to be appended to Sox, but there are intriguing possibilities.

For example, Peach Sox might work for a minor league team in Georgia. So would Scarlet Sox (remember Gone With the Wind), come to think of it.

But let’s get back to Amarillo. Additions to the stark name of Sox have been right in front of them all along. Oro is Spanish for gold, so why not the Oro Sox? Amarillo is Spanish for yellow…so what could make more sense than the Amarillo Yellow Sox? Well, that one would come back to haunt a team every time a brawl broke out. That color’s association with cowardice probably explains the scarcity of Yellow Sox in baseball history. Hard to believe, but there was a pro team in Baltimore known as the Yellow Stockings in the 1870s.

On the other hand, why not change Sox from English to Spanish? In Latino circles in Boston and Chicago, the hometown teams are sometimes referred to as Las Medias Rojas or Las Medias Blancas. In Amarillo, they could still have the Gold Sox if they were willing to use Las Medias de Oro, or possibly Las Medias Doradas. I’m not sure which is preferable, but I’m guessing no one has dibs on either of those monikers!

The area around Amarillo is rich with helium…so how about the Helium Sox? Or if you’re into the Chart of the Elements, how about the He (as in he-man) Sox! Surely an improvement over the Yellow Sox!

Of course, we aren’t necessarily stuck with colors when hooking a modifier to the name Sox. Colorado Springs (elevation: 6,035), for example, has the Sky Sox of the Pacific Coast League.

In the Northwest League, the Everett, Washington franchise is called the Aqua Sox, presumably in reference to the city’s proximity to Puget Sound.

As I write this, you could go to Mesa, Arizona and root for the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League.

Perhaps as a tribute to both the North and South Sides of Chicago, the Appalachian League featured a team called the Middlesboro (KY) Cubsox for one season in 1963.

As with the White Sox and the Red Sox, there is always the possibility of combining the team’s hometown with the nickname, as in Chisox and Bosox (if a Sox team had been stationed in Washington, D.C., I guess they could have been called the WashSox). A number of minor league teams have done so:

In 1956 and 1957, San Jose had a California League team called the Jo Sox . I’m not sure about the pronunciation of that one, however…hard or soft “j”? If a soft “j,” then they might have been known, alternatively, as the Jo Hose (pronounced Ho Ho’s).

In Lynchburg, Virginia, from 1966 to 1969, the locals cheered on the Lyn-Sox of the Carolina League.

In Clinton, Iowa, the Midwest League franchise was known as the C-Sox from 1960 to 1962.

Davenport, Iowa, home of that Brown Stockings team in 1879, also had the DavSox in the old Three-Eye League in 1957 and 1958.

In Corning, New York, you could root for the Cor-Sox of the New York-Pennsylvania League during the 1958 and 1959 seasons. (The team was known as the Red Sox before and after this interlude.)

Now if Amarillo is dead set on including the name Sox in its nickname, and since the city is in the heart of the Texas Panhandle, perhaps the name Pan Sox would work. Wide open spaces are abundant out there, so maybe the Big Sky Sox would slip by without a lawsuit from the Sky Sox folks in Colorado Springs.

Maybe Gold Stockings would probably pass legal muster. Of course, any team with the name Stockings could be shortened to Stox. Then again, Gold Stox could be confused with investment vehicles that deal in precious metals.

West Texas is a great place to watch sunsets, so I wouldn’t rule out Sunset Sox. Solar Sox is already taken, but Sun Sox is available. Amarillo was the largest city in Texas on old Route 66, so how about the Route 66 Sox? Or Double Six Sox?

Just thinking out loud, but you get the idea. You can already see next season’s promotional campaign…Get Your Kix With the Route 66 Sox! Unfortunately, General Mills would likely object to using the name Kix. The estate of Bobby Troup, the songwriter who came up with Route 66, might weigh in also. At least the road leading to the ballpark could be named Route Sixty-Sox.

I understand there is a move afoot to build a new stadium in downtown Amarillo. Perhaps that’s what the team is waiting for and they are content to sit on the name Sox till then. If that is the case, I don’t blame them for taking their time. Giving a team an appropriate nickname that incorporates the name Sox is a vexing task.

Darn those sox, anyway!

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Comments

  1. kds said...

    Isn’t that area armadillo territory?  Doesn’t Amarillo Armadillo Sox just role off your tongue?  Can’t you just see the mascot, a smiling, gold socks wearing, glove or bat carrying ‘dillo?  Saying, “Sock it to me”.  Think of all the special ballpark souvenirs and foods.

  2. Caitlin said...

    This was a really interesting article. Things can be confusing enough with just two Sox in the MLB. I’m a Red Sox fan, but I live near Chicago. People always ask if I like the Cubs or the Sox and I have to explain that I do like the Sox, just not the ones they’re thinking of. I’ve always known that there have been a lot of teams called the Sox at various levels throughout history, but seeing so many written down in one place just adds more complexity.

  3. Paul G. said...

    Amarillo Pan Sox would translate as the Yellow Bread Sox.  Probably would be better off going in a different direction with that one.

    I don’t think Worcester became the Phillies.  In the 19th century there was not really a concept of a franchise moving geographically.  A team could change leagues and be considered the same operation, but to the best of my knowledge new city meant new franchise (save possibly one UA mid-season shenanigan).  Anyway, the Phillies roster in 1883 appears to share none of the roster of 1882 Worcester.  The 1883 Philadelphia Athletics of the AA have a couple of Worcester players, but nothing like the bulk of the roster.

  4. Cliff Blau said...

    Paul G. is correct (except for referring to the Athletics as the Philadelphia Athletics).  Following the 1882 season, the Troy and Worcester clubs resigned from the NL (under pressure) and were replaced by (a brand new) NY club and the (already existing) Philadelphia club.  There is no connection between the Worcester club and the Philadelphia club, nor the Troy and NY clubs for that matter.

  5. Paul G. said...

    Cliff, can you explain what I got wrong there?  Baseball-Reference refers to the AA team as the Philadelphia Athletics.  Is it just “Athletics” with no city reference?  And the Phillies (then Quakers, apparently) first year was 1883 so how did they already exist?  The Athletics played in 1882 but they remained in the AA until their expulsion and disbandment after the 1890 season, unless I am reading this wrong.

    Also, I did a bit more research on the Worcester/Philadelphia angle.  Worcester did indeed fold as Cliff said, but a number of sources including the Philadelphia Phillies themselves claim that the Worcester franchise was bought and moved to Philadelphia.  If Wikipedia is to be believed there is no evidence that this actually happened.  As I mentioned before there are no players in common and Worcester did have some talent worth keeping.  Also if Wikipedia is to be believed there is no evidence that Worcester ever went by “Brown Stockings” or “Ruby Legs” either.  Fascinating.

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