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Mudville: June 23, 2024 11:19 am PDT

The Name Game

BY DEB SEYMOUR

What if the Oakland Athletics move to Las Vegas? Will they simply become the Vegas Athletics? Or will they at some point change their full team name to something like the Las Vegas Blackjacks or the Las Vegas Roulettes?

The Athletics have a long and storied history in the game and hence, a name change might seem like sacrilege. But, we’ve seen it happen before…

After all, just for example, the Montreal Expos were renamed the Washington Nationals in 2005 when they relocated to the District of Columbia. And many years earlier, back in 1970, when the Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee, they became the Milwaukee Brewers.

The original District of Columbia MLB team, the Senators, founded in 1901, moved to Minnesota in 1961, and became the Twins – where they play till today.

But with the possibility of MLB expansion on the horizon once again, and some chatter as well as the real odds of some teams moving to other cities, it feels like a good time to do a roundup of some of the history regarding where and when current teams originated – and how they became who they are now.

By the way (and this has not gotten a lot of media play outside Wisconsin), the Milwaukee Brewers’ lease at American Family Field is up at the end of the 2030 season, and there are deadlines in place for signing a new one. But, the Brewers want the state (and the city) to provide funds for upgrades to the stadium. And the Brewers have threatened, whether they really mean it or not, to consider moving if the funding doesn’t get approved.

The Orioles would like some upgrades to the area immediately surrounding Camden Yards – and the issue for Baltimore is there just isn’t much uninhabited space around the ballpark to make changes. Camden Yards is in a pretty densely populated neighborhood, so adding newer features would be a real challenge.

The Orioles have also threatened to move, though; and although it’s unlikely either the Brewers or the Orioles would leave their current cities, what’s happening right now in Oakland could set the tone for some tough negotiations between ball clubs and their host states and cities over the next decade.

But if we go back in time, the history of teams moving cities and/or simply changing names is rich and replete with stories.

Take, for example, the latest name change in MLB – the Cleveland Indians becoming the Guardians, which happened just a couple of years ago.

Prior to that name change for the MLB team playing In Cleveland, and many years previously, Cleveland had a team called the Blues (short for the Bluebirds) in the inaugural season of the AL, 1901. But that quickly changed to the Bronchos/Broncos and then the Naps (in honor of HOF’er Nap Lajoie, who played for the club from 1902-1914, as well as managing it for part of that time).

Napoleon Lajoie, second baseman and player-manager who played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Athletics (twice), and Cleveland Naps, sitting on a bench with his bat, Cleveland, Ohio, 1908. From the New York Public Library. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).

Cleveland’s team only became the Indians after the departure of Lajoie. Yet as a point of trivia, there had previously been another Cleveland team known as the Blues, from 1879-1884.

This little piece of history, interesting as it is, however, is a bit different from that of the Athletics, who originally were the Philadelphia Athletics (1901-1954), then the Kansas City Athletics (1955-1967), and most recently the Oakland Athletics (since 1968). The team name hasn’t changed in 122 years, despite the franchise having undergone ownership changes and already two city moves.

So the team name might stick in Las Vegas – but you just might want to roll a couple of dice over that one.

One more recent question in baseball fans’ minds is why the Tampa Bay Devil Rays one year decided to drop the word “Devil” from their name and just go with “Rays.”

In the first ten years of the franchise’s existence (1998-2007), the Devil Rays were known as such – and lost at least 91 games annually. Then, as of 2008, owner Stu Sternberg decided to drop the word “Devil” from the team name and rename them by the simpler moniker the “Rays,” after the Florida sunshine.

The Rays immediately went on to win 97 games and go to the World Series, prompting the newer, shorter name to stick. Every so often the Rays bring out their throwback Devil Rays uniforms from the mothballs – and people across social media seem to be fairly unanimous in agreeing those original designs were best – but given the greater success the team has had as the Rays, it’s doubtful they’ll go back to their sea life name anytime soon.

Larry Rothschild answers questions after he was named manager of the the Tampa Bay Devil Rays MLB expansion franchise in St. Petersburg, FL. (Photo: TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images)

Another question I’ve always had is how the name “Redlegs” originated for the Cincinnati Reds, as we know they played under that name for a short period of time (five seasons in the 1950s) before switching back to the shorter “Reds.”

Apparently, the name change was spurred by the same fears that brought on McCarthyism; and in that period the team didn’t want to be associated with anything that sounded communistic. After those worries died down, the club quickly reverted back to its traditional “Reds” moniker.

The New York Yankees are another team that’s undergone both geographical moves and name changes. The club began in Baltimore in 1901 as the Baltimore Orioles, and in 1903 they were bought and moved to Manhattan and played as the Highlanders – until 1913, when they were renamed the Yankees. In 1923, the team moved from Manhattan’s Polo Grounds to the Bronx, and has remained there since.

But how did the New York Mets come into being?

The Mets compete in a different borough of New York City – Queens. Four of the five boroughs of the city have seen major league teams over the years, if we include the Dodgers and the Giants. The Dodgers played in Brooklyn, while the Giants played in Manhattan.

The Brooklyn Dodgers were established as a ball club in 1883 in the city (later to become borough) of Brooklyn. They became a member of the NL in 1890, under the name the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. Several other name changes occurred before the team finally settled on the “Dodgers” in 1932. The Dodgers had a storied history in Brooklyn, but before the 1958 season their owner, Walter O’Malley, decided to relocate the team to Los Angeles.

The NL New York Giants were founded in 1883 as the New York Gothams (hello Batman!). Three years later, the team was renamed the Giants and they played at Manhattan’s Polo Grounds, also occupied for a decade by the AL Yankees. In 1958, the Giants were relocated to San Francisco and they own the distinction of being one of the winningest franchises in baseball since their inception.

(Original Caption) Move the Franchise to St. Nick's! Though Dodger baseball standings have been slipping of late, the same cannot be said of their fistic fortunes. Last night at Ebbets Field the Bums took on the Cincinnati Redlegs for the now-monthly fight card. It turned out to be one big unhappy brawl, with a number of grudges being renewed - none, it seems, was settled. Time was the 7th inning, the spark an alleged beanball hurled by Cincy pitcher Paul Sanchez at Dodger batter Junior Gilliam. Baseball? Oh, yes. Brooklyn won, 5-4. Neal (43) and Hoak rush into fray started by Sanchez and Gilliam and abetted Campy. (Photo by Charles Hoff/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

But now we come back to the Mets, whose team colors of blue and orange were chosen to be emblematic of the two franchises who had left New York for newer, California environs – both the Dodgers and the Giants.

The Mets were, in fact, conceived as a replacement team for those two former New York teams. Both the relocated teams had held years-long rivalries with the Yankees; both were National League teams; and, let’s face it, neither teams’ fan base wanted to switch allegiances to the Yankees just because they suddenly were the only local team remaining.

Though many outside New York City aren’t aware of this, the name “Mets” is actually a shortening of the name “Metropolitans.” The first season for the Metropolitans was 1962, and they, too, played at the Polo Grounds for two seasons. In 1964, the now more simply named “Mets” team moved to Queens, and that is where they have remained.

(One quick note: you can see how much major league use the Polo Grounds in New York City received over the years. It was a true baseball landmark for close to a century.)

Although most current MLB franchises have a not-so-simple story behind both their location and their name, a couple have some complicated or lengthy history behind their names and locations: the Angels, and, more notably, the Braves.

Over their 62-year history, the Los Angeles Angels have tweaked their name four times. When the Los Angeles Angels first came into existence, they actually played in Los Angeles (mostly at Dodger Stadium).

Five years later, in anticipation of their move to Anaheim Stadium, the team’s name was changed to the California Angels. But in 1997, in a deal with the Disney Company, the team’s name was again changed – to the Anaheim Angels.

In 2005, team owner Arte Moreno wanted to extend both the team’s branding and reach – and he thus changed the name to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Being such a mouthful, though, the name was eventually shortened back to its origins: simply, the Los Angeles Angels.

Team portrait of the Boston Beaneaters, 1886. (Photo by FPG/Getty Images)

The Braves, on the other hand, have a longer and more storied history, having been home to more than a few of the true baseball greats (such as Hank Aaron) over the years.

The Braves have this complex history of names and locations:

Boston Red Stockings (1876-82)

Boston Beaneaters (1883-1906)

Boston Doves (1907-10)

Boston Rustlers (1911)

Boston Braves (1912-35; ‘41-52)

Boston Bees (1936-40)

Milwaukee Braves (1953-65)

Atlanta Braves (1966-present)   

As you can see from all the iterations various franchise names have undergone over the years, back in the early days, almost any name might have appeared on a team’s uniform in a given year. And it might pretty easily have changed again.

So is the Las Vegas Blackjacks totally out of the realm? For as long as the team’s ownership wants to stick with tradition, their name will remain the Athletics. But if what happens in Vegas truly stays in Vegas – a change of moniker might just portend more success for a newly relocated Athletics.

BallNine's fearless editor. Sports addict who's lived on both coasts (though loyal to her hometown New York City teams). Writer of many articles on education. Speaker of little bits of many languages.

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