Peculiar Side: The Origins of MLB Teams’ Names (National League Central)
Welcome back to Peculiar Side of Sports. Every so often something in sports perplexes me, and I just hate not knowing something. So I do what any normal, sane sports fan does – I search ad nausea for the answer by any means necessary. The good news is that I take all my hard work and relay the results to you.
Having covered each team from the AL East, AL Central, AL West and NL East, today we take a look, albeit a very quick one, at the origins of each NL Central team’s nickname. It’s not meant to be exhaustive – just a glimpse into how each team arrived at the names they use today. Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of this six-part series.
Without further ado, I give you today’s Peculiar Side of Sports.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs – Yesterday we learned that the Atlanta Braves are the oldest franchise in baseball, and that Phillies have the longest stretch with one name in one city. Today let’s just argue for the Cubs. Depending how you look at things, the Cubs are the oldest franchise in baseball. The club was originally founded in 1870 as the Chicago White Stockings in the National Association of Base Ball Players, and a year later in the National Association of Professional Baseball Players – the same league as the Atlanta Braves (though they were the Boston Red Stockings at the time). The Chicago franchise is one year older than that currently in Atlanta, though some argue that because they missed two years due to the Chicago fire of October 1871 (they sat out 1872 and 1873) they have played one fewer season. Either way, both Chicago and Boston remain the only two charter members remaining from the original formation of the National League. Interesting to note, during the 80’s the Cubs had a very famous player – Albert Spalding. In 1890 the team became known as the Colts, and seven years later the Orphans. The club was sold in 1902 to Joe Hart. Local media began to refer to the team as “Cubs” due to the rather young roster they fielded (as a “cub” is a young bear).
St. Louis Cardinals – Baseball in St. Louis began in 1875 with the St. Louis Brown Stockings (remember, there were already the Chicago White Stockings and Boston Red Stockings… now Atlanta Braves – confusing, I know). The Brown Stockings played in the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, and a year later in 1876 in the National League. The team was forced into bankruptcy when in 1877 the team was found guilty of game-fixing. Five seasons later, a new owner was found and the team re-formed in the new American Association (not to be confused with the American League formed after the turn of the century). The name was shortened in 1883 to Browns, and they continued in the AA until the league folded in 1891 forcing the team back to the National League. In 1899 the team was renamed the Perfectos, though it was a good year for the club, it was its last under that name. In 1900, the name was changed to “Cardinals”. The story goes that a female fan was interviewed in 1899 about a game she went to. She remarked, “What a lovely shade of cardinal”. The newspaper and fans started to adopt the moniker. The first logo to feature a bird was in 1922 – actually it had two cardinals on a bat, not so dissimilar to the one used today (though had a dark bat as opposed to a yellow one).
Pittsburgh Pirates – In 1882, a team from Allegheny just across the river from Pittsburgh (called the Alleghenys – it wasn’t uncommon to repeat a city name for the nickname) joined the American Association. It was this team that forms this historical starting point for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team left the American Association (remember from earlier, the league folded in 1891) for the National League in 1887 under the name Pittsburgh Alleghenys. Interestingly, in 1890 the US Board of Geographic Names forced the city to drop the ‘h’ from the end of its name. The team changed its name at the same time, making it’s new name Pittsburg Innocents. The name only lasted a year, when in 1891 the team changed to the Pirates after they were accused by the Philadelphia Athletics (of the American Association) of taking a very good player from them, going so far as to call the team “piratical”. The team rallied behind the accusation, and named themselves Pittsburg Pirates. The only other change was in 1911 when the ‘h’ was put back in Pittsburgh.
Cincinnati Reds – The current club was formed in 1881, but it’s interesting to go back just a bit further into Cincinnati’s baseball past. In fact, the first professional baseball team was founded in Cincinnati in 1863 – the Cincinnati Red Stockings (yes, we’ve heard that name used by others). To be clear, they were not all professionals in 1863, but that is the year that club was founded. For a more detailed history of the first professional team, check out my article “1869: The Most Important Year in Baseball History?”. In 1876, the team became a charter member of the National League. It was abolished by the league in 1880 because it refused to comply with rules against selling beer and playing games on Sundays. In 1881, a sports editor from Cincinnati formed a new independent team – the Cincinnati Reds. So as you can see, the Cincinnati Reds name dates back to 1863, though the official date is 1881 because the team was expelled and started anew.
Milwaukee Brewers – Milwaukee’s Brewers began as Seattle’s Pilots. The team played just a season before being moved by the league to Milwaukee in 1970. The name Brewers was borrowed from a minor league team of the same name, and because of the area’s tradition for brewing beer. Originally the team was supposed to wear blue and red, the same colors as the minor league team, but because the team was purchased and moved too close to the start of the season, there wasn’t time to change and had a modified Pilots jersey.
Thanks for reading. Remember, tomorrow I’ll have the next instalment, the NL West, for you posted bright and early at 7am. Want to read my other Sports History articles? Check them out here. Have a nagging question you want answered? Leave me a note in the comments and I’ll do my best to find an answer for you. As always, feel free to leave comments below. Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter – @lastwordonsport.