Origins of MLB Names (American League West)

Sports teams have some interesting stories behind their team names. In this series, we look at every baseball team name origins.

AL EastAL CentralAL WestNL EastNL Central, and NL West

History of Team Names – American League West

Houston Astros

Surprisingly, Houston didn’t have a professional team until 1962.  There were apparently many attempts to buy an expansion franchise, and even a futile one where a small group tried to buy the Cards and bring them to Houston.  In 1960, a group was finally awarded an expansion franchise to begin play in the National League in 1962.  After a name-the-team contest, the team was named the Houston Colt .45’s; after all, that was the gun that won the west.  The team moved into the Houston Astrodome in 1965, and the club decided to also change the team’s name to the Astros, and both the park and the team were re-named in recognition of Houston being home to the country’s National Space Agency (there were also some threatened legal issues with the Colt Gun Company that helped force the change).  A long time member of the National League (first in the NL west when there were two divisions, and later the NL Central) on November 15,2011, the club agreed to be moved to the American League for the 2013 season – they were given $70 million for their troubles.

Texas Rangers

When the original Washington Senators left the nation’s capital in 1960 to become the Twins (see yesterday’s article on the AL Central) it left a void in a huge market.  Baseball found a way, and awarded the city a new franchise to operate under the same name as before.  The team stunk.  They regularly had 90-loss seasons, and eventually enough was enough for the owners (which changed hands several times in those days).  In 1971, AL owners voted 10-2 in favor of moving the team to Arlington, Texas.  The name “Rangers” was an obvious choice by owners as a tribute to the famous law enforcement group from Texas, based in Austin.

Seattle Mariners

Seattle’s first franchise was called the Pilots, though they lasted only a season (1969) before moving to Milwaukee.  The city were given a franchise, but it moved to Milwaukee before playing a single game.  I digress.  In 1977, two teams were given expansion franchises (see: AL East for Blue Jays).  Ownership went with “Mariners” as tribute to the city’s marine culture.

LA Angeles Angels (of Anaheim)

The name Los Angeles Angels has been associated with a Pacific Coast League team since 1892.  The English translation of “Los Angeles” is “the angels”.  When MLB granted an expansion franchise in 1961, the team used the name from the popular PCL team.  An interesting sidenote; the name of the first stadium where the Angels played was called Wrigley Field.  At one time, the PCL team was owned by Phil Wrigley (who owned the Cubs), who sold them to the Dodgers owner, then finally to the Angels owner. Baseball history can be quite confusing!

Oakland Athletics

Even though the franchise is not nearly as old as many others, their name is certainly as old as any other in baseball.  In fact, the name “Athletics” dates back to 1860 in Philadelphia with the Athletic Club of Philadelphia; an amateur team who wore a large black “A” on their uniforms.  The current franchise can trace its lineage back to the Philadelphia Athletics team who were founded in 1901 and began play in the American League.  The new pro team adopted the name of the previous unaffiliated amateur one.  The current franchise moved to Kansas City (see: AL Central) and kept the name becoming the Kansas City Athletics in 1955.  In 1964, the team was actually sold to a group from Louisville, and were promised the name Athletics would follow them, though “Louisville Sluggers” or “Kentucky Colonels” were considered.  The league vetoed the move.  In 1967, the league finally allowed the owner to move after many efforts, with Oakland as an agreed upon destination.  As they played their first season in Oakland in 1968, the team decided to keep the name Athletics, which it shortened officially for a period of time to simply “A’s”.  Today they are referred to as both A’s and Athletics.

The Elephant mascot itself is another story and a bit of a fun one at that.  New York Giants manager John McGraw told reporters that the Philadelphia Athletics new owner Benjamin Shibe had bought a White Elephant.  Connie Mack adopted the white elephant as an unofficial team mascot and even gave McGaw a stuffed elephant toy prior to the start of the 1905 Wold Series.  By 1909 it had become part of the Athletics logo.