Pirates and Dodgers and Angels, Oh My: Best and Worst MLB Nicknames
By Zach Dammel
Major League Baseball boasts some pretty good nicknames. Not Backyard Baseball caliber good (see Humongous Melonheads, Mighty Wombats, Crazy Fishes, etc.), but pretty good. Here are the best.
Photo Credit to T. Buckingham Thomas
- Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pittsburgh Pirates are called the Pirates because they were pirates. They roamed the high seas of baseball bureaucracy, plundering players from unfortunate teams that forgot to cross a ‘t’ or dot an ‘i’. So the tale goes… In 1890, the “Players’ League” was formed to represent player interests in response to financial strictures imposed by baseball owners. Many star players jumped ship from either of the two preexisting leagues, the American Association and the National League. One of those players was star second-baseman Lou Bierbauer (in the above photo, you can tell he was a star by his athletic stance), previously of the Philadelphia Athletics. But the Players’ League was short-lived and, when it collapsed soon thereafter, its quality players were absorbed back into the National League (the American Association also folded around this time). The Philadelphia Athletics, due to a clerical oversight, had failed to reserve the services of a few of their key players, including Bierbauer. And so the scurvy band from Pittsburgh swooped in and purloined Lou Bierbauer. In the legal proceedings that followed, the Philadelphia Athletics accused Pittsburgh of “piratical acts”. And Pittsburgh liked the sound of that.
- Los Angeles Dodgers: When I think of Los Angeles, my mind immediately jumps to trolleys. And when I think of trolleys, I can’t help but also think of the people who dodge them. This is not a rational train of thought. Los Angeles was never known for its trolleys, let alone the people who get out of their way. In the late 1800s, however, Brooklyn was known for both of these things. During the switchover from horse-drawn to electric trolleys (just as today we consider the upgrade from the horse-drawn Toyota to the Prius), hundreds of Brooklynites were killed or injured by the powerful trolleys. Before the turn of the century, sportswriters had begun to refer to the Brooklyn Base Ball Club as the “trolley dodgers”. The shortened version of the name stuck and now Los Angeles lays claim to one of sports most iconic yet obscure nicknames.
- Minnesota Twins: (Note: The following paragraph doubles as a template for how to teach a small child about the concept of sharing). Once upon a time, there were two rival cities that shared the same state but were divided by a great river. When word broke that a Major League Baseball club was coming, either city thought that it alone should be the home and namesake of the new team. This presented quite the challenge: How could two cities be happy when there was only one team?! Needless to say, the team owner had some tough thinking ahead. Finally, after talking to state officials, the perfect solution was reached – the team would belong not just to one city, but to the entire state. This had never been done before in any sport. And the nickname for the team would be the word that proved that the two rival cities weren’t so different after all. On November 26, 1960, the Minnesota Twins were born. Well, not born. Not like real twins. But, anyway, that’s how that happened.
But the MLB also has some pretty bad nicknames. Not Backyard Baseball caliber bad (see Humongous Melonheads, Mighty Wombats, Crazy Fishes, etc.), but pretty bad. Here are the worst.
Photo Credit to Mapquest
- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: I don’t mind the nickname of “Angels”. Angels are generally positive creatures. It’s the geographically-exclusive bookends to the “Angels” nickname that bothers me. But I guess Angels have identity crises, too. They have been the Los Angeles Angels, the California Angels, the Anaheim Angels, and this most recent impossible iteration over the course of their indecisive history. This clumsy nickname is further aggravated by its complicated motivations. Per the stadium’s lease with the city, the team is required to include the word “Anaheim” in its description. Not keen on settling for just one location, though, the team’s management chose to also append “Los Angeles” to the name in order to tap into the huge LA market. And now no one knows where the heck these “Angels” belong.
- Oakland Athletics: This one almost made the list of best nicknames. All the other teams beat around the bush. “Let’s name ourselves after some agile and aggressive animal,” they reason, “so as to imply that we, too, are agile and aggressive.” No, the Athletics just came right out and told everyone what they were. And I admired that about them. But then I thought about it a little more. Firstly, these “Athletics” doth protest too much if you ask me. No one is accusing them of not being athletic; it seems defensive to feel the need to pump up their egos by pronouncing themselves athletics. Secondly, what in the world is an athletic? I mean, I realize it has something to do with old-time athletic clubs. But you can’t equate “athletic clubs” to “athletics” anymore than you can call a “grocery store” “groceries”. They are different things. In the end, though, it’s not nearly as egregious a misnomer as that of their cross-state, interdivisional rivals. At least they’re not the San Francisco Athletics of Oakland.
- Colorado Rockies: If you plan to use a nickname with multiple definitions, you should first look into whether any of those homonyms carry negative meanings. For example, if you choose to call your team by a word that means “marked by obstacles or problems”, then be prepared to hear about how that was a bad marketing decision when the team inevitably encounters obstacles and problems. The then-CEO of the Colorado Rockies was cited as insisting: “The name we picked… it’s strong, enduring, majestic.” YES! If the team was any good, that absolutely would be the case! But Merriam-Webster – CEO of Words – insists that the name you picked is also “unstable and wobbly”. Honestly, the nickname would be much more, well, solid if the team’s performance wasn’t so consistently, well, rocky. But, oh, the poor fans and the daily half-baked puns such as these that they must endure…
Thus concludes the first edition of ‘Oh My’ sports team nicknames. Stay tuned for “Thunder and Raptors and Pelicans, Oh My”. Or something along those lines.