MLB Team Name Origins
Previously the St. Louis Browns, the franchise moved to Baltimore for the 1954 season and adopted the historic “Orioles” name in honor of the official state bird of Maryland. Confusingly, in 1901 there had previously been a Baltimore Orioles baseball club (when the current Orioles were known, even more confusingly, as the Milwaukee Brewers) but they would eventually move to New York and become the New York Yankees.
Previously situated in Boston and Milwaukee, the team’s Braves nickname originated in 1912, as the then Boston ballclub’s owner James Gaffney was a member of New York City’s political machine, Tammany Hall, which used an Indian chief as their symbol.
The Cubs, previously the White Stockings, got their name as a moniker given to them by the Chicago Daily News as a reference to their then youthful roster. The name would become official in 1907.
Originally the Cincinnati Red Stockings (red was a prevalent color in early baseball uniforms), the name Reds is simply a truncation. Interestingly, due to the Communist witch hunts of the 1950’s, the club briefly changed their name at the end of the 1950’s to the Cincinnati Redlegs and removed the term ‘REDS’ from all team paraphernalia.
Assumed in 1915, the then Cleveland Naps (!?) changed their names to the Indians in a play on the Boston Braves, who had just gone from last place in their division to winning the 1914 World Series. Can’t beat them, slightly emulate them.
Simply an allusion to the Rocky Mountains that cover much of the Centennial State. Previously it had been the name of the NHL team from 1976-1982, before the team moved and became the New Jersey Devils.
A rattlesnake that is very common in the Arizona desert. Also, a baseball field has a ‘diamond’. So, so clever!
The name actually came from a fan vote when Arizona was awarded an expansion team in 1995.
Various rumors abound about the origins of the “Tigers” epithet, but perhaps the most compelling story is that they were named after the Detroit Light Guard, a military unit, who were known as “The Tigers.”
Named the Houston Colt .45s for the first three years of their existence (after the famous Colt firearms company), they changed to the Astros as a reference to Houston being where NASA trained its astronauts.
Kansas City Royals
Despite Kansas City having a deep baseball tradition, the modern Royals only began in 1969 and were named after the American Royal Livestock Show held in Kansas City every year since 1899.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
If you translate Los Angeles into English the name of the ballclub becomes The Angels Angels (!?). The Angels have some basis in a long-running minor league team of the same name from the start of the 20th century. The minor league team would be displaced by the arrival of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1958, but an American League team expansion would usher in the return of the moniker in 1961.
Since then the Angels have been known as the California Angels, Anaheim Angels, Los Angeles Angels and, finally, The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
New York Mets
Originally there had been a Metropolitan Baseball Club in the 19th-century but it folded after not being able to compete with the New York Giants Baseball Club. When both the Dodgers and Giants left for California, a new team was established as part of the 1962 expansion and the old name revived. Metropolitans simply refers to the inhabitants of a metropolis (a city).
Born as the Florida Marlins in 1997, there had been several Miami Marlins minor league teams that existed throughout the 60’s and 80’s . The Major League club dropped the ‘Florida’ and became the Miami Marlins when they moved to their baseball-only park in downtown Miami in 2012.
A marlin is a sport fish found in the water around Florida.
This particular iteration of the Milwaukee Brewers were originally the Seattle Pilots, a 1969 expansion team. After just one year the team moved to Milwaukee and reintroduced their traditional “Brewers’ nickname.
Brewers due to the local Miller Brewing Company.
Chicago White Sox
Shortened from White Stockings, they essentially adopted the vacated colours and nicknames that once belonged to their National League city mates, the Cubs.
The Athletics is one the oldest and most self-explanatory nicknames in all of sports, let alone baseball. The club itself began in Philadephia, stopped over in Kansas City, and then settled in Oakland in 1968.
Uniquely for this list, the Phillies have been in Philadelphia since their start in the National League in 1883. They briefly became the Blue Jays in 1943 for a couple seasons, but the nickname failed to catch on and they reverted back to the Phillies.
Known in 1882 as ‘Allegheny,’ they were accused of being ‘pirates’ by the Philadephia Athletics after they stole one of their players. Or at least that’s how the Athletics saw it. Seeing as it was apparently the fashion at the time, Pittsburgh simply adopted the name and became the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1903.
Boston Red Sox
Curiously it has been claimed that it was after the Boston Braves dropped red from their uniforms (bizarrely the owner believed that red socks caused leg injuries to become infected) that the team formerly known simply as the the ‘Bostonians or ‘Boston Americans’ decided to adopt red stockings and become the Red Sox. Or so they say…
San Diego Padres
Yet another name that used to belong to a minor league team, the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League (1936-1968).
Padres refers to the Spanish missionaries who were part of the exploration of California.
San Francisco Giants
Nothing to do with San Francisco, the Giants got their name from when they were in New York. Their manager in 1883, Jim Mutrie, referred to his players as “My big fellows! My giants!”. The name stuck and the New York Football Giants chose the name after being residents of the baseball club at the Polo Grounds.
After the short-lived Seattle Pilots, the Mariners heralded the return of baseball to Seattle in 1977. The name was picked from a name-the-team contest in which over 600 suggestions were sent in by fans.
Mariners refers to Seattle’s coastal dwelling and not, regrettably, the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem.
St. Louis Cardinals
Formerly the St. Louis Browns, in 1899 the team decided to reinvent themselves by recruiting the best players from the Cleveland Spiders and changing their colours from brown to red.
William McHale, a baseball writer for the St. Louis Republic, dubbed the red-trimmed team the St. Louis Cardinals. By 1900, that name was in universal usage, and they have been known by that nickname to this day.
Tampa Bay Rays
Previously the Devil Rays, the ‘Devil’ part was dropped so as to move the franchise’s image away from that of the fish and towards the rays of sunlight associated with the state of Florida. Despite this, the devil ray fish can still be seen in the team’s logo and represented in Raymond, their mascot.
Referencing the famous Texas Ranger Division, the Rangers were formally the Washington Senators before moving to Arlington in 1972.
Toronto Blue Jays
Founded in 1977, that came from former Ontario Premier John Robarts (part of the team’s board of directors) who said of his morning routine, “I was shaving this morning and I saw a blue jay out my window.”.
Nationals and/or Senators had been mainstays in Washington D.C baseball history, so when the Montreal Expos moved there in 2005, they chose the Nationals (the name Senators still being owned by the Texas Rangers).
Minneapolis – St. Paul is commonly known as the “Twin Cities,” hence the Twins moniker. Not much more to it.
However, the ball club that would become the modern day Chicago White Sox passed through St. Paul as the St. Paul Saints from 1894-1900.
New York Yankees
As mentioned, the team that would become the Yankees started life as the Baltimore Orioles before moving to New York and becoming the Highlanders in 1903. The name Yankees became more prevalent after 1913 and, in keeping with the rather prosaic tradition, the media fostered the name upon the relatively new team as both a patriotic tagline and in response to various fan suggestions.
Los Angeles Dodgers
In the early 1890’s the city of Brooklyn installed a trolley system. Sportswriters, being ever innovative, started calling the team ‘trolley dodgers’ after the denizens of Brooklyn. Previously, they had been called the Grooms due to the high propensity of players on the team getting married at the same time.
They moved to L.A and, much like the Giants, kept the name.