What’s in a Baseball Team’s Name?

Names for baseball teams cross a broad spectrum from the logical, such as Knoxville “Smokies”, to the comical, as in Savannah “Bananas”. Illogical names have made their way into the public relations jaunt, too, especially when fans put in their two-cents-worth when ball clubs have contests for the public to participate picking out a proper nom de plume.

A few years ago, it resulted in Montgomery “Biscuits”. Who knew if there is a connection to the breakfast staple in Montgomery other than on grandma’s morning menu?

More recently, “Sock Puppets” was introduced as the alias for Burlington’s entry in the Appalachian League. The city was once a hub for a bunch of sock and hosiery mills, so I get it. I just wouldn’t want to be the intern walking around in a giant tube during a hot July evening. Talk about smelling like a sweat sock.

The moniker that took the cake was New Orleans “Baby Cakes”, a link to traditional King’s Cakes enjoyed during Mardi Gras. The Baby Cakes lasted only a couple of seasons and were thrown out with the dishwater when the club moved to Wichita and renamed “Wind Surge”.

There have been teams in years gone by with pretty cool names. Hannibal “Cannibals”, Texarkana “Casketmakers”, and Lynn “Shoemakers” were emblazoned across their players’ chest. The point was to make a connection from the team name to the city to the fans. That was up to public relations, to make a connection helped build loyalty.

Nashville’s 19th Century teams were known as the Americans, Blues, Seraphs, Tigers, and Centennials. Pretty sedate, don’t you think?

When the Southern Association was formed in 1901, newspaper accounts referred to the local team simply as “Nashville Baseball Club, or if “the Nashvilles” was printed in the newspaper, the public knew who the story was about as sportswriters were often the culprits in anointing the local team in the simplest of terms.

Nashville’s baseball team had no official team name until Grantland Rice held a contest in the Nashville Tennessean and “Volunteers” won, far out-distancing the other two options, Rocks and Lime-Rocks. With the Tennessee Capitol nearby, it made sense for the team to take on the winning entry.

Rice announced the official name, and wrote, “The days of The Fishermen, The Finnites, The Boosters, The Dobbers, etc., are over…”. Newt Fisher, Mike Finn, and Johnny Dobbs had been early managers and reporters used the managers’ last name with “ers” added as a connection of the team to the city’s fans.

In the 61 years of the Southern Association, 13 cities have claimed membership in the league, each with a variety of names, some still being used to this day. Here is a list of team nicknames during the existence of the Southern Association between 1901 through 1961, based on several references to team names:

ATLANTA: Firemen (1902); Crackers (1903-61)

BIRMINGHAM: Iron Barons (1901-07); Barons (1901-1961)

CHATTANOOGA: Lookouts (1901-02, 1910-61)

KNOXVILLE: Smokies (1932-44)

LITTLE ROCK: Travelers (1901-09, 1915-58, 1960-61)

MACON: Peaches (1961)

MEMPHIS: Egyptians (1901-07); Frankfurters (1902, when the manager was Charles Frank); Turtles (1908-11); Chickasaws/Chicks (1912-60)

MOBILE: Sea Gulls (1908-17); Bears (1918-31, 1944-61); Marines (1931)

MONTGOMERY: Black Sox (1903); Senators (1904-08); Climbers (1909-10); Billikens (1911, 14); Rebels (1912-13, 1943, 1956)

NASHVILLE: Fishermen (1901-05); Gray Sox (1902); Finnites (1906); Dobbers (1907): Volunteers/Vols (1908-61)

NEW ORLEANS Pelicans (1901-59)

SELMA: Christians (1901)

SHREVEPORT: Giants (1901, 03); Pirates (1902, 1904-07); Sports (1959-61)

So long, “Baby Cakes”. That sounds like something one might say to their sweetheart, doesn’t it? No matter, I’m glad that one is long gone and outta’ here.

© 2021 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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