Apparently I have too much time on my hands these days. Either way, I won't make a big stink for an introduction. The following is a list of team nicknames in Major League Baseball and where those names come from. I started this research today on a whim and thought I'd share it with you. Really interesting stuff. Even I didn't know about 2/3 of these!
Baltimore Orioles – The oriole is the state bird of Maryland.
Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox had a lot of nicknames before they settled on their current moniker, including Puritans, Speedboys, Somersets, Plymouth Rocks, and Pilgrims. A lot of those make sense, so why the change? In 1907 the Beaneaters of the National League stopped wearing their signature Red Stockings because manager Fred Tenney believed the dye caused blood poisoning. Shortly thereafter Red Sox owner John Taylor decided to take over the red stocking thing and rename his team the Boston Red Sox.
Chicago White Sox – Actually, the Cubs franchise was the original Chicago White Stockings, but they gave up the name in favor of “Colts” towards the end of the 1800s. In 1901 Comiskey started up an American League team in Chicago and decided to revive the Chicago White Stockings name, a lot like how the Cleveland Browns of the NFL bolted to Baltimore and became the Ravens, only to have an expansion team pop back up in Cleveland a couple of years later, also named the Browns, even though it was an entirely different team.
As for how “Stockings” turned into “Sox,” the Chicago Tribune would shorten it to “Sox” for the box scores so immigrants could read “socks” more easily by its phonetic spelling.
Cleveland Indians – This name was the result of a 1915 newspaper contest, supposedly inspired by an old Cleveland Spiders player named Louis Sockalexis, a Native American.
Detroit Tigers – In the 19th century, the city of Detroit had a military unit called the Detroit Light Guard, who were known as "The Tigers." This group had significant roles in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, so in 1901 the team sought and received formal permission from the group to use their nickname. Coincidentally, the NFL’s Lions, who once shared a stadium with the Tigers, were named in honor of their landlord.
Kansas City Royals – As an expansion team in the late 1960s, the Royals were named after the American Royal Livestock Show, which has been held in Kansas every year since 1899.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – For you non-Spanish speakers, “Los Angeles” translates to “The Angels.” Sometimes it really is as simple as that.
Minnesota Twins – Minneapolis and St. Paul are the “Twin Cities.”
New York Yankees – Also known as the “Highlanders” in the early 1900s, the name Yankees first start showing up in the press in 1904. Newspapers for cities with two teams (such as New York and Boston) would often call their teams "Nationals" or "Americans" to distinguish them based off of what league they plaed in. The term "Yankee" or "Yank" is a synonym for "American," and the Yankees played in the American League.
The term "Yankee" was also in the news frequently at that time, especially with the success of George M. Cohan's Broadway musical, “Little Johnny Jones,” and its centerpiece number, "Yankee Doodle Dandy." To the creative writers of the New York press, the connection was easy to make.
Oakland A’s – “A’s” is short for “Athletics,” which is the oldest nickname in baseball, dating back to about 1860. The team started in Philadelphia and was originally called “The Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia.”
Seattle Mariners – This nickname just alludes to fishing and other marine activities common in the Seattle area.
Tampa Bay Rays – At first called the “Devil Rays” after the aquatic creatures that swim in the area, the team took “Devil” out of the moniker before this season, instead changing the meaning of “Rays” to something more along the lines of sun rays since Florida is the Sunshine State. The new logo doesn’t have the stingray; instead, there are gleaming beams of yellow coming off the letters. Either way, the team is still horrible.
Texas Rangers – This team was named after the famous Texas law enforcement group of the same name.
Toronto Blue Jays – An early member of the team’s board of directors mentioned seeing a blue jay outside his window while he was shaving in the morning. That, apparently, was enough to name the team. That’s probably the lamest of all these etymologies.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Diamondbacks are a snake common to the Arizona desert. This is a more recent franchise, so it’s no surprise that the nickname actually makes some geological sense (unlike the NBA’s Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies).
Atlanta Braves – Originating in Boston and at first called the “Doves,” the team got a new, tougher sounding nickname at the suggestion of John Montgomery Ward in 1912. That was the year James Gaffney of Tammany Hall—a political organization named after an Indian chief and known for using an Indiana in its logo—became the new president of the organization. Between 1936 and 1941, the team was called the “Bees,” but of course returned to “Braves” in time.
Chicago Cubs – Were originally the White Stockings, then later the Colts. The name “Cubs” started in the early 1900s when the team went through a youth movement and team rebuilding. The newspapers started calling the young Colts players “The Cubs” because of their relative youth, and the name just stuck. From 1921 to 1970 the NFL’s Bears shared Wrigley Field with the Cubbies, and the name “Bears” was given to the team in honor of their hosts. Before then, they were called the “Staleys.”
Cincinnati Reds – This was the original “Red Stockings” team, dating all the way back to the Civil War era. The team always has worn red socks and trim. The name was eventually shortened to “Reds” as an abbreviation, and it stuck.
Colorado Rockies – Very clearly named after the famous mountains by the same name.
Houston Astros – This team was once called the “Colt .45’s” named after the famous gun, which was manufactured in Houston. Like the Washington Bullets of the NBA, the team eventually had to change the name for PR reasons, so they went with Astros, which sounds futuristic and is Greek for “stars.” The new moniker was safer and paid tribute to the NASA Space Program, based in Houston.
Florida Marlins – Marlins are a popular sport fish in Florida. There had been minor league teams named the Miami Marlins for years, so when the MLB ushered in a Miami expansion team in 1993, they revived the nickname. Unfortunately, using “Florida” instead of “Miami” sort of took away from the alliterative beauty of the situation. Oh well.
L.A. Dodgers – The Dodgers were originally from Brooklyn, where they got their name because patrons had to “dodge” the trolleys on the street en route to the stadium. There are no trolleys in Los Angeles, but the kept the nickname anyway.
Milwaukee Brewers – They make a lot of beer in Milwaukee.
New York Mets – This organization was originally known as the Metropolitan Baseball Club in the 19th Century, but “Metropolitan” was too long for Box scores. “Mets” wasn’t, and that’s the name that stuck.
Philadelphia Phillies – They’ve either been the “Phillies” or the “Quakers” for the entire history of the franchise. “Philles,” of course, is short for “Philadelphias.”
Pittsburgh Pirates - The team was originally called the Alleghenies, for the river. In 1890, several players boycotted the National League and started the short-lived Players League. It folded a year later, and there was an agreement among owners that returning players would go back to their original teams. When Pittsburgh signed Louis Bierbauer, a former Philadelphia Athletic, the other owners accused them of piracy. And there you go.
St. Louis Cardinals – They were originally the Browns, but in 1899, they wore red striped stockings and red trim. St. Louis Republic reporter Willie McHale overheard a woman say, "My, what a lovely shade of cardinal." They changed the name in 1900.
San Diego Padres – “Padres” is Spanish for “father,” and the nickname pays homage to Spanish missionaries who worked in the area’s early history.
San Francisco Giants – Originally from New York and called the “Gothams,” the team became the New York Giants when their manager bragged to reporters about the stature of his players. “My big boys!” he said, “My Giants!” By 1885 the name stuck. The team moved to California in 1958.
Washington Nationals – formerly the Montreal Expos (who, by the way, were named after the 1967 worlds fair held in Montreal, called “Expo 67”), the team moved to Washington D.C. and revived a nickname used by a former team from that era earlier in the 20th Century. D.C. is the “national” capital, so it’s no wonder the team went with that for their nickname.