Ranking MLB team nicknames

Wanna read something stupid and pointless? Lucky you, because I’m in that kind of mood.

I like lists. Anyone who reads my columns on a semi-regular basis may even have noticed it already. I recently had a random (if unoriginal) idea: a column ranking the nicknames for all 30 MLB teams.

On the face of it, this is a frivolous exercise. Look at it more closely, and it’s still frivolous. OK. It’s only baseball after all. Nicknames don’t matter, yet they kind of do. It’s our first exposure to teams, and it certainly helps if a squad had a cool sounding nickname.

All lists are inherently subjective, but this one is completely so. Even still, I have some general guidelines for making my picks:

– A nickname should be distinctive.

– The nickname should ideally tie in to the local community somehow.

– Above all else, a nickname should sound cool.

There is no magic formula for putting it together, but those are the main things I’m looking for here. With that in mind, here is the Complete and Inarguable Ranking of MLB Nicknames:

1. Seattle Mariners. This has everything a nickname ought to have. First, it’s distinctive. It’s the only professional team ought there with that nickname. Second, it relates to the city, as Seattle is a major fishing town.

Finally, it sounds cool. It’s another way to say seafarer. While that’s a cool word in and of itself, “Mariner” has the added bonus of conjuring up bizarre drug-fueled poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Awesome. This is what a nickname should be. Plus “The Deadliest Catch” has given me an appreciation for sailing professions in general.

It’s also a part of an overall trend in Seattle for cool sports nicknames. The city lacks an NHL team, but the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks also feature a distinctive nickname that relates to the city. Personally, I think Mariner sounds better than Seahawk, but both are good.

And of course, for many decades the city was home to the best of all nicknames in American pro sports: the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics. That’s just perfect. There is no other nickname out there like it, the name relates to the area’s aerospace industry, and it just sounds so friggin’ cool! As an added bonus, it allows for some alliteration with all the “s”s.

Unfortunately, the team is now the Oklahoma City Thunder, which isn’t nearly as good a nickname. It sounds like some after-school program put together by the local chamber of commerce in tandem with the Oklahoma State department of meteorology.

What’s even more annoying is that the NBA has a long-standing tradition of letting teams keep their nicknames when the move from one town to another, no matter how non-sensical the results. Thus we have waterlogged desert dwellers and swingin’ Mormons (not that kind of swingin’ Mormon. This is the other fictional kind). But pro sports is now without any sonics, super or otherwise.

Oh, where was I? Oh, right – baseball nicknames. I’m supposedly writing a column about baseball nicknames. Better move on.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s distinctive, relates to the region, and sounds cool. Depending on the mood I’m in, I might rank this one over Seattle. It’s between those two of the top slot, and then there’s a gap before the rest.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

3. Texas Rangers. This is just a great idea for a nickname. The Rangers are already something of an iconic force in Texas, so call the Dallas team “Texas” and name them the Rangers. There are several college teams called the Rangers, but “Texas Rangers” just has an extra added flavor to it.

4. Colorado Rockies. Like the Texas Rangers, this isn’t the most shockingly original nickname of all-time, but it makes up for that by being so dang appropriate. When many think of Colorado, the Rockies are the first thing that come to mind.

5. Milwaukee Brewers. It’s a fitting nickname, given all the beer making going on in Wisconsin. It’s certainly unlike any other team nickname.

6. Houston Astros. This nickname (obviously) ties into the space center located in town. It would rank higher than Milwaukee if it wasn’t for that damn dog on the Jetsons having the same name. I never did care for that show much.

7. New York Yankees. Really, anything north of the Mason-Dixon Line can be called Yankee, I suppose. But if you’re only going to go with one city, it’s got to be New York.

8. Kansas City Royals. There are a lot of different words you can use to describe a king: highness, monarch, ruler, inbred freak – but royal might be the best. It doesn’t relate to Kansas City itself too clearly — their name actually derives from a livestock and horse show — but it’s a nice nickname nonetheless.

9. Toronto Blue Jays. Pretty bird. Pretty nickname. Nice colors to go with it. I just like it.

10. Baltimore Orioles. My rationale for this one is about the same as for Toronto, except I just personally find Blue Jays to be a more interesting nickname. I don’t have a reason why – I just do.

11. Philadelphia Phillies. Maybe I should deduct points for being so lazy in their nicknaming as the nickname so blatantly comes from the city’s own name. However, it’s so blatant I can kind of respect it. More importantly, “Philadelphia Phillies” just sounds good together like that. And as animals go, horses are one of the better ones.

12. Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s a bit generic, and a bit odd for an inland team to have a nickname referring to the bandits of the high seas. (If I recall correctly, they got the nickname for landing Lou Bierbauer in the 1890s. Something like that totally unrelated to the modern world). That said, their nickname sounds cool and goes well with the city’s name. It’s a Pennsylvania thing, I suppose.

13. Minnesota Twins. Well, this nickname solves the problem of aligning itself with the two cities on the river: Minneapolis and St. Paul. It associates itself with both, thus presenting an original nickname and one that reflects local circumstances.

It’s probably the worst nickname in Minnesota sports. The Timberwolves reflects natural life, the Vikings the residents (Minnesota has a very high percentage of residents with Scandinavian heritages), and the old North Stars and Lakers both noted the area’s geography. This just notes that there are in fact two cities in the Twin Cities.

14. Florida Marlins. A fish? They named their team after a fish? I know there’s a bunch of other teams named after all sorts of animals, but for reason a fish just sounds odd to me. Points for originality and fitting the region, but … a fish?

15. Detroit Tigers. This is the sort of nickname that belongs right in the middle. It’s fine and there’s nothing wrong with it, but it sure is generic. Any team in any town could be called the Tigers.

16. St. Louis Cardinals. This is actually a fine nickname, and the cardinal is a very pretty bird. The problem is that it’s such a fine nickname that it’s one of the most overused ones in all sports. There’s a Cardinals in the NFL and a slew in college. I’ll give St. Louis a little extra credit because I think they’re the first or at least one of the first teams with this nickname, but it’s too overdone for me to rank it much higher.

17. Washington Nationals. It’s distinctive and relates to the area, but also strikes me as rather lazy. Well, I suppose it’s better than calling yet another lousy baseball team the Washington Senators.

18. Los Angeles Dodgers. Part of me likes how the team kept their nickname even though it has nothing to do with the current situation at all. Back in the 19th century, a trolley system was installed in Brooklyn. As a result, the team was nicknamed the Trolley Dodgers, which in time became Dodgers. There is no longer a trolley system operating anywhere near Brooklyn and the team itself is 3,000 miles away. But they still are the Dodgers.

I just love the random bizarreness of it. By my own standards above, this should rank lower, but it makes me grin, so I’m not going to worry about consistency.

19. San Francisco Giants. Again, it’s not a bad nickname, just one that’s generic. It’s like the Detroit Tigers, only I think Tigers sounds cooler.

20. Oakland Athletics. I always think of them as the A’s, but I suppose it’s the Athletics. Couldn’t all teams in any major league sports be called the Athletics, though? If anything, this one should rank lower.

21. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In a weird way, this is an appropriate nickname for the franchise given their current town-name confusion. Just as their name indicates they represent two separate areas, the nickname is redundant of the area’s leading city. If I remember my high school Spanish correctly, Los Angeles means “the Angels.” Thus the full nickname is “The Angels Angels of Anaheim.” Perhaps it’s better if we don’t translate.

22. San Diego Padres. Hmmmm … on the one hand, this meets a lot of my own guidelines. It relates to the town, as it was founded as a Spanish mission way back when. It’s also certainly distinctively. In this case, however, I can see why no other team adopted the nickname. Padres? Really? I’m imaging a team of Father Mulcahys taking the field. That’s not the image a team wants for itself.

23. New York Mets. To me, this baseball nickname sounds like some really stupid kid mispronouncing “Mitts.” I’m sure this is too low, but when I hear this nickname, it sounds like someone stupid who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

This probably isn’t fair as the nickname is, of course, short for Metropolitans. It’s akin to the New York Knicks – short for Knickerbockers. Both refer to the nation’s mightiest metropolis. Along those lines, a 19th century ball club was called the Gotham. That said, of all the possible NYC-inspired nicknames, Metropolitans does the least for me. Gothams sounds like something from Batman, not some dumb kid mispronouncing Mitts.

24. Tampa Bay Rays. It’s pretty bad when a new team has to give up on its nickname after less than a decade. Hopefully this one will stick for them.

25. Cincinnati Reds. This nickname reminds me of an insult Rogers Hornsby once hurled at sportswriters: We all learn how to write at an early age, but most of us go on to other things. We all learn colors pretty early, but we get over that accomplishment.

Actually, part of me wants to rank the Reds a lot higher, because it’s a throwback. This reveals how nicknames began. Initially, they just started out with colors, then grew from there. In that regard it’s less a bad nickname than an old one. This nickname shows how the game has evolved, and evolution does not inevitably mean progress.

Yeah, but then again, evolution doesn’t inevitably negate the notion of progress either. And this nickname is just lame.

26. (TIE): Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves. Ah, these ones. A nickname shouldn’t make you feel defensive. These nicknames do that. We could have a nice little debate on whether someone should feel defensive, if this is just symbolic politics or go off on a thousand other little tangents, but the point is when these nicknames are brought up, one has to begin by defending them. That’s no fun. Who the hell wants to get in a political debate over nicknames anyway?

The Indians probably have a better claim to their nickname with Lou Sockalexis, but then again they also have the Chief Wahoo caricature.

28. Chicago Cubs. There is only one thing worse than a nickname that is cute, and that’s one that’s cuddly. This one is both. Making it even worse, many fans call them the “Cubbies.” It’s cutsey-pie enough to make me want to barf.

Last. (TIE): Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox. It’s bad enough that fans from opposing teams will want to claim a team stinks – does a franchise really want a nickname that encourages them to do so?

Like the Cincinnati Reds, these nicknames show how baseball nicknames evolved over time. Once they moved from mere colors, they began to notice the clothing that was colored – socks. As such, this proves the point made above. This was one time when evolution most certainly was not progress. As lame as a color sounds, it sure beats the nickname that conjures up the image of sweat-stained and foul-smelling cloth.

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14 years ago

And don’t forget about those wild grizzlies of Memphis!

14 years ago

Well, this is one man’s opinion and it is still a few weeks from Spring Training….  I would put the native American racial names at the bottom simply because they make a sensitive person cringe. That Cleveland logo is downright offensive to millions of people.
  There is a football team named the Cardinals because it was named after the baseball team in the same city (just like Giants).  The Reds were once the Redlegs, presumably for the same reason the Boston team has its name.  My only complaint about the two Sox teams is that they don’t always wear the right socks when they play.

14 years ago

“[The Twins is] probably the worst nickname in Minnesota sports.”

The Minnesota Wild are pissed that you didn’t recognize their crappy team name as being the worst in the state.

14 years ago

Actually, I think it would have made more sense for a New England team to call itself the Yankees.

As for the Padres, I prefer to imagine a bunch of Friar Tucks running out there.

14 years ago

As a fan of the Red Sox; I’ve watched my fair share of their games of the years, and I’ve never once seen them take the field without both socks.

Detroit Michael
14 years ago

You might have added an additional criteria:  the nickname must be masculine sounding.  I think this comes out in the discussion but perhaps could have been stated up front. 

I would have put the Diamondbacks ahead of the Mariners on based on the masculinity factor or the coolness factor.  “Mariners” is just a profession, not much better than the “New York Admiralty Attorneys” would have been, but apparently you have more cool associations with “Mariners” than I do.

I would have ranked the Angels last frankly.  It’s redundant and stupid and created by a horrendous compromise between the marketing folks and the litigation avoidance folks.  No other team name is ridiculed as regularly.

The Indians’ logo ranks last, but the name only might be regarded as honoring an ethnicity.  Certain better than the Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish for example.

It’s odd how I’m so used to the “Dodgers” that that one doesn’t occur to me as geographically wrong, in contrast to the Utah Jazz for example.

Is it a good or bad thing for a nickname to have a nickname?  The Diamondbacks are called the
“Snakes” fairly often.  The Pirates used to be called the “Bucs” and the Tigers used to be called the “Bengals” but those usages faded away once NFL teams officially adopted those nicknames.

14 years ago

Good to see the Diamondbacks get such a nice ranking, as I think that’s the best new sports nickname in a long time, for the reasons you listed plus another: There’s a baseball term (diamond) fortuitously located in the middle of the name.

And the Cardinals football nickname did not derive from the baseball playing team of the same city. The team was the Chicago Cardinals before it moved to St. Louis.

14 years ago

If Phillies does indeed refer to the horses, then they fail the masculinity test.

14 years ago

Diamondbacks #2?  Really?  Great organization and all, but the name is…just…ehhhhh.
“Who the hell wants to get in a political debate over nicknames anyway?”  Agreed. So why do people do it anyway?  Hmmmmm…

Have a great Monday everyone.

14 years ago

You’re about as wrong about the Yankees as it is possible to be. During the Civil War, New York was about as un-Yankee as northern cities came; it even tried to have itself declared a “free city”, not allied with the Union at all, because its population was largely sympathetic to the Confederacy.

Yankee is, in fact, a traditional word for New Englanders, not New Yorkers. It’s a team name that doesn’t make even a little bit of sense.

14 years ago

I know the Royals were officially named after a livestock show, but KC used to have a team called the Monarchs, so Royals really fits the local tradition better than people remember & is a nod to the negro leagues. How cool is that?? I’d rank the Royals higher due to that.

As for the Yankees…the way I understand it, the press actually nicknamed the Yanks because they were the “American” League’s baseball team in NY. Before that, they were referred to as the NY American’s (because of being in the AL as opposed to the Dodgers & Giants) and the Highlanders (because of the higher ground their home field was on). Personally, I find that petty clever….no matter where NY stood in the Civil War. In fact, if commenter Linus is right, then it was super clever for the press to try attaching something to their city to make them seem more like they were/are on the side of the North.

14 years ago

PS. The Cardinals name is a great one… it plays on the “Saint” part of St Louis. I’m not catholic, but I think that’s a great way to connect your team name to your city. Clever. Cool. Gotta give’em extra points for that.

14 years ago

How could you put Yanks in the top 10? It’s like a team in Boston called “The Boston New Yorker”… Actually, can we have that instead of the socks?

Jim Gagne
14 years ago

Justin – good point about the Phillies!

Chris – thanks for the lunchtime diversion. I totally agree on the Cubs. I disagree on the Baltimore Orioles. The fact that there really is a bird named the “Baltimore Oriole” moves it up on my list. It helps that the team colors match the bird. Then again, it loses points on the masculinity scale. Who’s scared of a little bird.
I think the Blue Jays should be much lower. Definitely below Baltimore. The Blue Jay doesn’t really have any connection to Toronto. And again, it’s just a little bird.
The Royals should be lower, too. Whenever I hear that nickname, I imagine a bunch of Burger King characters scrambling around the field.

14 years ago

Why would a fan of the Indians feel defensive about the team name?  If some whiny-@$$ PC wuss is upset about the teams name it isn’t going to make me feel defensive. 

Our starting pitching, well … that’s another matter.

14 years ago

I don’t know what I think about your ranking of the Braves. They were originally the Boston Braves. Supposedly, they were named after the fake Mohawks at the Boston Tea Party, and therefore named after local patriots (which is cool).

The problem is, of course, that Atlanta doesn’t produce the same association—so maybe you’re right.

Jim Gagne
14 years ago

I think the Rockies should be lower, as well. It’s the only nickname that’s purely geological. How do you personify a mountain range? They should be down there with the Mets and the Reds.

14 years ago

“The Minnesota Wild are pissed that you didn’t recognize their crappy team name as being the worst in0 the state.”

Agreed, poor Minnesotans went from one of the best nicknames (North Stars) and logos to the worst in hockey in terms of nickname, logo, and color scheme.  Those red/green sweaters are awful.  Damn you Dallas.

14 years ago

Wouldn’t the Mariners get negative points for having a minor league affiliate called the “AquaSox?”

Or is imitation the sincerest form of flattery; there are a handful of other minor league teams with “Sox” in the name.

14 years ago

Phillies need to be ranked way lower.

You caould have some real fun with the minor leagues.  The Montgomery Biscuits.  The Biscuits!  Awesome.

Let’s not even talk about the WNBA…

14 years ago

Forgot one point:

The Diamondbacks organization insists on calling them the “D-backs” all the time now.  On the team website, unis, merch, etc.  “D-backs” is so close to “D-bags” that this seems to be a terrible idea.  It’s like naming your kid Richard and them referring to him as Dick.  It just invites easy taunts.  Brings to mind the time Steve Phillips made fun of Orel Hershiser’s 1st name to his face in the booth.

Michael Lahr
14 years ago

According to local lore the “Philadelphias” was the team’s unofficial name along with “Quakers” from 1883-1890, after which the name was shortened to their current nickname (although their was some fiddling with the name in the interim). In fact they are named, then, neither after female horses or cigars.

14 years ago

Diamondbacks is my favorite – threatening (rattlers), but with a baseball (diamond) connection.

Marlins may be fish, but they are feisty fish known for battling deep sea anglers.

Nationals is pretty generic.  Am thinking that Washington could have done better.

Names like Red Sox, White Sox and Reds get a pass from me because they date back to the 19th century, like Knickerbockers in the NBA.

14 years ago

Would “Devil Rays” have ranked higher or lower than “Rays”? I’m assuming lower—it’s another damned fish and not even a feisty one like a marlin. (The team was in a tough spot anyway. The Tampa Bay area is most known for gators, which was taken, and retirees. The Tampa Bay Geezers?)

14 years ago

Pittsburgh may be inland, but it was built at the confluence of three rivers, so there’s plenty of boat traffic at least.

C A Martin
14 years ago

Cincinatti was the “Red Stockings” and were the first profesional baseball team

14 years ago

Ahh but let us not forget Golden Gophers in the dumbest Minnesota nicknames race.

The Philidelphia Athletic Club, or as the great Connie Mack said, “Ath-uh-letics” shows the true test of time.

Originating in 1860 and sticking with the organization through 2 leagues, 3 cities, and 9 World Series Titles, the name deserves a bit more respect than Marlins, Rockies or the Seattle #$%&@n’ Mariners.

14 years ago

Uh, the Rangers are absolutely NOT a “Dallas” team.  They play in Arlington, which is not in Dallas County.  They have never played in Dallas.

What makes you call them a Dallas team?

Greg Simons
14 years ago

I like the Yankees’ previous nickname, the Highlanders.  There can be only one!

And to Oakland fans, remember, if you can’t be an Athletic, be an Athletic supporter.

14 years ago

Good call on #1.

14 years ago

“What makes you call them a Dallas team? “

Um, maybe because they’re in the Dallas media market?

Chris J.
14 years ago

Note to self: if I want a lot of discussion, argue nicknames with people.

Thanks for the comments—learned a lot (example: Minnesota Wild.  Really?  Horrible nickname).

I don’t have the time (or inclination) to respond to all of the thoughts.  For now—I stand by Yankees with north.  It’s more than a Civil War thing.  As far back as the 1820s (and probably earlier) northerners moving west were called Yankees—and not just those from New England.  By the time the AL started, the Civil War was well in the rearview mirror.  Yankee is general world for northerner.

I’d agree the word is especially connected to NE with its origins, and I did overshoot the mark saying if one city should be called Yanks, it’s NYC.  It’s still a perfectly acceptable nickname. 

I hadn’t thought of the St. – Cards connection.  That’s a good one.  I knew the football Cards began in Chicago.  I have relatives who used to watch them at Comiskey. 

Mariners have a minor league team called the Aqua Sox?  That’s horrible.  You can’t even use tradition as an excuse for that.

14 years ago

I think the Brewers should be the easy choice for #1, given Milwaukee and Wisconsin’s history with beer. It’s too bad that they’ve moved away from it though – Bernie’s slide doesn’t go down into a giant mug of beer any more, just a lame platform

14 years ago

The problem with the Cardinals is that the cardinal is the state bird of Illinois. Why would St. Louis name its team after its biggest rival’s state bird? Makes no sense.

Chris J.
14 years ago

JayT – The cardinal in the state bird for half the states in America.  It’s more overused there than in sports.

14 years ago

Thanks Chris, but reading your column & the other comments reminds me that spring training can’t get here fast enough.

John Fox
14 years ago

Instead of the Aqua Sox, they could have been the… Wet Sox!

David Connor
14 years ago

I’d have to say you missed the boat on Tampa Bay.  The “Rays” moniker is about sunshine and isn’t Tampa pretty sunny area?  It sounds cool, ties into the area and it distinct.  If you wanna knock the “Devil Rays” name, then yeah, they’re towards the bottom.  But the name change happened for a reason, didn’t it?

cartoon character
14 years ago

I’ve always wondered, if the Angels can represent Los Angeles, but be OF Anaheim, then why do teams who change cities often change their name well, even though they are technically the same franchise?  For example, there could be the New York Giants of San Fransisco, the Brooklyn Dodgers of Los Angeles, the Milwaukee Braves of Atlanta, and my personal favorite, the Philadelphia Athletics of Kansas City of Oakland!

And that’s not even taking into account franchises that changed their monikers too.  There could be the Montreal Expos of Washington D.C. (the Nationals), the Seattle Pilots of Milwaukee (the Brewers), the Washington Senators of Texas (the Rangers), and the Washington Senators of Minnesota (the Twins).  Wouldn’t it be cool if there were TWO Washington Senators?

If you don’t know the history, look into how the MLB moved the Senators to Minnesota in 1960-something, and in the EXACT SAME YEAR started an expansion franchise in Washington D.C. called the Senators, who only ten years later moved to Texas!  Yeah.  Doesn’t make sense to me either.  Seriously, because I’ve always wanted to know, does anyone know why this happened, instead of just starting an expansion team in Minnesota?

Also, being a resident of Washington (the state!) it absolutely bothers me to no end when people on the east coast shorten D.C.‘s full name to Washington, and then expect us Northwestern Washingtonians to clarify and say “Washington State”.  What total B.S.!

Being from Seattle, and huge Mariner fan, I’ve always kind of thought that the name wasn’t very cool-sounding.  But I’m glad that someone out there likes it.  However, our mascot is a Moose!  I get the relation to the Northwest and all (even though I personally have never seen a moose in Washington in my life), and how the alliteration makes saying “the Mariner Moose” kind of roll off the tongue, but WHAT IN THE HELL does a MOOSE have to do with a MARINER?!  I don’t get it.

14 years ago

All I have to say is this: when a ship carrying Mariners crosses paths with a ship carrying Pirates, you don’t want to be sailing with the Mariners.

14 years ago

I believe the Cardinals are named after the color, not the bird.

14 years ago

The Civil War wasn’t “well in the rearview mirror” when the AL was founded—it was only 40 years past; men who had fought in it were only in their 60s, and the generation that was then running the country could all remember it. Though it is a generic word for Northerner in some places, it has long culutural and historical ties specifically with New England. It is and always has been a crappy nickname for a team from New York.

14 years ago

And by “it”, of course, I mean “Yankee” . . . sigh.

14 years ago

The Reds were originally known as the Cincinatti Red Stockings, which is, of course, an old fashioned way of saying Red Socks. Seems to me that they should be ranked at the same level as Boston, unless you give the latter extra coolness points for spelling socks with an X.

Brandon Isleib
14 years ago

@cartoon character

I don’t remember who said it in an article comment a few months ago, but apparently the expansion team was planned a couple years back to go to Minnesota, but Calvin Griffith wanted to move his Senators out, so they let him go to Minnesota and stuck the new franchise in Washington instead.

I had the exact same question as you, and it got answered with that.  Who knew?

Terry Elliott
14 years ago

What happened to the Houston Astros?

14 years ago

Yankee derives from a dutch term “janke” (Johnny) and as such is quite appropriate for a New York team.  It was a derogatory term used by English settlers to describe the original Dutch settlers.

14 years ago

And this is journalism ladies and gentlemen!  This is what happens when real writers with real jobs get rejected.  They pick on the nicknames of baseball teams.  Stay classy!

14 years ago

“Cincinatti was the “Red Stockings” and were the first profesional baseball team”

That franchise moved to Boston, inspiring the name of the present day Red Sox, and eventually turned into the current-day Atlanta Braves organization.

D Leaberry
14 years ago

The worst nicknames are those of minor league teams.  Here in Maryland, we have the Bowie Bay Sox.  Can anyone tell me what a bay sock is?