Team Nickname Throwdown

Among MLB team nicknames, the Tigers rise above the rest. (via Anna Fox)

Major league baseball determines its annual champion after a 162-game regular season, a 10-team playoff, and a best-of-seven World Series. But as we paused for the All-Star Game — which thankfully no longer determines who enjoys home-field advantage in that World Series — I was unable to shake one rather silly thought: What if for one year, the format was changed entirely, with the competition pitting each team’s name brought to life in a winner-takes-all showdown?

Forget Jose Altuve facing a Clayton Kershaw curveball, or Aaron Judge staring down a Max Scherzer heater. We’re talking about humans vs. wild animals, birds vs. spiritual beings … ummm, billions of tons of rocks vs. uh, sunshine.

Perhaps we need some preliminary rounds to trim our tournament down to a manageable (and at least somewhat realistic) set of entries. Yes, that’s it. Let’s work this 30-team group down to our own eight-team tournament and see which one emerges victorious.

The Also-Rans

Jerry Seinfeld is right, we root for clothes – our shirts against their shirts. Or in this case, socks. Okay, Sox. Boston is Red, while Chicago’s South Side is White.

In this competition, footwear is a sad weapon to bring into battle. As a result, I’m making the executive decision to boot both of them. No socks for you!

The Intangibles…and the Immovable
How many angels can dance on the knob of a bat? That’s the age-old question, right? Okay, maybe not. The real question for us is, how should we deal with this mascot from “Los Angeles?” The power of God is difficult to precisely measure, and likely harder still to defeat, so I’m going to take the easy way out and punt. If you want to declare the Angels champions, that’s fine. But I’m going to call them ineligible and move on.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays would be easy to deal with, grouping them with the Marlins and maybe the Mariners. The Rays, on the other hand, make things hazier. The mascot isn’t a sea creature any more, but sunlight. Similar to the NBA’s Miami Heat, this is a nickname that’s difficult to manifest in physical form. So, sorry: if you can’t come up with a solid name (literally), you can’t play in this competition.

Speaking of solid, the Rockies are as solid as it gets. A mountain range would be pretty easy to conquer — if you consider sticking a flag in the ground of something conquering it — but would it even know it’s in a battle? And barring a volcanic event or rock slide, a mountain’s attack skills are nonexistent. Stationary obliviousness is not a favorable trait for battle, so the Colorado Rockies are being sent to the bench.

The Generic Humans
What’s a Phillie? How about an Athletic? Nothing but a bland term for a Philadelphia ballplayer, now and several decades ago. (Quick history lesson for the uninitiated: The A’s originally were based in Philadelphia.) Sure, baseball players are good athletes (Bartolo Colon possibly accepted), but they’re nothing special in a battle for this particular sort of champion.

Astronauts are cool (in the ‘60s, they almost all drove Corvettes), and they have to be in very good physical condition. But while they are often thrust into dangerous situations, it doesn’t mean they’ll be top-of-the-line scrappers back on planet Earth.

With their giant heads and soul-piercing eyes, Mr. Red and Mr. Met appear creepy and unsettling at times (some may say all the time), but they aren’t especially intimidating, even when gesturing rudely. So Cincinnati and Queens are out.

New York is home to the Yankees, a generic term for Northerners. And while New Yorkers certainly have attitude, that’s not enough. Also, New York’s streets are the origin of the Dodgers’ nickname that stuck with the team when it moved to Los Angeles. Brooklyn fans used to dodge trolleys on the way to games. If this were a Dungeons and Dragons competition, they would get high marks for dexterity but lower scores for intelligence and wisdom based on their propensity for this dangerous activity. In the end, the City that Never Sleeps can take a nap during this competition, as can the City of Angels.

Every year, Washington, D.C. is home to the Congressional baseball game. Somehow, I doubt a bunch of middle-aged politicians would be an imposing bunch – unless you’re called to testify in front of them about your misdeeds. Though they’re the Nationals now, the nation’s capital used to be home to the Senators. They’ve done little to distinguish between the names, and I have no reason to think a National would be an especially good physical brawler.

Kansas City is home to baseball’s Royals. But most kings and princes lead with proclamations, not bats and balls, and famously send others to fight their wars. The pen may be mightier than the sword in some cases, but not this one.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone being intimidated by a monk, especially one who is as portly and goofy-looking as the usual portrayal of San Diego’s mascot would have us believe. Plus, aside from Point Break, Southern California surfers are generally thought to be a peaceful sort.

Speaking of goofy-looking, Bernie Brewer’s mustache is so audacious, it puts Jay Jaffe’s facial hair to shame. While Bernie might show resilience after a few trips into some suds at the bottom of Milwaukee’s homer slide, he would be too drunk to mount any sort of offense and thus, stumbles his way out of this competition.

This Might Be a Little Uncomfortable
We all know the issues surrounding Cleveland and Atlanta’s team names. Given those issues — and our desire to limit the field to eight playoff contenders — I’m taking the easy way out and saying our representatives from Atlanta and Cleveland would be defeated somewhere along the playoff path.

For the Birds
Three major league franchises have bird nicknames, and choosing the best one for this competition is easy. The oriole is a relatively small, mostly orange-and-black bird, while the cardinal is slightly larger and all red. And then there’s the blue jay, a large blue-and-white bird known to eat other birds’ eggs and nestlings from time to time.

Still, we’re talking about relatively mundane birds. It’s not like there’s an eagle, falcon, hawk — or an ostrich or emu — in the bunch. So one of them is ornery and could peck you repeatedly. In this group, that’s merely an annoyance, not grounds for moving on to the playoffs.

The Contenders

King of the Ocean
Seattle may have once played in the Kingdome, but a mariner is just another term for a sailor, and a generic sailor is unlikely to last long against a pirate. Buccaneers are swashbucklers known to be good with swords and pistols, sport nasty attitudes, and display a certain lack of teeth. Despite their dubious ties to large bodies of water (Pittsburgh may be at the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, but it’s over 300 miles from the Atlantic Ocean) the Pirates move on in this tournament.

Move Along
I’m giving free passes to the final two human entries because well, it’s my article, and I think I have justification. Texas Rangers carry guns, and that’s a notable advantage over many other mascots on this list. And besides, with the way information is available these days, just posting this article could get me on some list that gets me pulled over the next time I’m in the Lone Star state. The fake baseball playoff game is so dangerous.

The second bye goes to the Twins. After all, two is better than one, right? And you just know twins have some sort of mental link, so they’d be able to communicate and strategize silently, right? Who can argue with that “logic?”

The Elite Eight

Seeding these teams was fairly straightforward, though there was some debate about a few spots. Land-loving beasts and sea creatures live in very different environments, but it’s still reasonable to assign an edge to one versus another. And the human/humanoid entries fall into a sort of natural order. There may be some nits to pick, but here’s what I ended up with.

Division Series

No. 1 Tigers vs. No. 8 Cubs

Aw, how cute, tiger cubs. Well sure, those would be adorable, but that’s not what we have here. This is a match-up of a fully-grown tiger against a young, naive bear. Before this gets gruesome, just remember the circle of life, folks. Nature takes its course. Which is how a poor baby bear ends up on the losing end of a confrontation with the true king of the jungle (not to be confused with that other team of big cats from Detroit).

No. 2 Giants vs. No. 7 Rangers

Yes, rangers have guns, and they’re quick on the draw. But that’s against normal-sized thieves and villains.. Sure, things are bigger in Texas, but not this big. Against a titanic terror stalking toward him despite multiple wounds, the ranger would have significant reason to be worried. It wouldn’t take long to empty his six-shooter, into the big brute, but then what? Not one to run from a fight, the ranger nevertheless would be in serious trouble in a mano-a-gianto showdown. Once that enormous creature got his massive hands on a normal human, the fight quickly would be over.

No. 3 Marlins vs. No. 6 Pirates

Marlins are big fish. I mean, really, really big fish. They’ve been known to measure over 16 feet long and weigh a whopping 1,800 pounds. Pirates, however, are used to doing battle against creatures of the sea. Heck, they’re willing to face a kraken, a far more intimidating monster. It would be difficult for a marlin to mount an offensive against a pirate aboard his ship. Meanwhile, the scurvy dog could bide his time, stalking his prey until he gets in position to take the shot — via pistol, harpoon, or other implement — to take the big fish down. It’s not pretty, elegant, or fair, but it is effective.

No. 4 Diamondbacks vs. No. 5 Twins

A diamondback’s venom can be deadly, with a single strike potent enough to kill a person. But in this case, there are two people, so the rattler would have to contend with assaults from multiple directions. While twins don’t necessarily have special skills or weapons — nor true telepathic ability to communicate with each other — if they stumble upon a snake in the desert, there certainly would be rocks or sticks lying around to use in battle. Still, they’re dealing with the lightning-fast strike of a diamondback, and I imagine the snake would get in at least one good bite. So, in a pyrrhic victory, one of the twins survives, while the other falls victim to the effects of poison coursing through his body.

League Championship Series

No. 1 Tigers vs. No. 5 Twins

Let’s give the twins the benefit of the disabled list, being able to replace any injured (or dead!) players with another one. Unfortunately, it won’t help in this case. Sure, two heads are better than one, but against the largest member of the cat family, it would just be twice the meal size. Even if we fully reset each roster and allowed true twins to advance to the next round, they wouldn’t have a hive mind, but they probably would share a common train of thought, and those thoughts would go something like, “Oh, my God! A hungry tiger! We’re going to die!”

No. 2 Giants vs. No. 6 Pirates

So, exactly how big is this Giant? That’s a tough call, but I’m going to take inspiration from the film version of The Princess Bride and WWE (née WWF), using Andre the Giant as the prototype for this exercise. At a reported 7-foot-4 and 520 pounds, he was truly a mountain of a man. But if I’m using Fezzik as my giant, I’m pretty much obligated to use the Dread Pirate Roberts (a.k.a. Westley) as my pirate. And as effectively as he defeated a vengeful Spaniard, Rodents of Unusual Size, and an inconceivably brilliant Sicilian genius, the pirate also dispatched his super-sized fellow human, effectively implementing a sleeper hold that would impress any wrestler.

World Series of Mascots

No. 1 Tigers vs. No. 6 Pirates

As is sometimes the case in championship match-ups, the two combatants are so unevenly skilled that the result is a fait accompli. Yes, a pirate has swords, pistols, knot-tying skills, and many years of experience about which to apply most effectively in a given situation. And he could use those abilities to get some solid licks in.

But I’m afraid, in the end, the ferocity of the tiger would be too much. The tiger could use its long teeth and swift claws to inflict damage, and once it had the pirate down, the contest would quickly be over. A decisive victory would be won by the feline.

From socks to birds, humans to various fauna, this 30-team tussle came down to the best of the best, and in the end, the tiger that has represented the motor city squad for more than 100 years made a strong showing for itself, emerging as the victor in this major league-inspired battle royal.

Greg has been a writer and editor for The Hardball Times since 2010. In his dreams, he's the second coming of Ozzie Smith. Please don't wake him up.
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Handsome Wes
5 years ago

If you’re pitting each team’s name…
Animal nicknames are out. Man has conquered them all (Steve Irwin / Rays notwithstanding), with some being put into zoos for our amusement.
So Rays / Jays / Orioles / Tigers / Marlins / Cubs / Cardinals / Diamondbacks are out.
Red Sox / White Sox are out – laundry doesn’t win fights. Reds too – they can’t hide from their origin.
Others can be eliminated easily:
The Royals haven’t won a fight since the French Revolution.
The Padres haven’t fought a battle since the Cristero War.
Indians and Braves? Andrew Jackson ran roughshod over them.
Brewers? Not fighters. Maybe they can last a round or two after they’ve kicked back a few drinks…
Dodgers? Named after a couple of people who almost got hit by trolleys? No way.
Giants? I dunno, I can’t see a bunch of Gheorge Muresan’s lasting very long in battle.
I am a devout person of faith, and I know Angels can win a war (read: Isaiah 37:36), but… I’m not convinced they’d enter a war just for the fun of it.
It’d take more than two people to win against some of the others, so Twins are out.
Astros? Sorry, science guys, but this war is being fought with slide-rules.

The rest can be eliminated as such:
Pirates conquer Mariners; Rangers take out Pirates.
Mets (a giant city!) vs Phillies – just Philadelphia? Metropolitans win.
You can be completely athletic, but eventually, the inhospitable Rockies will win (ask the Donner party).
Yankees have already beaten a force from Texas (plus a few other states).
Yankees burn down major metropolitan city.
While not 1940s Stalingrad, I imagine that the Rockies in winter could repel any invasion from an invading army. Rockies beat Yankees.

Nationals settle in Rocky Mountain regions. Nationals start strip mining mountains for its national resources…

Yeah, Nats win.

5 years ago

If there’s one thing the history of this world had taught us it’s that “man with gun” defeats every other living thing on this planet, so it should really come down to the Pirates vs the Rangers.

This exercise would be a lot more amusing, and a lot more esoteric, if it included NBA and/or NHL nicknames. Would a panther win a fight against a tiger? Could either one defeat a raptor? What would be the venue if any of them had to fight a shark? Can an islander beat the heat? Can a mariner or a pirate best the hurricanes? Did the Canadiens/Habitants defeat the wild? Could anything other than the Rockies survive the lightning? Will anything from earth ever conquer the stars? Can any of us say we’ve beaten the Leafs when no matter how often we rake they keep coming back?

5 years ago

As far as the Rays go, won’t sunlight ultimately win out? Either by bleaching the “laundry,” by causing skin cancer in all the “humans,” or by wiping out everything else when it grows large enough to suck the earth in so close that the surface of our planet is engulfed in flames? Ultimate long game/slow burn. Have a nice day, Eat Arby’s!

5 years ago
Reply to  mrdog61

Based on your rationale, wouldn’t the Rays only make the White Sox stronger?

5 years ago
Reply to  Greg Simons

Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, and everybody’s going to die; let’s watch some baseball.

5 years ago
Reply to  mrdog61

They’d still have a tough time beating the Angels.

5 years ago

The Dread Pirate Roberts would kill a tiger without breaking a sweat.

5 years ago

You are forgetting that Chuck Norris was Walker, Texas Ranger. Why would Texas send anyone else into battle? Sorry to bust your bracket, but the Rangers win in a landslide.

Dennis Bedard
5 years ago

Pirates are a maritime based outfit while the tiger is a landlocked creature. Pitting them against each other is conceptually difficult. Look at it this way. Yes, the “man with gun” argument is persuasive only because they have always outnumbered their adversaries. How man Moby Dicks were there? But what about a fair fight? Let’s put one thousand pirates with a sword and pistol in a neutral area with 1000 hungry tigers roaming the grounds. I have a feeling their would be a lot of tigers with full stomachs when all was said and done.

5 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Bedard

Sorry, wrong post.

5 years ago

The Athletics logo an elephant standing on a globe. I put my money on the elephant versus the Tigers or Pirates.

5 years ago
Reply to  Greg Simons

Then why did you go with Mr. Red and Mr. Met? They aren’t exactly what those nicknames mean?

5 years ago

Red Sox beat White Sox. Anyone who’s screwed up their laundry knows that.

5 years ago

Who said we were dealing with traditional maritime Pirates, though? The nickname originated from accusations of contract piracy, after all. I think many of them including some of the regular humans like an Athletic could take a white-collared businessman.

5 years ago

If you’re discounting laundry from the word go, you need to add he Cardinals to the Red Sox and White Sox. The origin of the name is with the color (to distinguish them from St Louis Browns and St Louis Maroons), not the bird.