Critters, Flora, And Occupations: Minor-League Team Nicknames

This article was written by David Pietrusza

This article was published in the 1989 Baseball Research Journal


WHILE WE ARE aware that colorful monikers of baseball players have all but vanished, we sometimes forget that this is also true for team nicknames. For example, the noms de guerre of minor-league teams just ain’t what they used to be.

In decades gone by, local outfits were free to let their imaginations run wild, and the results were out of this world. When I studied this, I found basically three broad species of Nicknamus Baseballus: critters, flora, and occupations. Other genuses, such as ethnics and sock colors and even theology and owners, were also catalogued.

Let’s go first to the animal world. Who couldn’t find a warm spot in their heart for the Galveston Sandcrabs, the Evansville River Rats, the Wilson Bugs, the Perth Blue Cats, the Tarboro Serpents, the Grand Rapids Wolverines, the Jersey City Skeeters, or the Temple Boll Weevils?

There were less malevolent breeds found, too. The Union City Greyhounds, Columbus Foxes, Ada Herefords, San Francisco Seals, Newark Bears, Hutchinson Elks, Orlando Bulldogs, Cedar Rapids Rabbits, Smiths Falls Beavers. In a class by itself was Schenectady’s “Frog Alley Bunch” of the 1902 New York State League.

And let’s not forget our fine feathered friends. Nothing as prosaic as Cardinals, Orioles, or Blue Jays in this aviary.

Take the Leavenworth Woodpeckers for a starter. What about the Henryetta Hens, Dayton Ducks, Aberdeen Pheasants, Sioux Falls Canaries, Miami Beach Flamingos, Owls of the Two Laredos, New Orleans Pelicans, Columbia Gamecocks, Rayne Rice Birds, and that quintessential minor-league team, the Toledo Mud Hens?

And dare we slight that old chlorophyl crowd, the plant kingdom, in favor of more mobile forms of life? (Mobile, did someone say Mobile? What about the Mobile Sea Gulls or the Mobile Bears?) Opposition fans loved roasting the Idaho Falls Russets but weren’t above picking (on) the Suffolk Goobers, Selma Cloverleafs, Hammond Berries, Palatka Azaleas, Oakland Acorns, Toronto Maple Leafs, and for the historically minded, York White Roses and Lancaster Red Roses.

What gives more pride to a community (and a stranger name to a ballclub) than a favorite local product or occupation? “We make stuff around here and we’re darn proud of it!” virtually shout the uniform shirtfronts. Mull over the fine wares of the Amsterdam Rugmakers, Oswego Starchmakers, Troy Collar and Cuff Makers, Bassett Furnituremakers, Petersburg Trunkmakers, and Brockton Shoemakers. But wait, we’ve just begun: The Pueblo Steel Workers, Des Moines Undertakers, Mayfield Clothiers, Peoria Distillers, Oil City Refiners, Borger Gassers, Wausau Lumberjacks, Providence Clam Diggers, Welch Miners and the Blackstone Barristers. Who can ever forget the Kalamazoo Celery Pickers?

The races of mankind? Why not? We have many fine entries. Besides the overdone, and rather generic, “Indians,” consider the Dublin Irish, Terre Haute Hottentots, Memphis Egyptians (“Keep your eye on the ball, and walk like an Egyptian!”), Canton Chinamen, Baton Rouge Cajuns, Pawhuska Osages, Syracuse Onandagas, Edmonton Eskimos, Havana Cubans, and Laredo Apaches.

Theology? Ponder the Salem or Wichita Witches, Des Moines Demons, and Macon Brigands taking on the Los Angeles Seraphs, Lufkin Angels, and St. Paul Saints.

Tired of mundane Red Sox and White Sox? Here’s a veritable hosiery store of attire, including the Dublin Green Sox, Abilene Blue Sox, Amarillo Gold Sox, Reno Silver Sox, and the cryptically named Miami Sun Sox and Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

Think Charles O. Finley was egotistical? All he ever named after himself was the A’s mule. Consider the Omaha Rourkes, Auburn Boulies, Springfield Dunnmen, Duncan Uttmen, and Flint Halligans.

And not just teams had nicknames. Whole leagues did:

Pony (Pennsylvania-Ontario-New-York), Kitty (Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee), Mint (Michigan-Ontario), Three Eye (Illinois-Iowa-Indiana), Sally (South Atlantic), and, my personal favorite, Mink (the long-gone Missouri-Iowa-Nebraska-Kansas League).

Then there was the just plain inexplicable – the Regina Bonepilers, Yakima Pippins, Wilmington Blue Rocks, Norfolk Mary Janes, Longview Cannibals, Lincoln Treeplanters, Houston Babies, and Springfield Foot Trackers. And the winner in the least imaginative category is. . . the Bangor Bangors.

 

David Pietrusza is working on a book about the Canadian-American League.

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