This past Monday new Houston Astros owner Jim Crane put an end to the speculation by stating officially that the club would not be changing their name for 2013.  Crane had earlier mentioned the team was considering a name change for their shift into the American League.

“We received strong feedback and consensus among many fans, and we will not change the name Astros. The Houston Astros are here to stay”.

While the Houston Astros won’t be changing their name this wouldn’t have been the first time a club has done a complete nickname change in the Major Leagues, it’s actually happened several times, and today we’ll take a look at just a few of the many nickname makeovers baseball has seen through the years…

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS -> TAMPA BAY RAYS, 2008

In 1995, shortly after announcing the name of their new expansion club, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays faced protests and threats of boycotts. Why? Because their new name contained the word “devil”.  Despite the fact that the club was named after a small, stingless fish “so peaceful humans could pet them”, and not Beelzebub, a religious group in the Tampa Bay area still made their extreme displeasures known.  It got so bad that shortly after announcing the name, Devil Rays owner Vince Naimoli held a phone poll asking fans if they wanted to change the name from Devil Rays to Manta Rays.  The preferences of the 50,000 fans who participated in the phone poll were “virtually even between the names” but Devil Rays won out in the end and the name remained.

After all that effort to keep the devil in Devil Rays the media and fans almost exclusively referred to the team as the Rays once they finally took the field 3 years later, in 2001 the logos and uniforms dropped all references to “Devil Rays” and simply read either “Tampa Bay” or just plain “Rays”.

Prior to the 2008 season the team made the switch to “Tampa Bay Rays” official, shifting identity focus to Florida’s rays of sunshine rather than the fish. A devil ray patch was added to the uniform sleeve to honour the teams original namesake.

HOUSTON COLT .45s -> HOUSTON ASTROS, 1965

Those same Houston Astros contemplating a name change earlier this week already played this game a few times in their history, the first time back in 1965 when a merchandising dispute between the Houston Colt .45s and the Colt Firearms Company forced the team into making a change.  Colt Firearms was cool with the name remaining the same but not if they were going to profit off of merchandise featuring it, which is quite a main point of having a name and logo in pro sports.

With Houston quickly gaining recognition as Earth’s Space City the name Houston Stars was briefly considered before team owners eventually the settled on “Astros”.  A second name change to “Houston Diesels” was also considered when the Astros moved out of the Astrodome and into Enron Field prior to the 2000 season but like what happened this week tradition won out and the Astros name lived on.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS -> WASHINGTON SENATORS, 1955

Originally known as the Washington Senators the team was officially re-branded as the Washington Nationals in 1905 during a period of frequent nickname changes throughout baseball.

The new nickname never fully caught on with fans or the media with many still referring to the club as the Sens or Senators for over 50 seasons after the official name change.  The club didn’t do much to steer the public and press in the correct direction, “Nationals” was removed from team uniforms after only two seasons and the dual nicknames was acknowledged in official club media guides.

Shortly after the death of longtime owner Clark Griffith in 1955 the Nats officially changed their name back to the Senators, just in time for the club to be relocated to Minneapolis to become the Minnesota Twins in 1961.

CINCINNATI REDS -> CINCINNATI REDLEGS, 1954

When U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy began his communist witch-hunt of all things “red”, the Cincinnati Reds pre-emptively distanced themselves from having any association with the communist party by changing their longtime nickname from Reds to Redlegs before the 1954 season.

During this period the familiar “REDS” was removed from the inside of the wishbone-C which adorned the front of the team jerseys leaving a blank “C” similar to the insignia on the team caps.

After eight seasons, and with order restored in the United States, the club removed its “‘legs” and were once again known as the Cincinnati Reds, as they still are to this day.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES -> PHILADELPHIA BLUE JAYS, 1944

After a long, horrible stretch of losing seasons and several forced ownership changes, new Philadelphia Phillies owner Bob Carpenter felt the club could use a shakeup.  Carpenter turned to his fan base for a contest to give the team a new name to help boost the troubled franchise.

The Phillies were flooded with over 5,000 letters suggesting 634 different names and from those entries Carpenter settled on “Blue Jays”. The winning entry was submitted by Mrs. John Crooks who picked the name because “it reflects a new team spirit… is colourful in personality and plumage… a brilliant blue the Phillies could use decoratively and psychologically”.

As you can imagine this news received a lot of backlash, not only from fans, who pleaded the team retain their name, but also from students at John Hopkins University. John Hopkins’ athletic team, also known as the Blue Jays, were none-too-pleased that baseball’s worst team was stealing their moniker.  In an attempt to appease everyone Mr. Carpenter announced that the team would not officially be known as the Blue Jays, but only as an “unofficial” nickname for the Phillies.

The team would end up changing their primary colours to blue and white and wore a blue jay patch on their sleeves for the next two seasons while the media used the new unofficial nickname more often than you would have imagined.  After the 1945 season the blue jay was removed from the sleeve and the name was rarely referenced by the Phillies ever again.

BOSTON BRAVES -> BOSTON BEES, 1936

Coming off a season in which they finished 38-115 and were such a mess in ownership that it caused Babe Ruth himself to retire from the game of baseball, the Boston Braves needed some way to erase those memories and start to move forward on rebuilding their team.

The new Braves owners decided a new name was in order and solicited suggestions from the fans.  Thousands of fans sent in a total of 1327 different nicknames, “starting with every letter of the alphabet except X, few of which appropriate for a baseball club”. The list was paired down to 26 names and a vote conducted by 25 writers (and one cartoonist) picked Boston Bees as the new name, chosen mainly because it was short enough to easily fit in newspaper headlines. Runner-up names included Boston Blue Birds, Boston Beacons, and yes, even Boston Blue Jays.

During the 1941 season Bees stockholders held a vote ordering new team president Bob Quinn to dump the Bees nickname and re-instate Braves as the official team name. Seventy-one years and two franchise shifts later that Braves name is still in use today by the Atlanta Braves.

Check out Chris’s sports logo and uniform website at SportsLogos.Net, or follow him on Twitter at @sportslogosnet

Comments (18)

  1. What about Indians/Spiders (or were those never the same franchise)?

    I’ve always thought that switching to Spiders would be a way for them to get rid of Indians without losing face (if they’re worried about that).

    • The Spiders aren’t officially linked to the Indians, they were contracted out of the National League after the 1899 season just prior to the American League starting up… what remained of the team turned into a team which turned into a team which eventually turned into the Indians but I believe historically/officially they are considered separate franchises.

      I tried to focus on the most recent franchise name changes for this piece, maybe in the future I’ll tackle some of the earlier ones – Brooklyn Bridegrooms, New York Highlanders, Boston Doves, Cleveland Naps, etc.

  2. So in 1993 the World Series was between the “Blue Jays” and the Blue Jays?

  3. I can imagine this would be a much easier article to write for the Bigs, and not MiLB. Being from the Syracuse-area, I’ve witnessed the Chiefs-Skychiefs etc. transformations my whole life.

  4. Further confusing things in DC, some papers referred to the Senators as the “Washington American club” (from 1902: http://bit.ly/zL7wXw) and it’s official corporate name was the “Washington American League Base Ball Club” (from 1958 http://bit.ly/AA9jNq)

    • That was common practice in the media in the early 1900′s, especially in two-league towns – the Cubs would commonly be referred to as the Chicago Nationals for example, not an official name but that’s how they reported back then.

      Partially why I was glad the 2005 Washington team chose Nationals as their name, almost like a nod to how things were done 100 years prior.

      • Yup, thought it was odd that the American Club would nickname themselves the Nationals. As for 2005, I was really hoping they’d bring back the Grays.

  5. I never knew Boston had two teams at the same time. Why did they move to Atlanta?

    • The Braves actually moved to Milwaukee first, they were the first team in the Majors to relocate in over 50 years, started a tidal wave of franchises shifting around. They had several seasons of poor attendance and decided to shift out to where their minor league team the Milwaukee Brewers (a different team from the current Brewers) played

      Several cities had two teams throughout the first half of the century,New York (which had 3 teams), Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and St. Louis both had a team in the American and National Leagues.

      Fun fact no one ever mentions these days, Toronto almost ended up with two expansion teams in 1977 – shortly after the American League voted to grant an expansion team to Toronto the National League held a vote to expand to both Toronto and Washington for the same season. They fell two votes short of a unanimous decision, which was required to approve it.

      • Another fun fact, regarding 2 team cities: I had read – I’m pretty sure in the companion book to Ken Burns’ ‘Baseball’ – that the original Baltimore Orioles (franchise that eventually became the Yankees) were supposed to be an AL team in Pittsburgh, but the Pirates owner held too much sway and wouldn’t allow it. Baseball history would be much different if he had.

    • They actually moved to Milwaukee in 1953 before Atlanta in 1966. The move out of Boston was due to shrinking attendance.

      Otherwise useless trivia fact which served me well on Monday: the Braves franchise is the only MLB franchise to have won a World Series in three different cities.

      Lots more details about the history of the Braves franchise on the Atlanta Braves’ Wikipedia entry.

  6. The Athletics/A’s switcheroo makes this list, I think. It’s just another variation at a different stage of evolution than the Braves/Bees. There’s also the name switch between Highlanders and today’s Bronx Bombers, the Yankees, if memory serves me correct. And don’t even get me started on the Angels of some place on the West Coast. Otherwise, it seems most name changes came about via franchise relocation.

    Enjoyable article. GM

  7. I clicked on the link to the Philly Blue Jay patch, and at the bottom of the site was an ad to buy a Roy Halladay jersey. Can you imagine if Philadelphia does another retro jersey day this season, and Halladay pitches in a Blue Jay jersey? Lots of people said it would never happen again!

  8. I’m assuming the Cincinnati Redlegs moniker was inspired by The Cincinnati Red Stockings baseball club name. Looks like the team was founded in 1866…one of the first, if not the first all professional team. Their claim to fame is a perfect 65-0 season in 1869….the best in baseball history WHICH IS PRETTY COOL! Its too bad the team had to relinquish a great historical name like that to something as ridilculous as McCarthy-ism.
    Great Article Creamer!!!!!

  9. what about the Los Angeles Angels of anaheim. thats a pretty big name change from anaheim angels/california angels?

  10. Do you have any information about why “During the 1941 season Bees stockholders held a vote ordering new team president Bob Quinn to dump the Bees nickname and re-instate Braves as the official team name.”
    Do you know the date of this meeting?
    Do you have any primary sources showing the proceedings of that meeting or newspaper articles published around that date?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *