How MLB Teams Got Their Names: AL Central

The K Zone

A Series by Maddie Marriott and Mike Duffy

Installment #2 by Maddie Marriott

January 9, 2019

Welcome back to your favorite series: How MLB Teams Got Their Names! (*crowd roars*) If you haven’t checked out our first article about the AL West, you can read it here. This series explores the origins of one of a team’s most important distinctions: its name. Today we’ll be looking at…drum roll please…the AL Central! We’ll look at the origins of the names of the Cleveland Indians, the Detroit Tigers, the Chicago White Sox, the Kansas City Royals, and the Minnesota Twins.


The Cleveland Indians

Probably the most controversial of the MLB names, “Indians” has an interesting and somewhat unclear history.  The team joined the AL in 1901, originally known as the Bluebirds, but often shortened to the Blues, for their all-blue uniforms. The players were certainly not fans of this name and after one season they were renamed the Bronchos, a less common spelling of Broncos, after the wild horse.  That name only lasted a year, as  the team was called the “Naps” from 1903-1914 after Napoleon Lajoie, a player-manager for the team. After Lajoie left Cleveland for Philadelphia, the organization wanted a new name.


There is some debate over the true reason behind Cleveland choosing the name “Indians.” They claim it was chosen to honor Louis Sockalexis, the first recognized Native American in the league. Sockalexis played for the Cleveland Spiders from 1897-1899. Unrelated but interesting fact, the 1899 Cleveland Spiders were one of the worst teams, if not the worst, in MLB history, with an abysmal record of 20-134.


After taking a look at the way other players talked about Sockalexis, I have some doubts the name had anything to do with honoring him. His teammate and Cleveland Hall of Fame player Jesse Burkett once said “I haven’t hit over .100 since he [Sockalexis] joined the team […] Wait till I strike my gait and I will make him go back to the woods and look for a few scalps.” There are lots of other quotes like that one and general stories about the racism Sockalexis endured in this article, also linked at the bottom of this page.


Another way to interpret the name choice of the team is not as nice to think about, but in my opinion, the more likely scenario. The name “Indians” provided Cleveland with an opportunity to capitalize on countless race-based jokes, cliches, and images that would promote the team. This is certainly not the only questionable team name in major league sports (I’m looking at you, Redskins). I’ll let you decide for yourselves which is the real reason behind the name, and if it’s time for Cleveland to switch things up.

The Detroit Tigers

Okay, I’m just gonna say it: Major League Baseball is weirdly obsessed with socks. The fact that this article has multiple stories about socks is just strange. Anyway, we’ll get to the first of many sock references in this series in a minute. Detroit’s MLB legacy began in 1881 with the Detroit Wolverines. Some dispute that this name came specifically from the University of Michigan Wolverines name, but it certainly comes from Michigan’s nickname as “The Wolverine State.” The Wolverines remained until 1888 when they were forced to disband due to the low population of Detroit at the time.


Surprise! Professional baseball is back for good in Detroit in 1896. There are two stories describing how the name “Tigers” came to be, and only one has to do with socks. The first story is unofficial, but some believe the name comes from the black and orange (or brown) stockings the team wore. I found some conflicting information about this story, as the name was penned in 1896, but the Tigers didn’t officially wear black and orange socks until the 1920s. You know what they say: Which came first, the team name or the matching socks?


The official story of the Tigers team name comes from the Civil War. The name was chosen to honor the Detroit Light Guard, a military group said to have fought with the “ferocity of the jungle beast.” The Light Guard was held in high esteem in the city of Detroit and some sources confirm the blue color of their uniforms comes from the color of the Union uniform.

The Chicago White Sox

The organization that would come to be known as the White Sox started out as the Sioux City Cornhuskers in Iowa in 1894. Iowa is the corn capital of the US, so that name basically explains itself.


After one year, the team was sold and moved to St. Paul, where they became known as the St. Paul Saints. Information on this team is particularly difficult to find because of the St. Paul Saints organization that still exists today, but all evidence seems to point to the fact that the team was simply named after the city.


The team moved to Chicago in 1900 and took on the name “White Stockings” after, you guessed it, their classic white stockings. The name officially became “White Sox” in 1904, and has remained the same ever since. Apparently, it was common slang in the early 1900s to substitute “x” for “cks.”

The Kansas City Royals

If you read the last article in this series about the AL West, you’ll remember that the Athletics made a brief stop in Kansas City before moving out to Oakland after the 1967 season. MLB gave one of the four expansion teams set to begin play in 1969 to the newly vacant Kansas City.


The origin you’re probably thinking for the team name is incorrect, because the Royals are named after good old-fashioned cows. The American Royal was a livestock show held yearly in Missouri beginning in 1899. This name was chosen to honor the enormous livestock industry that powered Missouri at the time after it was submitted in a name-the-team contest.


The Minnesota Twins

The Twins were born out of the already existent Washington Senators in 1961. Eagle-eyed readers might notice that the same can be said for the Texas Rangers from my previous article. This move from Washington to Minneapolis occurred ten years before the next incarnation of the Senators team moved out of D.C. and to Arlington. I’ll admit, as a Phillies fan, it brings me an unreasonable amount of happiness knowing Washington D.C. had two failed franchises in ten years, even if it was almost sixty years ago.


The Twins are named after Minneapolis and St. Paul, the “twin cities” in Upper Midwest Minnesota. This name gives a sense of identity to fans from St. Paul, even though their city didn’t make it in the team’s name.


If you want us to continue this series, let us know in the comments or on any of our social media accounts. Once again, the first installment is linked here. You can find The K Zone on Twitter or on Instagram.

If you want to check out some more of my writing, my articles about Sixto Sánchez, Odúbel Herrera, and the 2018 NL Cy Young Race are all linked here.  Check out all of The K Zone’s great content in the Article Index.

All credit for images goes to original owners.


Detroit Tigers: Why Are the Tigers the Tigers?




  1. Ian Joffe says:

    I think your primary disagreement with the author is over the Western and American leagues. Today’s AL started out as a minor league system, “The Western League. The teams listed joined the WL in the years from the article. The WL then became the AL in 1901, which is where the dates you listed come from.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Wow, your sense of early MLB history really sucks!

    The NL’s Cleveland Spiders were a completely different franchise! Due to ownership shenanigans, their best players (including Burkett and Cy Young) were “traded” to the St. Louis Perfectos (renamed the Cardinals the next year) for the 1899 season, which led to that horrific record and Cleveland being one of four NL teams to be contracted after that season.

    Cleveland then became a charter member of the American League in 1901 known as the Blues, then the Bronchos in 1902, followed by the Naps beginning in 1903…

    The Detroit Tigers were also a charter member of the AL in 1901, NOT 1896.

    The Chicago White Sox were likewise an AL charter member in 1901 (not 1900). I have no idea where you came up with those Cornhusker and Saints teams, since they aren’t even listed on Baseball-Reference! Even if they were, they’d have no connection to Chicago or the White Sox, anyway.

    By the way, you forgot to mention that appealing to both of the twin cities is why they use the state name of Minnesota in their name.

    The Royals’ name is very interesting, though. I had no idea about that. I’d like to see more of this, but please do better research.


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