While first base as a position has shallowed in recent years, the addition of designated hitters to this list made it one of the most talented. It’s highlighted by solidified stars a the top, and underrated breakouts at the tail. Boston DH J.D. Martinez, to whom much of the team’s 2018 World Series campaign is attributed, top the chart. Martinez’s bat was one of the most potent this decade, as shown by his 170 wRC+ from a .330 batting average and 43 home runs. The Cardinals’ newest import, Paul Goldshmidt, ranks second after putting having his sixth consecutive season of at least 130 wRC+ and fifth out of six seasons with at least 140 with the Diamondbacks last year. Goldy narrowly edged out the comparable Freddie Freeman, who earned the third overall spot slashing .309/.388/.505 in 2018, helping lead his Braves to a division title. 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton took a step back after being traded to the Yankees for 2018, but he still swatted 38 home runs while staying healthy for the second year in a row. #5 first baseman Joey Votto also lost some power in 2018 (which Ian wrote about here), but the walk machine maintained a 17.3%, leading to his .417 OBP. The Twins’ newest addition, slugger Nelson Cruz, comes in at the six spot. Cruz has hit at least 37 home runs for five years in a row now, and has maintained an on base percentage above .360 in four of the past five. Khris Davis has easily overtaken his homophone counterpart in this category, after setting a career high with 48 bombs last season and, perhaps even more impressively, having a batting average of exactly .247 for the fourth year in a row. The eighth spot on the list went to Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who finished 2018 with a .376 OBP, which is actually his lowest in five years. Coming in ninth was Dodgers breakout Dodgers breakout Max Muncy, whose .263/.391/.582 line led him to 162 wRC+. Despite never being a top prospect, he paced for a 6 fWAR full season, and hopes to build on his success. Rhys Hoskins broke onto the scenes in 2017, and continued to impress last year with a 34 home runs and a very respectable .354 OBP, earning him the final spot on our list.
With Spring Training coming to an end as the teams are all gearing up for the grind of the regular season, the New York Mets are coming off one of their more active offseasons in recent memory. New General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen has gone out and worked hard to make this team a “win now” contender after a miserable 77-win season last year. The question is, has Van Wagenen really done enough to make this a playoff team?
While the Phillies undoubtedly had the best offseason in the NL East, adding four All-Stars including superstar Bryce Harper for 13 years, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the Mets had the second best offseason within the division, and one of the better offseasons in all of baseball.
The Mets did a good job to fill and upgrade that void, signing Justin Wilson to a two-year, $10 million contract and Luis Avilan to a minor league contract. While Wilson has had control problems the last couple years and Avilan has had some health issues, both are proven quality options that allow the team to not have to rely on the talented but unproven Daniel Zamora for a left-handed reliever. Zamora will now likely start the year in the minors and act as a solid depth option rather than the only lefty in the bullpen. The Mets made this upgrade without breaking the bank, too, as they practically got a steal by snagging Avilan on a minor league contract.
So far, the only free agent the Mets have resigned is backup catcher Devin Mesoraco, who is really just depth and isn’t even a lock to make the team out of Spring Training with the presence of Travis d’Arnaud and the new addition of Wilson Ramos.
And according to a report from Anthony DiComo of MLB.com, Mesoraco has requested his release rather than being sent to Triple-A Syracuse. And he may retire if the Mets do not grant his wish. If the Mets lose him, it’s no big deal, because d’Arnaud and Nido are both superior options as a backup.
Update: According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Mesoraco has been placed on the restricted list and gone home to Pittsburgh, meaning that he is retiring after the Mets failed to grant him his release, as he would rather not play in Triple-A.
Another player who ultimately ended up electing free agency at the end of November was utility infielder Wilmer Flores. Flores ended up signing with the Diamondbacks for one year and $4.25 million with a club option for 2020.
While Flores was a fan favorite for many, in large part due to his crying on the field and walkoff home run two days later in the Mets’ 2015 division title run, losing him wasn’t too much of a burden either. Flores was never a great player, posting a career high fWAR of 1.7 in 2015 and regressing down to 0.5 in 2018. He was essentially a league average bat without a true defensive position. He was awful at third base and shortstop, below average at second base, and not a good enough hitter to be playing first base regularly. With the emergence of Jeff McNeil, there really wasn’t a spot for Flores anymore.
This trade was a good sign of Van Wagenen being aggressive early, but it also raised some concerns as many fans were not nearly as happy about the trade as others. The positives of the transaction were that they got rid of the bad contracts of the not-so-good Bruce and Swarzak. They also obviously acquired one of the best second basemen in baseball, albeit one who’s 36 and has five years and $120 million left on his contract, as well as a hard-throwing 24-year-old who was arguably the best closer in baseball last year.
The negatives? The Cano contract is still quite large, and could get ugly fast if Cano declines. They also had to part with their first-round pick from the 2018 draft, Jarred Kelenic, who has a serious amount of upside and potential and could develop into a real star in this league. Dunn was also a really high upside starting pitcher, so his loss hurt a lot as well. Bautista was just a throw-in, and is still very raw and unpolished, but even he still has potential with a triple-digits fastball.
This trade really set the tone for what Van Wagenen is trying to do with this team. His goal seems to be to create a short-term “win now” contender, sacrificing long-term success to build a team that can compete and win in the near future. This was an extremely aggressive move, as the Mets took a huge risk by unloading two majorly talented prospects for a strong but arguably light return.
Shortly after the trade, the Mets claimed right-handed pitcher Kyle Dowdy off waivers from the Cleveland Indians in the Rule 5 Draft. The 26-year-old is a hard thrower with a fastball in the mid-90s and a strong cutter in the upper-80s. While he has an impressive arsenal, the results haven’t quite matched up with the stuff, as he had held a 5.15 ERA across Double-A and Triple-A last season. After posting a 5.56 ERA and 1.94 WHIP this spring, Dowdy’s roster status is not exactly set in stone.
Update: Dowdy was claimed by the Texas Rangers, so that last bullpen spot appears to be going to righty Tim Peterson, who made his MLB debut last year and posted a 6.18 ERA in 22 appearances, imploding after a strong start.
While the Mets took another risk by claiming Dowdy, who ended up having to be sent to Texas with his quality stuff but unproven results, they made a high-profile signing just the next day to bolster their bullpen with the signing of old friend Jeurys Familia.
Familia spent his whole career with the Mets until he was traded midseason last year to the Athletics for Will Toffey, Bobby Wahl, and international pool money. But Familia, who loves playing in New York as it’s all he’s ever known, was thrilled to come back and re-sign for three years and $30 million. With an elite closer in Diaz and a dominant setup man in Familia, the back end of the bullpen was beginning to look scary, aiding a bullpen that was the team’s biggest weakness in 2018.
The Mets capped off a big month just four days later by signing free agent catcher Wilson Ramos, another huge addition to offense, providing a strong right-handed presence with some pop in a position of weakness for the Mets in recent years.
The Mets went into the offseason with the catcher position as one of their top priorities, behind only bullpen depth. They went after three top catchers on the market, making offers to free agents Ramos and Yasmani Grandal, as well as having discussions with the Marlins about J.T. Realmuto. Ultimately, they settled on a two-year, $19 million contract with Ramos after Grandal reportedly declined their offer of four years and $60 million. While Grandal is likely the slightly better catcher, Ramos isn’t much worse and came on a much better contract than what the Mets were looking to give Grandal. While Grandal would have been nice, Ramos was ultimately a win for the Mets as they acquired a top-ten catcher in all of baseball.
Rolling into the new year, the Mets did not slow down, making three trades in the first week of 2019.
The first was the acquisition of center fielder Keon Broxton from the Brewers for prospects Adam Hill, Bobby Wahl, and Felix Valerio. None of the prospects they traded were huge names or anything, but it was still odd to trade some guys with upside for essentially another Juan Lagares.
The second trade they made almost immediately after was trading catcher Kevin Plawecki to the Indians for minor leaguers Walker Lockett and Sam Haggerty. While Plawecki wasn’t great and declined defensively in 2018, this return still felt light for a guy who is a better hitter than the average Major League catcher and had become a solid contributor. The chances of Lockett or especially Haggerty ever helping the Mets win games is very slim.
However, it did make sense for the Mets to trade one of Plawecki or Travis d’Arnaud after Ramos was signed. D’Arnaud is a much better pitch framer and a better offensive player when healthy, but has always had trouble staying on the field. Ultimately, the Mets chose to take the risk of d’Arnaud staying healthy to be the primary backup over Plawecki.
Davis murdered Triple-A pitching last year, but has struggled immensely in his limited time in the Majors to the tune of a 60 wRC+ in 181 plate appearances. He’s a strong guy who hits the ball hard but can be beat easily by a good fastball. He’s also not particularly great at any defensive position, although he does have some versatility.
In some ways, Davis is similar to what Flores was, except that Davis hasn’t even proved that he can be that yet. And while the Mets didn’t give away any superstar prospects for him, they definitely overpaid, particularly with the inclusion of Santana, a 19-year-old second baseman who was among the Mets’ top 20 prospects and has a .329/.426/.465 batting line in three minor league seasons. He definitely has some upside, and to throw in two decent prospects along with him just for a mediocre, unproven bench bat was quite baffling. It looks even worse when you see that a similar player to Davis such as Matt Davidson was still available on the free agent market.
The Mets continued to bolster their bullpen with the signing of Justin Wilson in late January, as previously discussed. To make room for Wilson on the roster, they designated former first-round pick Gavin Cecchini for assignment after he missed most of the 2018 season with a foot injury. Somewhat surprisingly, he cleared waivers and was sent outright to the Syracuse Mets.
Among many other transactions, the Mets made a lot of small minor league signings to bolster the depth that they so severely lacked last season and which led to their demise.
The Mets bolstered their outfield depth with not just the acquisition of Broxton, but with minor league signings like Gregor Blanco and Rajai Davis. Not that these guys are much good or anything, but it at least means that in case of an injury there will be no more Kevin Kaczmarski or, God forbid, Tim Tebow type players getting called up to the Majors.
The Mets also improved their infield depth, most notably with the signings of Lowrie and Adeiny Hechavarria, and of course the Cano trade. Lowrie’s presence moves Todd Frazier to a bench role, creating substantial depth at the third base position. Unfortunately, both are hurt right now, but both have begun activity of some time and should not be out for a drastically long period of time.
Hechavarria is a weak-hitting shortstop with a good glove who could replace Amed Rosario if he happens to get hurt. They also already have Luis Guillorme to fill that role, and after a strong spring, he appears to have won that job over Hechavarria to begin the season. And there’s always Jeff McNeil, who can play third, second, and corner outfield.
Finally, to wrap up the offseason, the Mets made the move fans had been begging for, signing ace pitcher Jacob deGrom to a five-year, $137.5 million extension after a historic season in which he posted a 1.70 ERA and won the NL Cy Young Award.
Overall the Mets have built a much more versatile and deep team than in years past. There will be no more room for shenanigans like John Mayberry Jr. batting cleanup or James Loney starting at first base. This is a real competitive team that is going to give the other three competitive teams in the NL East a run for their money. With the new additions along with stars such as Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Brandon Nimmo, and Michael Conforto, this team could be magical and full of talent on both sides of the ball. Don’t count out the Mets this year, because this is a scary group of players who are hungry to bring a title back to Queens for the first time since 1986.
For the most part, the American League was easier to try to predict than the National. The Astros and Indians should each win their divisions easily. Boston and New York will have a tough fight, but I really like the Yankees’ Paxton acquisition and given a bounceback by Sanchez and full season out of Judge, I think they have the upper hand. That rounds out the four AL superpowers, leaving no other clear option. I chose the Rays to the take the final spot because of my love of bullpenning, and continued belief that the strategy remains underrated. It could legitimately shave 100 runs off the pitching staff, and will make up for a less-than-spectacular offense. The Red Sox, however, will easily defeat Tampa in the wild card game, and move on to face Houston, who will out-pitch Boston to the championship series. Meanwhile, the Indians and Yankees will get locked in a 5-game series that New York just barely edges out. While the Yankees may continue to display strength in the CS, they are still defeated by the Astros, who return the World Series for the second time in three years.
The easiest division in the senior circuit to predict was the West. The Dodgers are one of the deepest teams I have seen, as assets like Max Muncy, Joc Pederson, and several pitchers continue to get underrated. While others have had trouble predicting the NL East, I think the Nationals will run away with it. It’s true that there are four teams that may contend to make the playoffs, but the Nationals have both the best hitting (even without Harper), and by far the best pitching (Scherzer, Strasburg, and the underrated Corbin could make a historic group). Early season injuries appear to be a potential issue, but I still expect a strong bullpen and better-than-Chicago offense to carry the Brewers to a division title over the Cubs, although neither team will win too many games. The Cubs pick up the first wild card spot, and are met by the Phillies, who out-pitch the Braves and out-hit the Mets. While I have the Cubs over the Phillies for the regular season, the Cubs lack a strong ace, and will be defeated by Nola in the wild card game. But, the Dodgers make quick work of the Phillies in the next series. The Nationals will also rather easily bring down the Brewers’ weak rotation to move past the DS (yes, I know I say this every year and yes, I know the Nationals never actually succeed). While Washington does give L.A. a run for their money, the Dodgers’ depth ultimately leads to D.C.’s defeat in the Championship Series, leading Los Angeles back to the World Series for the third time in a row.
Justin Verlander outduels Clayton Kershaw to win game one of the 2017 rematch World Series, as does Gerrit Cole to Walker Beuhler in game two. The Dodgers, however, pull through to win games three and four, tying the series at two-a-piece. The two teams split games five and six, leading to a rubber match (sounds familiar?), but Houston’s bullpen outlasts the tragic Dodgers’ once again in game seven, as the Astros become World Series champions for the second time in three years, and the Dodgers are handed yet another loss, in a kind of cruel Shakespearean/Sisyphusian crossover.
The American league has a clear top three. Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Jose Ramirez all put up WAR’s over 8.0 last season, and should repeat similar feats again in 2019. Trout is the best of the three, and will be making a handsome sum of money for the next 12 years because of it. The NL is much less top-heavy in both teams and individual players. I ended up going for Harper as MVP, mostly because I couldn’t find anyone who I think is better. Goldschmidt, a similar player, will finish second place with power, some steals, and a high OBP for St. Louis. I expect a lot of regression out of Christian Yelich, who had unsustainable BABIP, HR, and fly ball numbers in 2019, but I sneaked him in at third out of the probability that he does not regress as expected.
Another recent extendee, Chris Sale, will win the AL Cy Young award with an incredibly strong K/BB ratio. Verlander has been extremely consistent and just had his best season yet at 36 years old. Bauer’s ceiling narrowly brings him ahead of Verlander’s teammate Gerrit Cole for the third place spot, and his FIP from last season suggests a mid-two ERA could be coming once again. In the NL, Max Scherzer is a safe pick to carry the award after turning in his fourth straight season with an ERA under 3.00. Jacob DeGrom was incredible last year, and while some regression is expected, he will still be stellar after regressed numbers. Finally, the best pitcher of this generation, Clayton Kershaw, will win third place in voting, and that could go up if he can stay healthy.
I went with the easy pick for AL Rookie of the Year, and while I don’t guarantee Vlad’s success like many optimists are trying to do, he certainly has the best chance at it. If he gets brought up early enough, Rogers also has a chance to be an elite hitter, especially in Colorado. Cash and Counsell are similar in their masterful bullpen use, and that, in addition to the lineup manipulation both will need to make the playoffs, earns the two managers awards. Gary Sanchez is the best catcher in baseball, and will rebound to prove so this season after lucking into a dismal 2018 BABIP, and Josh Donaldson will also return to old form with his power and walks. Finally, I chose two pitchers: Bieber and Pivetta, to take out breakout player honors. They put up 3.42 and 3.30 xFIP’s in 2018, respectively, and should move towards those numbers, maybe even with improvement from experience, in the coming season.
This is my favorite part of the annual predictions column. I won’t be right on all or most of these, but I think all of them have a real chance at happening, and with each I’m trying to make a statement about a team or player.
Trout, Betts, and Ramirez put up the highest combined WAR in history out of three AL hitters. The three are all truly spectacular in all five categories, and will likely play more total games than last season.
Every member of the Dodger’s closing day rotation – that’s five of Kershaw, Beuhler, Ryu, Maeda, Hill, Stripling, and Urias – put up a better ERA than any other pitcher in the NL West. All seven have sub-three ERA potential, and the only strong other candidate I can think of outside of the team is the elderly Zack Greinke.
Matt Carpenter leads the NL in OPS. Carpy is known for his consistent on-base prowess, and hit 36 home runs last season.
Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole combine for a 12.5 K/9, an extreme strikeout feat that looks possible based on their 2018 numbers.
The Indians have four starters with ERA’s under 2.80. While the rotation doesn’t have quite as much depth as the Dodgers’, there are still a plethora of ultra-talented arms (Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer, Clevinger, Bieber).
Anthony Rendon and Brian Dozier combine for 12 WAR for the Nationals. Rendon is an easier call to make up his share, as he remains possibly the most underrated player in baseball, and Dozier should bounce back to all-star form.
Jon Gray finishes with an ERA under 3.30. He manages to pitch in Coors, breaks the Rockies’ pitching curse, and becomes an extremely valuable asset.
The AL has four 100 game winners and four 100 game losers. There are some seriously good (Astros, Indians, Red Sox, and Yankees) and seriously bad (Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Jays) rosters in that league.
Less than 10 closers get 25 saves. Teams are finally starting to realize that the best pitcher should face the best batters.
Bullpenning becomes a largely accepted strategy in MLB, as shifting did a few years ago, and low-budget teams must start to search for the next big strategic advantage.
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Images Attributed to:
Forbes Matt Carpenter
With the MLB offseason in full swing, the goals of certain teams are starting to be revealed. The New York Yankees seem to be going on a shopping spree, whereas the Seattle Mariners are committed to a full tear down. However, the Los Angeles Dodgers are yet to answer questions about their motives. After completing a trade in December that sent Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, And Kyle Farmer and cash to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Homer Bailey and two prospects (Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray), one free agent came to mind for Dodger fans: Bryce Harper. It made a lot of sense, clearing out cap space by getting rid of Matt Kemp’s contract and eventually releasing Homer Bailey’s, and making more room in the roster for a potential outfielder.
However, even after clearing up cap space, the Dodgers still only have about $30 million available. While that is a lot of money, it may not be enough to sign Bryce Harper to a mega-deal worth more than $300 million. Additionally, the Dodgers recently signed veteran outfielder AJ Pollock, who was a major part of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ great record to begin the season, before he dealt with a long term injury. Even though Pollock is no Bryce Harper, he serves as a very talented center fielder to add to the Dodgers’ dangerous lineup. The Dodgers may also move to the trade market, as adding two prospects from the Reds have given them possible trade capital. Rumors have surfaced earlier this offseason about potential trades for Cleveland Indians pitchers, whether it be Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer. However, Spring Training is around the corner, and the window for trades is closing. With that in mind, there may be even greater plans in store, as a free agent signing may have been saved for next year when the contracts of David Freese, Rich Hill, and Hyun-Jin Ryu are set to expire. It makes sense, because Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Gerrit Cole, and Chris Sale are all free agents.
Even if the Dodgers don’t end up signing Bryce Harper, or if they cannot pull off a big trade, they still have a stacked roster to make another World Series push. The NL West is only getting weaker, and the overall competition in the National League is less impressive than the competition in the American League. However, the strength and performance of Corey Seager, who was out most of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery this past May, is key in the Dodgers’ performance this year. If he is back to his full strength, the Dodgers lineup will be even more of a threat. And having utility players like Kike Hernandez and Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger who can play center field along with Pollock, and young outfield prospect Alex Verdugo, there will still be plenty of outfield depth. The Dodgers are definitely approaching another contending season as an NL powerhouse, but do they need another big offseason move to get them over the hump, and bring home a World Series title to the city of Los Angeles?
Ever since Jayson Werth dawned his Chewbacca-esque beard, players have been growing them in droves. Players like Jake Arrieta and Jose Bautista come to mind when I think of those with the most powerful facial hair in the game, but does it matter in terms of ability? Does having a beard make you better at hitting a baseball?
In order for someone to answer that, they would have to look over nearly every MLB team’s active roster and handpick the important stats for comparison, but who has that kind of time? Lucky for you, I do. After spending a strenuous seven hours looking through major league players, I have determined the average stats, both regular and advanced, that each group of hitters produces. (maybe determining pitching stats will come later?) For qualification, I considered the size of the beard… and that’s basically it. If you have to look at it and think “does this count as facial hair?” the answer is no. Let me put it this way…
If it looks like it’s just a weird shadow or possibly leftover food, then no. If it looks like a high schooler doing his best, I’ll give it to ‘em.
Now that we have the very rigid qualifications out of the way, let’s get into some speculation. Personally, as a bearded individual myself, I believe that having a beard will marginally improve one’s play. My theory goes beyond personal bias. Those with facial hair have more testosterone, and the thicker the hair the more the testosterone. Because testosterone is associated with muscle growth and even competitive nature, it would not be far fetched to assume that facial hair as a result of more testosterone would lead to a more driven and athletic ball player. While obviously, nearly all ballplayers can grow a beard, the ones who truly embrace it are the subjects of my test. Below I have compiled the results of my findings.
For the most part, it’s about even between the two, but the clean-shaven players have a slight advantage in games played, home runs, RBIs, runs, and a decently substantial advantage in WAR coming in .3 above their bearded peers. The averages table breaks down below:
However, this does not tell a complete story due to a 6 game difference in games played. Because of this, it is important to factor in the stats for a full season over 162 games:
While there is still an advantage in RBI’s, the other season-long stats seem to normalize themselves a lot closer to each other, and the two types of hitters seem to be a lot closer in value until you get to WAR. In terms of WAR, there is still a large lead for the clean-shaven players. While conventional numbers show they are roughly the same an entire .3 lead in WAR is enough for me to say that players who are clean-shaven are in fact better ball players.
So yes, contrary to my original opinion and hope, having a beard most certainly hinders one’s ability to play baseball, and K Zone CreatorMike Duffy says, “That’s why the Yankees always win,” although maybe the reason the clean-shaven players had an advantage is that the Yankees players are shaven and due to the level of talent they have they skew the data. Perhaps maybe bearded players are more precise in the way they carry out their daily lives, and baseball is a precision sport, but this is difficult to speculate on. It may be impossible to determine the reason for the advantage, but either way I know I will be shaving before my season starts.
Your favorite series is back and better than ever with its third installment. If you’re new to this series, check out the first two installments here: AL West and AL Central. In this series, we take a look at what makes a team who they are: their name. Today we’ll be checking out the five teams in the NL Central Division: The Chicago Cubs, the Cincinnati Reds, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Chicago Cubs
The organization now known as the Cubs started out as the Chicago White Stockings. Interestingly enough, there is no relationship between this team and the current White Sox- today’s White Sox took the name after this organization dropped it in 1889. I’ve also read that the team wore shoes of “white goatskin,” which doesn’t really scream “baseball uniform” to me, but I guess the late 1800s was a weird time for fashion, as evidenced by the huge dresses and weird hats. Anyway, that name stuck until 1889, when the team became known as the Colts due to the young ages of their players. They were called the Colts until 1897, when they became known as the Orphans for a short time after Cap Ansen left the team, leaving them without a manager.
The Cubs that Chicago fans know and love were known by that name starting in 1902. The name was first used by a newspaper journalist, again the result of the youth of the team, as well as their new manager, Frank Selee. Some still used their previous names, but the short and sweet “Cubs” caught on rather quickly, and by 1907, it was the official name of the team.
The Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati teams have been known as the Red Stockings since professional baseball originated in the city in 1869. We all know how baseball players feel about their socks, so I bet you can guess where this name came from. This specific Red Stockings organization formed in 1882, and they quickly became known as the Reds, the shortened name being placed on uniforms by 1911.
The Reds changed things up for a while in the 1950s to make sure they wouldn’t be associated with Communism. During a time when everyone thought everyone else was a secret Communist thanks to Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin, Cincinnati took steps to ensure that baseball, the most American of activities, would not come under any suspicion from the government. From 1953 to 1961, Cincinnati’s baseball team was known as the Redlegs, a small but important distinction. Interestingly enough, the team kept the large “C’ in their logo during the so-called Red Scare until 1955, which, although seemingly inconsequential now, would have probably been enough to arouse suspicion at the time.
The Milwaukee Brewers
The franchise now known as the Brewers was born in Seattle as the Pilots in 1969. The Pilots derived their name from Seattle’s history with William Boeing, aviation pioneer who founded the Boeing Company in 1916. The Boeing Airplane Company was soon a staple of the Pacific Northwest, including the city of Seattle, and came to dominate industry in the region.
After a single unsuccessful season in Seattle, the team came under new ownership and moved to Milwaukee. Breweries were a big deal in Milwaukee at the time, so like many other teams, the Brewers were named after their new city’s leading industry.
The Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates’ name actually stems from a battle of the Pennsylvania teams, at the time known as the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (I know, I don’t like that spelling either) and the Philadelphia Athletics. For those of the readers that are not great with geography, Pittsburgh’s original name, the Alleghenys, is a reference to their stadium’s location in what was then known as Allegheny City and the Allegheny River that runs through Western Pennsylvania.
After the 1890 season when a few Alleghenys left the team to join a Pittsburgh franchise in a different league, the team signed several players from their rival, the Philadelphia Athletics. The Athletics were not happy, to say the least, referring to the Alleghenys actions as “piratical.” The nickname stuck and many referred to the team as the “Pirates” starting during the 1891 season. By the time they reached their first World Series in 1903, they were formally known by the Pirates, which has a much nicer ring to it than Alleghenys.
The St. Louis Cardinals
If I had a dollar for every time socks showed up in one of the articles in this series, I’d have enough money to buy my own franchise and give it a more creative name. Professional baseball started out in St. Louis as the Brown Stockings, named after their brown socks. The impeccably named Brown Stockings had a rough year in 1898, going 39-111 and losing their stadium to a fire. (Side note: their owner was also kidnapped for outstanding debts, but I think that’s a story for another time.) Looking for a fresh start, they went with the Perfectos. Shoot for the stars, I guess.
Under new ownership, the team was looking for yet another rebrand since Perfectos was, as Aimee Levitt put it, “sort of lame.” The official story of the Cardinals’ name says that a reporter, William McHale, overheard a woman in the stands at one of the Perfectos’ games commenting on the beautiful “cardinal” shade of the players’ uniforms. He used that name in his column, and the city approved. The name was widely used by the players and fans alike by the end of the 1900 season. The bird in the logo was not adopted until the 1920s.
If you like this series and want to see more installments, let us know in the comments or on any of our social media accounts. You can follow The K Zone News on Twitter here, or on Instagram here.
If you want to read more of my writing, my articles about Sixto Sánchez, Odúbel Herrera, and The 2018 NL Cy Young Race are linked here. Check out all of the great content the K Zone News has to offer in the Article Index. The links to the first two articles in this series are in the first paragraph of this article and can also be found in the Article Index.
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.
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A team’s name is a vital part of its identity. The name shapes almost everything about the team’s image, including merchandise, uniforms, and their beloved mascot. While names can share a similar importance across the league, how each team got its name is quite different. Whether it’s from the origin of their players or the staple of the city, the origin of each MLB team’s name is uniquely interesting.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the origin of the names of AL West teams: The Houston Astros, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Oakland Athletics, the Seattle Mariners, and the Texas Rangers.
The Houston Astros
Houston’s baseball team was originally called the Colt .45’s when they were founded as an expansion team in 1962. This name came about after the owners of the new team hosted a name-the-team competition that allowed people of the city to submit their own ideas for the name of the first Texas baseball team. Colt .45, a gun used in the fight for the American West, won out because of its historical significance to the city. William Neder, the man who submitted the winning name, wrote, “The Colt .45 won the west and we will win the National League.”
The Colt .45’s changed their name to the Astros in 1965 to represent the huge aeronautics and space industry in the city. Houston, at the time called Space City U.S.A., was the center of aeronautics activity in the United States. The spring training headquarters for the team was even located at the Cape Kennedy Launching Pad. Furthermore, the front office hoped that the name change would get rid of the stigma that Texas was a land of “cowboys and Indians” and help bring the team and the city into the 20th century.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The history of the “Los Angeles” team name is…complicated to say the least. The name “Angels” came from the city’s former Pacific Coast League (PCL) team. “Angels” has stuck as the team name, but the city name in front (and behind) has changed multiple times. They started out playing in Los Angeles, sharing a stadium with the Dodgers, also from Los Angeles. The team moved out of that stadium and into Anaheim Stadium in 1966. They then appropriately changed their name to the California Angels. Thirty years later, the team was renamed the Anaheim Angels after the city put in an additional thirty million dollars to the renovation of their stadium.
Unfortunately, the name changes didn’t end there. In 2003, The Walt Disney corporation sold the Angels to Arte Moreno. Two years later, in 2005, it was announced that the team would be renamed “The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.” Yep, that’s two cities in there. People everywhere were confused, and the people of both Anaheim and Los Angeles were upset. Moreno claimed the name change was part of a marketing plan to extend the Angels’ fanbase into urban Los Angeles. The people of Anaheim felt cheated, especially since the city had paid for the stadium about a decade earlier. The city of Anaheim sued with the support of Los Angeles to keep the name from changing, but eventually lost the case, and the mouthful of a name has remained ever since.
The Oakland Athletics
The Oakland Athletics started out in 1901 as the Philadelphia Athletics. They were named after the Athletic Baseball Club of Philadelphia, a local organization founded in 1859. The Athletics remained in Philadelphia until 1954 when they moved to Kansas City. Just thirteen years later, in 1968, the club moved to Oakland. The name “Athletics” is often shortened to “A’s” which can be found on much of the team’s merchandise and some of their uniforms. The name has been called the “oldest name in baseball.”
The Seattle Mariners
The Mariners were actually not the first Seattle-based baseball team. The Seattle Pilots were formed in 1968, but after one unsuccessful season, the owners sold the team to a Milwaukee car dealer who moved the team to his home town. After the state’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the league for failing to field a team in Seattle as promised, new teams were created in Seattle and Toronto.
The Seattle Mariners were created as an expansion team in 1977. Once again, a name-the-team contest was held to pick a name for the team. The name “Mariners” was submitted by multiple fans, the most compelling argument being, “I’ve selected Mariners because of the natural association between the sea and Seattle and her people, who have been challenged and rewarded by it.”
The Texas Rangers
The organization originally began as the Washington (D.C.) Senators in 1961. After a noticeable lack of success in the number of seasons after their creation, low attendance and therefore, low revenue, contributed to poor play. The team relocated to Arlington, Texas after the 1971 season.
After the move, the team needed a new name. “Rangers” was chosen by team owner Robert Short, honoring the Texas Rangers Division, a Texas-born law enforcement agency founded in 1823. The agency was originally founded to track down and punish a band of Native Americans, but evolved into the state police force.
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