I’m sure it’s partly due to having grown up in a region that happens to do it pretty unanimously, but my favorite sort of sports team namesakes have always been the ones that are named for whatever blue-collar industry the region is most known for.
The Brewers are named for What Made Milwaukee Famous. The Packers are named for Indian Packing Company (later absorbed by the ACME Packing Company). Even the Badgers are named for the lead miners who first settled in Wisconsin in the 1820s (who “lived like badgers” in tunnels burrowed into hillsides).
The one exception is the Milwaukee Bucks, but they were at least named for a game-hunting pastime that is popular in the area, and not my least-favorite type of team name, which is just some kind of predatory animal that may or may not have any actual connection to the team’s location (Detroit Tigers, for example).
With this in mind, I’d now like to present the definitive ranking of all 30 MLB teams by namesake. All namesake origins were gleaned by reading the Wikipedia entry for each team. I have separated the namesakes into various “groups,” patterend after the groups used by the Westminster Kennel Club.
Definitive MLB Team Rankings by Namesake
Group 1 - Regional Industry (Working Group)
My favorite grouping, these are teams whose namesake draws from some allustion to the industry the city is historically known for.
1st Place: Milwaukee Brewers
Named for the city’s association with the brewing industry. The mascot is a lederhosen-wearing brewery worker who slides into a barrel of beer when the team hits a home run. Bonus points for even the corporate-named Miller Park being on theme.
2nd Place: Kansas City Royals
Named after the “American Royal” livestock show, rodeo and barbeque competition. Ranks high because of the adorably “county fair” feel of the name’s origins.
3rd Place: Houston Astros
Named for Houston’s involvement in the US space program. That’s just cool.
4th Place: Seattle Mariners
Named for the prominent marine culture in the city of Seattle. A nice, blue-collar feel.
5th Place: Texas Rangers
Named for the law enforcement agency of the same name. Last place because “we have a police force” is a weaksauce thing to name your team after.
Group 2 - Ye Olde Base Ball (Sporting Group)
These teams have names which harken back to the 1800s origins of the game. They might not have much to do with the city the team is located in, but they’re fun just because they serve as a reminder of the lengthy history of America’s Favorite Pastime™.
1st Place: Pittsburgh Pirates
Originally the Pittsbugh Alleghenys due to their proximity to the Allegheny river, the team officially adopted the Pirates nickname in 1891 after the American Association accused the team of acting “piratical” by poaching a player from the Philadelphia Athletics (although the player they “stole” had been left off the Atheltics’ official roster, and the Alleghenys were never officially found guilty of any wrongdoing by the league).
I was ready to put the Pirates much lower on this list due to the seemingly generic nature of this name, but learned the origins in the process of researching for this post, which much more fun than it would be if they had just named themselves the Pirates because “pirates are cool,” or whatever. Bonus points for the use of the old-timey “piratical” terminology.
2nd Place: Los Angeles Dodgers
Contrary to popular believe, this name has nothing to do with the draft. Named after a nickname for 1930s pedestrians in Brooklyn who had to “dodge streetcars.” This would lose points due to not having any relevance to the city the team plays in now, but the idea that “streetcars” were notably unique to the team’s city at the time it was named is so fun that it gets bumped up a couple spots.
3rd Place: Oakland Athletics
Named for the amateur “Athletic Club of Philadelphia,” where the team was originally located.
4th Place: New York Mets
Named for a nickname of the New York Metropolitans, an American Association team from the 1880s. Ranks a little lower for being essentially one of three teams whose name basically means “we are from New York City.”
5th Place: Philadelphia Phillies
Named for a nickname the team made official in 1890, before which the team was the Philadelphia Quakers. Ranks low because it’s so unimaginative.
6th Place: New York Yankees
Originally the Highlanders, the team officially adopted the “Yankees” nickname in 1913. Also essentially just means “from New York City,” ranks lowest because screw the Yankees.
Group 3 - Regional Generic (Hound Group)
These teams have namesakes which refer to local geography or wildlife.
1st Place: San Diego Padres
Named for the Spanish term for the Franciscan friars, who founded San Diego. I like it because it’s the opposite of a try-hard namesake. When I think of “friars,” I think of little old guys with bald spots wearing sack-cloth robes, not intimidating athletes.
2nd Place: Minnesota Twins
Named after the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Ranks high because of the adorable old logo of the two personified cities shaking hands.
3rd Place: Baltimore Orioles
Named for the official state bird of Maryland. Scores above the other bird teams because it’s the state bird and not just a bird who lives in the area but also a bunch of other areas.
4th Place: Toronto Blue Jays
Named for the bird which is indigenous to the region, although not the official bird of Ontario.
5th Place: Miami Marlins
Named for a the species of fish which is indiginous to the region.
6th Place: Colorodo Rockies
Named for the mountain range.
7th Place: Tampa Bay Rays
Originally named “Devil Rays” after a species of manta ray, now simply refers to sunshine. As the Devil Rays, they would’ve been in the “regional but trying too hard” group, but since it’s now just “Rays” and meant to evoke groovy sunshine good times, it makes it into this group.
8th Place: Washington Nationals
Named for the city being the nation’s capitol, as well as the team being in the National League, after the Montreal Expos moved in 2005. Pretty unimaginative, as it’s like half a degree removed from just being the name of the city.
9th Place: Los Angeles Angels
Named for the English version of the name of the city they play in. Comes in last because it’s so unimaginative.
Group 4 - Totally Generic (Terrier Group)
These names really bear no connection to the team or to the place they play. These are the “I named my dog ‘Fudge’ because it’s brown” of team namesakes.
1st Place: Chicago Cubs
Officially adopted a nickname given by the Chicago Daily News in 1907, before which they were confusingly also the Chicago White Stockings (though the two teams were in unaffiliated leagues at the time). In this group because there doesn’t really seem to be any particular reason for the Cubs nickname, other than that Chicago newspapers needed to distinguish between the two “White Stockings” teams, and bears are not unique to the Chicago area.
It is nice that the city’s NFL and MLB teams are on a joint theme, but the football team moved to Chicago 14 years after the Cubs officially changed their name to “Cubs,” so it’s hard to give the Cubs credit for that.
2nd Place: Chicago White Sox
Named because they wore white socks. They were the White Stockings until 1904, when they officially adopted the “Sox” spelling often used in newspaper headlines at the time.
3rd Place: Boston Red Sox
Named because they wore red socks. Previously the Boston Americans, they used the same spelling as the White Sox when the team was renamed in 1907.
4th Place: Cincinnati Reds
Named because they wore red socks. They were officially the Red Legs and the Red Stockings before changing to “Reds” in 1959.
5th Place: St Louis Cardinals
Originally the Brown Stockings, renamed to the Cardinals, for the bird, in 1900. The state bird is the bluebird, however. Relegated to this group because, while cardinals are technically indigenous to the area, they are also indigenous to basically the entire continent, and South America too. Cast a less-wide net, y’all!
Group 5 - Regional Trying Too Hard (Herding Group)
These are teams who have at least some connection to the place they play in, but whose names are the sort of thing a group of elementary school students would come up with to try to sound tough. As George Carlin would say: “Remember, these are my rules. I make ‘em up.”
1st Place: Arizona Diamondbacks
Named for the Western diamondback, a rattlesnake native to the region. I was expecting there to be more teams in this group, but since the Devil Rays are now just the Rays, they were bumped into the generic regional group.
Group 6 - Generic Trying Too Hard (Toy Group)
These are subtly distinct from the “totally generic” group in that they have no connection to the place the team plays, plus they’re annoyingly aggressive.
This category is much more common among NFL teams, who are much more predisposed to stupid “badass” posturing than MLB teams in general.
1st Place: San Francisco Giants
Named for the mythical creatures.
2nd Place: Detroit Tigers
Named after Bengal tigers, from India. Which have no connection to the city of Detroit, as far as I can tell. They share a name with Bugs Meany’s gang of “tough 14 year olds” from the Encyclopedia Brown series of books.
Group 7 - Racist (Non-Sporting Group)
Did I say the group of random predatory animals was my least favorite? That’s because I blocked out even counting this group.
While neither are as blatantly offensive as the Washington NFL team, they’re still both incredibly lazy names whose iconography is problematic and we’d all be better off if they just changed their names.
The fact that there were once Native Americans living where the teams now play is not unique to any given area of the country, and the origins of the team names were both essentially “started as a nickname by racists in 1910 because there was a single Native American guy on the team at the time.”
Named for a term for Native American warriors. Fans do “the chop” incessantly whenever they’re in the postseason, which is bad optics when it’s a stadium full of non-Native Americans. Get a different thing, guys. Atlanta was founded as the intersection of the Western and Atlantic railroads, and is now home to the world’s busiest airport. Something relating to it’s global status as a “transport hub” seems appropriate.
Originally named the Napoleons (or “Naps”) after player/manager Nap Lajoie, renamed to Indians after Lajoie departed the team in 1914. They did just officially retire Chief Wahoo, but that’s literally the least they could do. Change the name, folks. Cleveland is the home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and it’s major industry is healthcare. Plenty to work with.