Gasbags To Honey Bugs: Baseball's Nutty Team Names

Jul 24, 2012
Originally published on July 25, 2012 8:52 pm

In 1911, the Missouri State League baseball team in Kirksville — home of the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine — called iself the Kirksville Osteopaths. In 1899, the New York State League included a team based in Auburn — home to a state penitentiary — called the Auburn Prisoners. In 1903, that same New York minor league included a team from Schenectady called the Schenectady Frog Alleys.

Do you see a pattern emerging? In Root for the Home Team, sportscaster Tim Hagerty explores the weirdly wonderful world of minor league baseball's team names. He joins NPR's Robert Siegel to discuss the stories behind some of the most off-the-wall names he encountered.

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Item: In 1911, a baseball team in the Class D Missouri State League played in Kirksville, Missouri, home of the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine. They were called the Kirksville Osteopaths. Item: In 1899, the New York State League included a team based in Auburn, New York, which is home to a New York state penitentiary. They were called the Auburn Prisoners. Item: In 1903, the very same Class B minor league in New York included a team from Schenectady. They were called the Schenectady Frog Alleys.

Do we see a pattern emerging? Well, if you do, you're better than I am. From what I can tell, the universe of minor league baseball team names is a completely loopy place, and it's the subject of Tim Hagerty's funny little book "Root for the Home Team: Minor League Baseball's Most Off-the-Wall Names and the Stories Behind Them." Tim Hagerty, welcome to the program.

TIM HAGERTY: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Now, some of the weirdest names in your book are really old ones, from the late 19th or early 20th century, and I would assume that, say, the 1906 Fresno Raisin Eaters were named rather earnestly. That it wasn't done ironically.

HAGERTY: Yeah. It's funny. Way back when, Robert, there wasn't an official logo or official brand as a lot of these minor league team names, so in some cases, the teams would actually use their city names. There was actually a team in Washington state called the Walla Walla Walla Wallas.

SIEGEL: The Walla Walla Walla Wallas.

HAGERTY: Yeah. And another way that back in the day team names evolved were from the sports writer covering the team. The Sioux Falls Canaries got their team name that way. In the early 1900s, the sports writer covering the team thought their yellow uniforms resembled canaries, so in the newspaper, he began calling them the Canaries, and it stuck.

SIEGEL: I think the state of Kansas may take the prize for the most terrific names - the Wichita Wingnuts, the Wichita Izzies, the Hutchinson Salt Packers and the Iola Gasbags. Why the gasbags?

HAGERTY: The gasbags, from what I understand, had won a championship a couple of years before when they were named the Iola Grays, and they were always boasting their way through the league. They traveled to these other cities, and they'd be bragging that they were the champion, so people started giving them the nickname gasbags. And they said, you know what, yeah, we are. We're the Gasbags.


SIEGEL: Well, what do you find, Tim, is the trend still to come up with retro-ish funny names with unique logos, or are names like the Blue Sox and the Tigers and the Saints making a comeback around the country? What's the trend these days?

HAGERTY: No, I don't think so. I think that the trend is even more unique. Last year, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos debut - the Cincinnati Reds' AA team. The blue wahoo is a type of fish.


HAGERTY: The year before that, the Omaha Storm Chasers debuted in Omaha, Nebraska, poking fun at the weather that they get there. In 2009, the Richmond Flying Squirrels came about in Virginia. So I think we are in a trend now where the wacky are above the rest.

SIEGEL: Well, God bless them, and thanks for talking with us.

HAGERTY: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Tim Hagerty, who is a radio broadcaster with the AAA Tucson Padres in Arizona, is the author of "Root for the Home Team: Minor League Baseball's Most Off-the-Wall Team Names and the Stories Behind Them." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.