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These are the names of actual baseball players on the Texas Rangers roster in 2015:

Rougned (Roogie, Stinky) Odor

Stolmy Pimentel

Keone Kela

Tanner Scheppers

Okay, I have to admit, “Stinky” Odor is one of the best nicknames of all time, right up there with Johnny “Ugly” Dickshot. Well done.

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cincinnati redsChicago Cubs – There was a time when baseball was America’s pastime and the sport held the allegiance of all right-thinking people, but football has since supplanted it in the hearts of an increasingly conservative populace. In a more innocent age, Cubs were a perfectly acceptable mascot, but football demanded more machismo, and so it was that Chicago’s team became the Bears, in an effort to one-up the beloved baseball team. Bears were big, burly, and tough, while Cubs–or worse still, Cubbies–were derided as less manly. Of course, after the sexual revolution of the 1970s, the irony of big, hairy men who rolled around in the grass together and were prone to patting each other on their butts being seen as exemplars of heterosexual toughness became apparent. The Cubs, meanwhile, remain simple adorable losers, with little sexual identity whatsoever.

Milwaukee Brewers – During Prohibition, Milwaukee, which had long been known as a centre of beer production, struggled mightily. Looking to save their businesses, the breweries diversified their products to include colas and root beers. Al Capone took advantage of the situation and arranged for the smuggling of illicit booze into Chicago from nearby Milwaukee. Always eager to conceal his criminal operations behind a veneer of legitimate business, Capone owned a company that supplied public school cafeterias with soft drinks. In 1927 his entire operation was almost brought to its knees when alcohol meant for speakeasies was accidentally shipped to grammar schools, resulting in mass drunkenness amongst Chicago’s 5 to 8-year olds. Capone managed to shift the blame to the Milwaukee breweries, which were shut down for the remainder of Prohibition, and the entire city, by extension, was vilified as a den of iniquity. In Chicago, ever since, a “Milwaukee Brewer” has meant someone who serves alcohol to minors.

St. Louis Cardinals – Catholics were once viewed with as much suspicion in America as Muslims and Scientologists are today. In fact, the main targets of the Ku Klux Klan after African Americans were Catholics. St. Louis, for a time the biggest city on the Frontier, and the Gateway to the West, once had two baseball teams: the Browns and the still-extant Cardinals. Much like Rangers and Celtic in Glasgow, the teams garnered support from opposite sides of the spiritual divide. The pious and unprepossessing Browns were the choice of dour Protestants, while the Cardinals, as much as they tried to hide their papal allegiance behind their bird mascot, were Catholic to the marrow. For the many born-again Christians who don’t believe Catholics are Christians, the Cardinals still represent a fifth column in the heart of the Mid-West.

Pittsburgh Pirates – At the height of their success in the nineteen-oughts, the Pirates were the preeminent base stealers in baseball, but off the diamond were notorious ladies men, apt to steal your best gal from under your nose. This reputation took a severe hit in the 1970s with the rise to prominence of the homely Kent Tekulve, and was well and truly put to rest with the addition of the monstrously ugly Zane Smith in the 1980s.

Cincinnati Reds – Dirty Commies. Still, twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall? You betcha.

national league eastNew York Mets – In what seems to be a New York tradition, with basketball’s Knicks being short for “Knickerbockers,” football’s Jets having evolved from “Jetsams,” and hockey’s Rangers shortening their name from “Rangerettes” in 1962, baseball’s Mets team name is really the Metropolitans, which is about as hard to fit on a jersey as “Saltalamacchia.” But the full name is also avoided because of its association with the sort of stuffy, pretentious, and pedantic New Yorkers portrayed in Whit Stillman’s 1990 film Metropolitan, who are much more likely to be Yankees fans.

Atlanta Braves – This is the only team name in Major League Baseball with no negative associations. Absolutely nothing offensive here… what’s that? The “Tomahawk Chop”? <cringes>

Philadelphia Phillies – Most people assume that the name “Phillies” is simply a diminutive for the city in which they play, but most people are wrong, so very, very wrong. Philadelphia may be the City of Brotherly Love, but it’s always been a union town, top to bottom. In their early history, the Phillies played second fiddle to the Athletics and struggled to succeed on the field and at the turnstiles. Looking for any edge, while at the same time always trying to keep costs low, the team excelled at locking out any player who even hinted at holding out for more money, and filling their roster spot with strikebreakers. In 1887, the team fielded an entire team of “fill-ins,” who may have been horrible players, but cost very little. The nickname stuck, eventually evolving into “Phillies,” and losing its connection with scab labour.

Miami Marlins – As the nascent United States expanded and sought to exert its control over the North American continent, one of its most frequent opponents were the various Native tribes that predated the arrival of European settlers, including the Seminoles in the area that was to become Florida. Young and inexperienced soldiers made up the bulk of the troops sent to pacify the newly-acquired territory, and they were particularly brutal, especially the infantry, many of whom were accused of zealously bayoneting their opponents, even in cold blood as they kneeled to surrender. Similarly, the modern Marlins baseball team is known to steal signs.

Washington Nationals – Although Washington, D.C. had a long, if not proud, baseball tradition (“first in war, first in peace, last in the American League” aptly describes the futility of the city’s teams), the city had been without a Major League team since the Senators left in the 1970s. Although there was general excitement at the prospect of the return of the national pastime to the nation’s capital, it came at a time of rising xenophobia and protectionism, and many fans were less than impressed that the team chosen to represent Washington would be a foreign import: Montréal’s struggling Expos. The decision to ignore history and name the relocated team “Nationals”–rather than the historic “Senators”–has led many disillusioned fans to decry their team as “Foreign Nationals” and “Immigrants in the Ootfield” (an inaccurate and unfunny attempt to make fun of supposed Canadian accents), particularly when they’ve struggled to win games.

"Come to padre!"

“Come to padre!”

Our ongoing series revealing the forgotten slurs and insults kept alive by Major League Baseball continues with the National League West.

Los Angeles Dodgers – In their original home in Brooklyn, the Dodgers took pride in representing the tougher neighbourhoods of New York, far from the glitz and glamour of Manhattan. Visiting teams got a rough ride from fans and their opponents alike, and a common occurrence was for wallets and other valuables to go missing from the clubhouse while a game was being played. When visiting players started to keep their valuables in their uniforms, the “Artful Dodgers”–in particular the infielders–began picking their pockets when they were on the base paths. Eventually teams started to boycott games, forcing the Dodgers to move to Los Angeles and clean up their image.

Arizona Diamondbacks – It’s surprising that this name was chosen for the 1998 expansion team, since it’s a highly offensive term in this state with so many retirees. A “diamondback” is a Bridge player who reneges on suits, and there have been high profile cases of retribution against them; Arizona also has notoriously lax gun control laws.

San Francisco Giants – In the early days of baseball women were not welcome at games, since the new sport was rough-and-tumble and “too exhilarating” for the “fairer sex.” As baseball gained popularity and respectability later in the 19th century, teams began to loosen the restrictions around women attending games. The New York Giants held out the longest, banning women well past the turn of the century, when budding suffragists labeled the team and its owners as women-haters, and “miso-giants.”

Colorado Rockies – A “rockie” is Scottish slang for people who add ice to their whisky. In the frontier American West, where refrigeration was rare and expensive, “rockies” were believed to be flaunting their wealth, which led to gunfights and lynchings. As the West was won, and Colorado established itself as a centre of wealth in the region, its citizen took on the nickname “Rockies” as a badge of honour. Many years later, the expansion baseball team took the name, unaware of its pejorative past. Ironically, the team has not been known for its wealth, either in talent or payroll, and has reached only a single World Series, being swept by the Boston Red Sox in 2007.

San Diego Padres – Protestant baseball fans in California have long accused the Padres of being owned and supported by a secret cabal of child-molesting priests, a notion given some credence by the selection of the team name in 1969.

YankeesEveryone is familiar with team names in the world of sports that are horribly offensive to one group or another today, in our more enlightened times. An example is football’s Washington Redskins, who are under a great deal of pressure to change their name, since it is seen as an affront to Native Americans. But not all team names are so overtly racist and offensive; some are more subtle or have connotations that are usually overlooked today. In fact, almost every team in baseball has a name that, if its history were known, would elicit just as much shock and opprobrium as “Redskins.”

In an ongoing series, we will examine the history and origin of each Major League Baseball team name. The results might shock you. They will definitely rock you. First up, the American League East.

Toronto Blue Jays – Most people assume the team is named after the distinctive bird, a common sight during long Canadian winters, but the truth is more surprising. In the 1920s, Yugoslavia was a new country and spelled its name “Jugoslavija” on its postage stamps. Slavic immigrants to Canada were commonly referred to as “J” or “Jays” as a way to mock their home country’s spelling, which appeared odd to the Anglo-Saxon establishment of Toronto. Further insult was heaped upon the slur by adding “blue” in front, a reference to the predominantly male immigrants, who had to leave their wives in the old country, and who it was implied had no access to sex, since Canadian women would have nothing to do with them. The term is related to the slang “blue balls” or groinal pain caused by lack of sex. Over time the racist overtones of “Blue Jays” was lost, but the name stuck in the public consciousness, and was bestowed on the expansion baseball team in 1977.

New York Yankees – The term for Americans living in the American Northeast has a long history, but the team was actually named after an early manager’s frequent use of the phrase “yankee my crankee” in his stories about traveling the country in the early years of organized baseball, and anecdotes about his incessant whoring.

Baltimore Orioles – Early pitchers in the area were renowned for their control, and it was boasted that they could throw the ball through an area as small as a “glory hole” at will. “Oriole” is an archaic Chesapeake Bay dialect term for the same.

Boston Red Sox – Stephen Crane famously wrote about blood being a symbol of “the red badge of courage” for soldiers in the American Civil War. Boston baseball teams were already a dominant force in the sport as early as the 1860s, and one of the best teams christened itself “Red Socks” and later “Red Sox” to honour its players who had served bravely in war, and bore the wounds to prove it. But there is a more pejorative meaning, of a soldier who wounds himself on purpose in order to escape duty, and this is the sense which has been used by fans of other teams over the years, suggesting that the Red Sox are weak and cowardly, and lack the heart to win. This has been somewhat mitigated by their three World Series wins since 2004.

Tampa Bay Rays – Although the team is named  the devil ray, a fish common to the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, a “Ray” is also an offensive term which traces its origins to criticism of Ray Liotta, the actor most likely to play characters with his own first name or slight variations. See roles as “Ray,” “Gray,” and “Roy.” The implication is of an actor so stupid he can only respond to his own name, even while filming. Fans in Anaheim and Los Angeles are known to chant “Ray-ay” and shout “Hey, Ray!” during visits by Tampa Bay, in efforts to distract the players, which is held to be uncommonly easy to do.

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