Yesterday, I wrote a preview of the series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cleveland Indians in which I did not once use the latter team’s actual nickname, because the team’s nickname isn’t as good as what it could be.
In the Dead Ball era, the formal nickname of Cleveland’s American League baseball team was the Naps, named after Hall of Fame second baseman Nap Lajoie. After Lajoie left the team, the team adopted the nickname “Indians”, ostensibly in “honor” of deceased Cleveland Spiders outfielder Louis Sockalexis, purportedly the first Native-American player in Major League Baseball history, who was heckled with racist taunts from fans during his playing career.
CBS Sports writer Jonah Keri, in light of persistent controversy about the appropriateness of using the nickname “Indians”, one which has inspired the infamous Chief Wahoo logo which the team and MLB have been phasing out for years and which will be eliminated before next season, has taken to referring to the team as the “Cleveland Lindors”, in honor of one of the team’s best players, shortstop Francisco Lindor. Personally (and I say this as a white man, so you absolutely should not care about my opinion on the matter), I don’t love the “Indians” nickname, though in comparison to, say, the nickname of Washington’s NFL team, it’s understandable why other battles are being fought instead.
But honestly, the Cleveland Lindors is so cool. Every team in baseball should do this.
To reiterate what I said yesterday–who care about the cardinals? Not the Cardinals, but the cardinals? The St. Louis Cardinals were nicknamed the Cardinals in 1900 because of their uniform color, not because it holds any significance to St. Louis or to baseball or to anything besides literally just the color red. It’s not a “bad” nickname (there’s nothing problematic about it, so it’s really not worth complaining about), but it is one which isn’t really worth preserving for me. Most Cardinals fans become fans because of regional ties–you were from the St. Louis area, or the Midwest, or your parent(s) were Cardinals fans and you just went along with it.
And if you chose the Cardinals not due to regional factors, it probably wasn’t because you just really like the bird or the color. It was probably because of Stan Musial, or Bob Gibson, or Ozzie Smith, or Albert Pujols. And what better way would there be to honor the glorious history of the St. Louis Cardinals than by naming the team after its iconic players?
I propose to you an alternate timeline in which St. Louis’s baseball team, a team with no particular history in 1903, decides to follow the lead of the Cleveland Naps and name its team after an esteemed player. Although the 1903 Cardinals did not have a player of Lajoie’s caliber as a baseball player nor as a lookalike for Taxi Driver-era Robert De Niro (of course, fans at the time were not familiar with De Niro, nor taxi drivers, nor in most cases films), so the initial return isn’t all that satisfying, but it will get good, and once Cleveland foolishly abandons this wonderful naming convention, it will give St. Louis’s National League baseball team a unique identity.
- 1903–St. Louis Donovans: Veteran Patsy Donovan was the team’s best player by Wins Above Replacement (which, of course, didn’t yet exist for over a century after this, but he was a widely accepted very good player in his time) in 1902. He was also the team’s manager, so, yeah, it was going to be difficult for somebody to argue against naming the team the Donovans. Unfortunately, as Donovan went to the Washington Senators the next season, the first player name as team nickname was short-lived.
- 1904–St. Louis Kids: Donovan was replaced by Hall of Fame pitcher Charles “Kid” Nichols as manager, and he was also immediately the team’s most valuable player, going 21-13 with a 2.02 ERA in 317 innings pitched in 1904. Nichols was 34 and coming off a two-year hiatus from professional baseball, so his success was hardly assured, but he proved valuable in 1904. 1905 gets a bit awkward, as he was waived early in the season due to poor pitching performance, but it’s not like this 55-99 team was dying to honor any of its current players, so the name stuck through the 1905 season.
- 1906–St. Louis Homers: Outfielder Homer Smoot was a good hitter on the 1905 team, despite the team’s overall struggles, and while the team could have easily been called the St. Louis Smoots, the aesthetic value of the St. Louis Homers was too much to resist. Unfortunately, Homer managed zero homers in his time as team namesake, and generally struggled throughout what turned out to be his final season in St. Louis.
- 1907–St. Louis McCloskeys: With many of the team’s best players having departed following the 1906 season, manager John McCloskey appointed himself as team namesake to little objecteion because, at this point in St. Louis history, nobody cared much about the NL club, as fewer than 2,500 fans attended home games on average. McCloskey remained the team’s manager through 1908.
- 1909–St. Louis Rogers: New manager Roger Bresnahan, a veteran catcher who later made the Hall of Fame, acted as player-manager and led the team to, well, not success, but less failure.
- 1913–St. Louis Konetchys: First baseman Ed Konetchy had been a solid contributor since 1907 and finally, in what turned out to be his final season in St. Louis, got the honor of the team name.
- 1914–St. Louis Slims: Slim Sallee was one of the most successful pitchers of the era for the franchise, and earned the team nickname with a 19-15, 2.71 ERA season in 1913. Sallee would remain in St. Louis through 1916, a season during which he was sold to the New York Giants.
- 1917–St. Louis Hornsbys: In his proper rookie season of 1916, the at-the-time third baseman was easily the team’s most valuable player, and looking to the future, St. Louis decided to go with the player whom they hoped would guide the team out of the basement in the National League. Hornsby, of course, went on to become the greatest second baseman in Major League history, one of the (conservatively) four best players in franchise history, and led the team to its first World Series title in 1926, his final season in St. Louis, as player-manager.
- 1927–St. Louis Flashes: After the controversial trade which sent Rogers Hornsby to the New York Giants, St. Louis named itself after one of the players acquired in the trade, Frankie “The Fordham Flash” Frisch. Frisch was a pivotal player for two World Series champions and remained in St. Louis as a player through 1937. Although Frisch remained in 1938 and was offered to continue managing his own namesake team, he acquiesced to his 1937 teammate as a reward for his successes.
- 1938–St. Louis Medwicks: The 1937 Triple Crown-winning, MVP-winning outfielder was an obvious choice. Joe Medwick only remained for parts of three more seasons, but he was a very successful player for the first two.
- 1941–St. Louis Mizes: Johnny Mize had emerged as a superstar first baseman and was about as obvious of a namesake as Joe Medwick had been. Because Branch Rickey dealt Mize to the Giants the next season, however, the name only stuck for one year.
- 1942–St. Louis Moores: Terry Moore assumed team nickname status following three consecutive All-Star, MVP vote-getting seasons as a good hitting, better fielding center fielder. Although he missed three full seasons from 1943 through 1945 due to military service, St. Louis maintained their nickname during the war years, dedicating their 1944 title to those fighting overseas. The team name was maintained through 1948, Moore’s final season in Major League Baseball.
- 1949–St. Louis Musials: By 1948, there was no question who the best player on St. Louis was, and following a season in which Stan “The Man” Musial won his third National League MVP award, he became the team’s namesake. Even though he technically missed getting namesake honors during his absolute prime, he maintained the title for fifteen seasons, a record.
- 1964–St. Louis Boyers: Third baseman Ken Boyer was a six-time All-Star, a seven-time MVP vote recipient, and a five-time Gold Glove winner when Musial acquiesced the team nickname crown, and Boyer lived up to the title by winning National League MVP and helping to lead the 1964 team to a World Series title. Boyer was 33, so that his reign as team namesake wasn’t particularly long wasn’t a huge surprise, but he gave the team two good seasons.
- 1966–St. Louis Gibsons: Bob Gibson had his proper breakthrough in 1965 (that he didn’t make his second All-Star Game until his age 30 season is hard to believe today) and was unquestionably the team’s ace. He, of course, continued upon this path and became unquestionably the greatest pitcher in the history of the franchise.
- 1976–St. Louis Brocks: Lou Brock was no longer a superstar by 1976, but as he approached Ty Cobb’s career stolen base record, he was the biggest attraction. For the fourth time in five nicknames, the nickname lasted until a player’s retirement, as Brock retired a Cardinal in 1979.
- 1980–St. Louis Hernandezes: Despite the somewhat clunky wording of the team name, first baseman Keith Hernandez was a logical candidate for the honor. He had split the 1979 NL MVP award (and modern metrics show him as clearly superior to Willie Stargell) and, at 26, figured to be a major part of the franchise going forward. He did help in a World Series victory in 1982, but he was unceremoniously traded to the New York Mets in 1983.
- 1984–St. Louis Smiths: In a rare honor, the franchise honored arguably their two best players (as well as a current alternative rock band that I am absolutely positive that zero players on the St. Louis baseball team were listening to) with the team nickname–left fielder Lonnie Smith and shortstop Ozzie Smith. Lonnie only remained with St. Louis for a season and a half, when he was traded to the Kansas City Royals (ironically, he helped defeat the team bearing his name in that season’s World Series), but Ozzie remained through the 1996 season, an impressive run.
- 1997–St. Louis Rays: Ray Lankford had been the player of the decade for St. Louis, and with Ozzie Smith now retired, the center fielder became the main attraction for the team. However, an issue arose following the lone season of the St. Louis Rays–the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were coming into existence. So the franchise was diplomatic in order to avoid confusion.
- 1998–St. Louis Lankfords: Although there were some rumors that the team would opt for naming itself after freshly-acquired first baseman Mark McGwire, Big Mac declined the honor, deeming it unfair to Ray Lankford, who had paid his dues and was losing his honor for no good reasons. The name remained through 2001.
- 2002–St. Louis Alberts: In retrospect, it was pretty obvious that St. Louis assumed Albert Pujols was going to be great–a 21 year-old rookie making the Opening Day roster and being assigned a single-digit uniform number suggests expectations. And after the 2001 season in which Pujols debuted and finished fourth in MVP voting, he was clearly the next in line.
- 2012–St. Louis Molinas: There was no shortage of reasonable candidates, but Yadier Molina was an important leader on the team and elevating him to team namesake was the next logical move. Molina had already been around since 2004, but now it looks like he may outlast his 2012 teammates in St. Louis: the only other remaining players are Adam Wainwright (who is a free agent after 2018), Matt Carpenter (who is under contract through 2019, with a team option for 2020), and Edward Mujica (who is in AAA and barely counts, and also was gone for four seasons). The naming worked well, and as was the case for the twenty-one other team namesakes, St. Louis had a living monument to its baseball heroes.