There have been 1,609 professional baseball team nicknames (more or less, anyway) since the game first started doing that professional thing 151 years ago, so it should not be a real agonizing soul search for The Cleveland Baseball Team to avoid rebranding itself as The Cleveland Baseball Team. I mean, that’s been done, and nobody you know has gone out and bought a bunch of Washington Football Team gear except as a cruel and pointed joke aimed toward their friends.
So let’s start this by saying there is a clear and unambiguous money chase going on here. The New York Times has reported, and confirmations have followed, that the team’s nickname is about to be replaced after 105 years, and the idea that principal owner Paul Dolan and his dad Larry have finally seen the error of original owner Charlie Somers’s ways is so much arglebargle. They saw it when it was first brought to the town’s attention years ago, claimed to initiate a review of the name in 2015, and phased out the racist caricature of a logo over the last couple of years, but only now has it dawned on them to change the name. The only logical conclusion is that they have finally found a way to turn their shame to cash.
But they also lack a ready-to-sell nickname to twin with the we’ve-seen-the-light announcement and thus will make the same ridiculous mess Danny Snyder made of his own branding mea culpa in Washington. When he finally decided to ditch his team’s ancestrally rancid nickname, all the logical alternatives had been tied up by speculators and opportunists in hope that Snyder would be willing to pay out his eyes to get one of them. It is how the WTFs (and he can have that one for a $25,000/year Defector subscription taken out in perpetuity) have become the towering anonymities they are today. The towering, risible, embarrassing, absurd, non-moneymaking, NFC East–leading anonymities.
The field for reinvention is theirs, and all they really need to do is avoid even more offensive nicknames, of which there are many in the game’s history. For a $25,000/year subscription we can send you five of them in an unmarked envelope to show how much research we’ve done on baseball nicknames, and why we have no muscle tone other than in our necks. So no, there will be no belated credit to the better of the Dolans (I mean, cousin Jimmy owns the Knicks, so the bar to clear is actually a transoceanic cable) for doing what needed to be done decades ago.
It would be nice if the Dolans at least pledged fealty to a few rules, like refusing to use any nickname that ends in a Z, or worse, two Zs. The double-zed has been done, mostly badly, and it will look like the team is made up entirely of narcoleptics. An S was good enough for Napoleon Lajoie, and by damn it will be good enough for now.
It would also be helpful if they avoided Cleveland landmarks or historical figures. Nobody wants to go see the Flats play, the Rock And Roll Hall Of Famers, or the Modells.
And surely no names that lend themselves easily to a mascot. Mascots are Satan’s Yoda plush dolls, and people who like mascots are not people at all, but flesh-eating bacterioids from Planet X.
Everyone seems to like “Spiders,” from the 19th century megalosing Cleveland team of the same name, but that surely means someone has already thought to buy the trademark and will hold up the Dolans with the same schadenfreude-powered glee that Snyder has enjoyed.
But there are possibilities here, and because the Dolans do not have a new name already picked out, the following suggestions all have baseball antecedents:
• Aristocrats: Not necessarily the Calumet Aristocrats of the Copper Country Soo League in 1907, but the movie of the same name, which was simply 80 minutes of comedians telling the dirtiest joke ever with the same punchline.
• Commies. We considered Caucasians in tribute to Bomani Jones and his legendary hoodie that mocked the Clevelands and incensed his ESPN overlords in 2016, but we feared trademark complications. We went instead with the shortened nickname of the Decatur Commodores, who eventually had to eschew the popular contracted name after the Cold War because people feared they were going to re-commission the Franklyn P. Adams poem and call it “Stalin to Lenin to Marx.”
• Fever Germs, for the 1893 Memphis team from the Southern League. It’s in monumentally bad taste given the times, which should not come as a new sensation to the Cleveland club. It is, however, damned topical.
• Ginners, the nickname of a Cleveland farm team in the East Dixie League in 1936. An homage and an alcoholic’s toast to the past, all at once.
• Infants, for the old Cleveland franchise in the Players’ League, the first player empowerment league ever. It began in 1890, and ended some time later in 1890, thus giving you an idea of how hard this player empowerment thing is to do.
• Jeeps. Not the vehicle, but the shapeless, mute orchid-eating character in the old Popeye cartoons. Plus, it helps that the same character is the mascot at Ohio’s own South Webster High School, and will offend only other mute, orchid-eating cartoon characters. Remember, you cannot be sued by fictional characters any more than you can be sued by the dead. I know. I checked with HR.
• Maumees, after the old Toledo minor league team that eventually became the Mud Hens. It’s a lift, but maybe not legally actionable.
• Old Taylors, after the old 1915 Ohio State League team and liquor maker. Hey, Milwaukee has the Brewers, so why not a scotch? Author’s note: You can get a bottle of their 18-Year-Marriage for five grand, in case you just came into stupid money, like the Dolans have.
• Poison Oaks, a California League team in 1894 which is perfect since, like the current team, it irritates on contact and causes blisters for days.
• Undertakers, from a Western League team in Des Moines team in 1903, which changed its name after 1902 from Midgets (another abandoned offensive nickname) and changed it again in 1904 to Prohibitionists. Our great-grandparents knew how to do this a lot better than we do.
• Washerwomen. Unbelievably, this team began 1899 as the Auburn Prisoners and moved in midseason to BECOME the Troy Washerwomen. On reflection, maybe our great-grandparents sucked at this after all.
In any event, the Cleveland Clevelands or whatever the hell they’re going to be called are about to infest us with their new hats and jerseys and $245 hoodies and $600 warmup jackets and wrap it all up in nascent decency. But nicknames only work in certain climes and under certain circumstances, so if they don’t do any better than Anthracites, Divorcees, Gunslingers, Normals, Rosebuds or Vigilantes, we will be sorely vexed, and mightily bored.