Nicknames Veer Into TooMuchville

Baseball has a very long history of silly team names. John-Manuel

Just look at the World Series. In 2016, we really have a team nicknamed the Indians? With that logo?

And minor league team names didn’t just get silly recently. That’s not some modern development; that’s tradition.

The Toledo Mud Hens’ nickname dates back to the 19th Century, as birds that formally are known as American coots, nicknamed “mud hens,” inhabited an area where the ballclub played.

Triple-A International League president Randy Mobley once told me that he uses Mud Hens as his baseline. If a minor league nickname falls below the Mud Hens line in terms of appropriateness, tomfoolery or just plain embarrassment, then it’s probably not great for baseball. But can something like a team nickname be too kitschy, too cute for the minor leagues?

It seems like minor league operators have decided to test that theory more than ever the last two years and particularly this offseason. Minor league nicknames keep testing the Mud Hen Theorem, with the latest examples being among the zaniest, and for me worst, in modern history.

How Low Can We Go?

The new Binghamton Mets (Eastern) nickname, due to be announced after Baseball America went to press, included such candidates as Timber Jockeys, Rumble Ponies and Stud Muffins. All fail the Mud Hen Theorem.

Last year brought the Hartford Yard Goats (Eastern), supposedly a train reference, but a truly awful name that apparently brought so much bad karma upon the franchise that its ballpark wasn’t finished on time and became mired in controversy, keeping the Double-A Rockies affiliate on the road all season.

The Yard Goats have had the last laugh; they rank with the El Paso Chihuahuas (Pacific Coast) among the minor leagues’ most popular merchandise. But I’m confident the name won’t age well.

During the World Series, news broke that the Jacksonville Suns (Southern), who have had that name since 1962, will be changing their name to the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. Somewhere the Bragan family weeps.

Team owner Ken Babby, who bought the team in 2015, used all the marketing buzzwords to describe the move, which tells you just how wrongheaded it is.

“This a high-energy, impactful, bold move,” Babby told the the Florida Times-Union newspaper, ignoring the fact that no one, in normal speech, ever says the word impactful. “The tradition of the Jacksonville Suns is entrenched in northeast Florida. It’s been known and loved.”

But, he may as well have added, who cares, it’s my team now, and I say we’re Jumbo Shrimp.

No one wants to be called a Jumbo Shrimp, most oxymoronic of phrases. The nickname falls into a surprising new trend of naming baseball teams after food, and with the Montgomery Biscuits and Biloxi Shuckers, three Southern League teams will have food-related nicknames. I’m not sure if I want to attend any games in that league, but we’ve got a day’s meals covered.

The bad nicknames aren’t the only problem. The new Carolina League franchise bringing baseball back to Kinston, N.C., will have a totally new name, divorced from the Kinston Indians’ past—which is good considering how truly awful the old K-Tribe logo was.

But now the team will not even carry the city’s name; it will be the Down East Somethings. Options include Eagles (a previous franchise nickname), HamHawks, Hogzillas, Shaggers or Wood Ducks. Many North Carolinians aren’t even sure what part of our fair state gets the Down East appellation, but as a native, I always thought Down East was anywhere east of Interstate 95 that had at least one dilapidated shack within sight, preferably adjacent to a tobacco field.

Look, there are ways to do fun, kitschy and memorable without going overboard. Last year also brought the Savannah Bananas of the summer college Coastal Plain League; that’s goofy but fun, not forced, and Bananas is a word. If they’d been the Banana Hammocks or something worse, it would have veered into TooMuchville, but it didn’t. Matter of fact, the TooMuchville Bananas has a nice ring to it.

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