You might have noticed that Charleston’s minor league baseball team changed its name to the Charleston Dirty Birds last week, causing a minor outrage among those unaware that cheekiness in minor league baseball not only is the rage but is purposeful to sell team merchandise.
So, the community shouldn’t get its collective step-ins in a wad. Why? Baseball still survives in Charleston. Here’s more.
Personally, I’m an old Brooklyn Dodgers and Cincinnati Redlegs aficionado.
I’ve seen our minor league team play under the name of the Charleston Senators, Charlies, Wheelers, Alley Cats and, lately, the West Virginia Power.
None of these names nor the others made a difference. If names would have mattered, the fish-out-of-water Charleston Marlins certainly would have never played here.
For those who missed it, the wacky naming trend and cheesiness started a couple decades ago among minor league teams struggling to survive.
Brandon McClintock compiled a list of unusual names in 2011 that included the Vermont Lake Monsters, Montgomery Biscuits, Fort Wayne TinCaps, Savannah Sand Gnats, Omaha Storm Chasers, Quad Cities River Bandits, Richmond Flying Squirrels, Albuquerque Isotopes (inspired by The Simpsons) and the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the team that probably started it all, Cpl. Klinger’s hometown favorite, the Toledo Mud Hens.
For those worried about civic properness, should the team have returned to a legacy name (Senators is my favorite, although Charlies is most popular), it wouldn’t prompt the merchandise sales, as the newly named Dirty Birds undoubtedly will. And that’s just it. The team needs to be edgy to be noticed, to be noticed to earn a profit and, most importantly, earn a profit to keep baseball in Charleston.
Now, I never cared for the West Virginia Power name. However, it did relate to our state better than the stretch that’s now being offered between the canary logo and our coal mines. An argument for a better connection could have been made between the Dirty Birds and our Legislature when in session, but that’s another matter.
Naming, however, wasn’t always about marketing.
In 1876, a team was formed in the small town of Allegheny, just north of Pittsburgh, and creatively named the Allegheny’s. They went 39-25-3 their first year, beating the likes of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, but folded after two seasons. The club then reorganized and resumed playing again in 1882, as the Allegheny Base Ball Club of Pittsburgh.
Baseball was a fickle career then, with part-time players on yearly contracts and leagues as ephemeral as teams.
Before the start of the 1890 season, practically all the Allegheny’s best players jumped ship to the new team in town, the Pittsburgh Burghers of the Players’ League. The Allegheny’s then went on to an unpleasant season record of 23-113, which still stands today as the worst record in their history.
Now, the general sense of decorum during the era was that, if you lived in the Brooklyn area, you’d grow up to play for the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. Same if you lived near Boston, you’d play for the Boston Beaneaters, for instance.
So, not only did the Allegheny’s have the worst record, but they had few good players. Their arch-rival Philadelphia Athletics (now Oakland A’s) had talented second baseman Lou Bierbauer, who was unprotected by contracts, so the Pittsburgh Allegheny’s signed him.
The Philadelphia Athletics were aghast and filed an official complaint with the league claiming the move was “piratical.” However, it was legal. So, to rub salt into the wound, the Allegheny’s emblazoned their uniforms with the word “Pirates” when the Athletics next came to town. That move was so popular that the team changed their name to the Pittsburgh Pirates the next season (1891) and have been so ever since.
So, what’s that got to do with our name change to Charleston Dirty Birds?
A rose by any other name will still stick you with its thorns. I’m just happy we still have baseball.