A few weeks ago, our mighty and — more importantly — well-named Golden Bears baseball team traveled to Long Beach State to take on Dirtbags.
No, really. This is not a squad with a lineup starring Santorum at short and Gingrich swinging for the fences. That’s actually their team’s title. And the Dirtbags are legit: They took two of three from our boys and studs like Troy Tulowitzki have patrolled their infield.
Maybe they take some perverse pleasure in being known as craven scum. Maybe they think it solidifies their identity as a gritty squad. Who knows? But at least Long Beach can take comfort in knowing it is not alone — not by a Mickey Mantle moon shot — in having a terrible team name.
Dubious designations dot the sports landscape. Some are pretentious and in questionable taste, like Amherst’s Lord Jeffs, who thankfully no longer resort to smallpox-infested blankets to vanquish their foes. Others are genuinely puzzling: Monterrey, Mexico’s ABA team is called the Poison. Is their shooting really lethal?
Poorly chosen team names could conspire to create inter-generational battles, too. What I would give for a match between the Young Boys of Bern, Switzerland, and the Argentinian Newell’s Old Boys, which evokes scenes of pacifier-toting tots careening between the walkers and oxygen tanks of geriatrics.
Toss out a noun. Go ahead, try it. There’s a team somewhere bearing the branding.
Sagehens? Pomona College. Fleet? Erskine College, but only if that fleet is Flying. Hotspur? Thank the good folks in Tottenham, although I’m not convinced any of them know exactly what a hotspur is.
This tradition is not quite as old as sports themselves, a phenomenon of a more common era. In the days of Shoeless Joe and Three Fingers Brown — an epoch of truly great nicknames as well — team names, simply put, were better.
Take the Pittsburgh Pirates. At first blush, you rightly question the historical veracity of a name suggesting Blackbeard and his mates sailed past Three River Stadium. But dig a little deeper, and you get this gem: engaged in some dodgy business practices over player signings, the then-Pittsburgh Allegheny’s were accused of being “piratical.” Soon after, they appropriated the moniker.
There we have the standard by which all team names should be judged: one half creative, one half relevant, with an extra slice of cheeky. And a few post-Marshall Plan teams have gotten it right. Milwaukee Brewers do in fact brew brews alongside their positive tests. Vermont Frost Heaves drive over them on the way to practice. But does Oklahoma City Thunder? No, it Tornadoes.
A team should live up to its name as well, just as Pittsburgh once swashbuckled its way to some talent. So I expect that in the huddle Cornhuskers are actively shucking at least three ears per series. You want to run point for the New York Knickerbockers? Start channeling your inner Payne Stewart, Jeremy Lin.
But, alas, this will never happen. Lin’s crossover popularity doesn’t extend to the Irish golfer demographic. And so we are stuck with players sporting shorts when they should be pulling on pantaloons — an apt metaphor for the current state of squad sobriquets.
But don’t worry. I’m on a one man mission to right these wrongs, starting… well, as soon as I can afford to own a team. Don’t hold your breath.