Go Orphans!

This will likely be interest to only a handful of readers, but what hell. Why have a blog if you can’t spend inordinate amounts of time on your own esoteric interests. Last night, the Texas Rangers scored 30 runs, which was the most runs scored in a major league game in the last 100 years. Reader JK told me that the last team to score that many runs was our beloved Cubs. But it turns out that team, which scored 36 runs in a game in 1897, was called The Colts. JK then did a little reserch and discovered that between being called the Colts and the Cubs, the team was called “The Orphans,” which is a pretty hilarious name for a professional sports club, conjuring, as it does, images of squad of glove-wielding Annie’s and Dickensian rascals.

So JK decided to dig deeper into the origins of the team name and reports back below:

So, while listening to the Cubs game last night, I took to researching how the Cubs came to be known as the Orphans. And it's kinda fascinating.

Apparently, around the turn of the century, baseball teams were often assigned nicknames by local newspapers—not the front offices. When the sport first began to receive real media attention, the sportswriters handed down nicknames that were somehow representative of the teams’ physical characteristics (the New York Giants, the Cleveland Spiders) or the cities they played in (the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, the Boston Beaneaters.). However, because there were no real marketing concerns at the time and because the teams were identified on their uniforms by city, the writers could change the names as they saw fit. And so, the evolution of these names sometimes told a story, as in the case of the Cubs.

The Chicago White Stockings were the first professional baseball league in Chicago. The team kept this name for two decades, during which they were led by the formidable—and extremely racist—Cap Anson. In 1890, the players union, known as the Brotherhood of Professional Ball Players, escalated its protest of the reserve clause, which allowed teams to retain the rights to its players even after their contracts had expired. The Brotherhood formed a separate organization that year—the Players League—and many of the best players in the National League emigrated that direction, including most of the White Stockings’ roster, with the exception of Anson. When the team took the field during the 1890 season, they were staffed almost entirely by rookies. As such, the sportswriters took to calling them the Colts, and Anson—“Pop.” The “Brotherhood Revolt” only lasted one season and after the Players League’s demise many of the ex-White Stockings players crawled back to their old team to ask for their jobs back. But the stubborn Anson, as both the Colts’ star player and manager, refused to allow them to resign with the team.

For the next seven years, the team remained young and continued to be known as the Colts. Then, in 1897, Anson was fired after playing for more than 25 years. The Chicago sportswriters reportedly held “Pop” in great esteem and, in honor of his absence, renamed the team the Orphans.

The rest is rather anticlimactic. After the turn of the century, a daily newspaper in Chicago—understandably frustrated with the nickname that had befallen their team—held a contest to rename them. Somehow, the Cubs were chosen and, by 1906, the name had stuck.

Nonetheless, I love how those early names track the team’s tribulations.

Here’s some other interesting team naming trivia:

- During the McCarthy era, the Cincinnati Reds renamed their team the Redlegs and had the word “Reds” removed from the uniform.

- An early Minnesota team was named the St. Paul Apostles.

- Before becoming the Trolley Dodgers, the Brooklyn team was dubbed the Bridegrooms because six players happened to get married in 1888.

- The Pittsburgh team was called the Pirates because they managed to “pirate” a former star of the Philadelphia Athletics after the Players League collapsed in 1890.

Chris Hayes is the host of All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC.


Join Chris’s email list.