Giving baseball a bad name

Russell Baker

July 03, 1991|By Russell Baker

THE ASSOCIATED Press reports Denver's new major-league baseball team will be called "the Colorado Rockies." The Rockies of this unfortunate name are the mountains, not all those movies about the swell prizefighter from Philadelphia.

The Rockies will be the first big-league ball team named for a piece of geology, but probably not the first to be named after a geographical location, since I assume "Mets" is shorthand for "the New York Metropolitan Areas." Come to think of it, though, in that case, they'd be "the New York Areas," wouldn't they?

When somebody proposes to name a team the Colorado Rockies, the baseball commissioner ought to step in and say, "Whoa! Just a minute!" He probably won't, because this is a bad age for naming sports teams. Americans seem to have lost the art. The commissioner probably realizes that bad as "the Colorado Rockies" may be, it could be a lot worse. Suppose they'd named them "the Mountain States Continental Divides."

Another new big-league team is opening up in Miami. No name is yet announced, but the possibilities are appalling. Miami has a professional team in another sport -- is it basketball? -- that calls itself "the Heat." Will Miami's new baseball tycoons have the strength of character to avoid calling their team "the Humidity"?

The more appropriate name for a baseball team nowadays would be "the Cupidity." If we're going to allow geology and weather to get involved in team names, why not go all the way and give teams names like "the Cupidity," "the Hypocrisy," "the Doubtful Provenance" and "the Absurdity"?

"The Absurdity," in fact, would be the logical name for "the Cleveland Indians." I mention this, not to draw embarrassing attention to the remarkable hopelessness of the Cleveland baseball team, but because of agitation from the politically correct police who don't like sports teams calling themselves "Indians."

For one thing, "Indians" is apparently an insultingly European name for the various tribal cultures that occupied the continent when the first Europeans moved in and started pushing people around. These established residents did not call themselves "Indians," a European word that got applied to them only because Columbus thought he had beached in the East Indies.

The long and short of it is that the word "Indians" just won't do. The Clevelanders ought to be called "the Cleveland Native Americans," and no quibbles please about whether it's insulting to call them any kind of Americans, since "American," deriving from an Italian name, should be just as offensive as "Indian," shouldn't it? See how complicated naming can get?

Anyhow the Cleveland Indians could soon need a new name. "The Cleveland Native Americans" is too obvious. They could break new ground by calling themselves, if not "the Absurdity," something like "the Cleveland Politically Correct."

Baseball teams' names began to go downhill fast when Montreal and Houston got away with naming their teams, respectively, "Expos" and "Astros." Anybody out there know what an Expo is? An Astro? Of course not, so I'll tell you.

Expos and Astros are not things, not people, not geological formations, or weather, or political correctitude. They are just dumb, pointless, absolutely meaningless words, public-relations words cooked up by the same vicious gang that changes the names of all the great corporations into meaningless words that have x's in them.

Imagine how awful it must be for a baseball player to find himself suddenly traded to the Expos or the Astros after being a Yankee, a Giant, a Dodger, an Oriole, a Brave, a Pirate, a Tiger, a Cardinal or an Indian. Being reduced to something called an Expo or an Astro must diminish a player's sense of identity. How are you going to bat .350 when you're up there at the plate all the time wondering what an Astro is?

Now I hope nobody bothers to waste ink informing me that there was once a world's fair (Exposition) in Montreal and that Houston is the home office of the astronautical business. I know that. Is that any excuse for calling a baseball team by a dull press-agent name like "Montreal Expos," instead of "Montreal Coureurs de Bois"?

Following Denver's new geological lead, the Astros could become "the Houston Gulfs of Mexico." Or maybe "Gulf of Mexicos."

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