City-less team names are expanding, but it is sad state of affairs

John Steadman

July 08, 1991|By John Steadman

Naming major-league franchises after states, not cities, is obviously for commercial purposes. That's why, unfortunately, we're going to have the Florida Marlins (rather than Miami Marlins, which has a pleasing alliterative ring) and the Colorado Rockies instead of the Denver Rockies.

In their formative years, the Florida Marlins will have as much life as dead fish, along with a similar aroma, and the Colorado Rockies will perform more aptly as the rockheads. The between-inning dance team, of course, will be the Rockettes.

Now the marketing of team names is strictly for business. It broadens the base, increasing potential to make money. In Florida, however, it's difficult to believe the St. Petersburg/Tampa area, rejected by the National League committee, is going to accept the Miami-based Marlins as its team, too, and crowd the interstate highways en route to Joe Robbie Stadium, located in Miami.

Until a man named Bert Rose, perceptive and imaginative, became general manager of the Minnesota entry in the National Football League in 1961, professional clubs were called after the city they represented. In the case of Minnesota, there was difficulty since the franchise was officially awarded to a joint ownership in Minneapolis/St. Paul, the Twin Cities.

It was Rose who conceived the idea of establishing a state allegiance for teams and now every major league -- football, baseball, basketball and hockey -- has at least partially endorsed the idea. Rose, now living in Dallas, after retiring from the Cowboys' organization, explains how he arrived at the concept.

"I couldn't imagine how a sports reporter or announcer could write or say that the Minneapolis/St. Paul team scored a touchdown or recovered a fumble," he said. "That was the prime reason for calling them the Minnesota Vikings, to make it easy. Then the baseball team, after it moved from Washington, took the same approach and renamed the Senators the Twins.

"There was a secondary reason, too. In the state of Minnesota, there must be 100 or more communities of 10,000 to 20,000 population. They couldn't equate to the 'big city slickers' so by using the state name it gave them a stronger rooting interest in the team. Minnesota was more acceptable to them than Minneapolis/St. Paul. It made everybody happy."

Rose remembers that not long after the announcement that the football club would be known as the Minnesota Vikings, a minor-league baseball team, the Little Rock Travelers, then of the Southern Association, became the Arkansas Travelers.

Asked what he thought about Baltimore being dropped from in front of Orioles, in an attempt to draw visitors from Washington, he answered, "I have difficulty with that. The Baltimore Orioles are one of the truly historic names in sports. Tradition, with such individuals as Babe Ruth and Lefty Grove playing for the Baltimore Orioles, shouldn't be tampered with."

But in the case of newly established teams, he believes the state name is more appropriate. In fact, the New England Patriots of the NFL try to appeal not only to one state but an entire region. The National Basketball Association has the Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves. The National Hockey League has the New Jersey Devils and Minnesota North Stars.

Major-league baseball, of course, offers for reason of state identification -- and also the chance to sell more tickets -- the California Angels, Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers. Now, with National League expansion settled, there will be the aforementioned Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins.

Denver, in particular, has an extensive minor-league history. The Denver Bears produced pennant-winning teams and some of its players, too numerous to mention, graduated to the majors. So Bears seemed applicable. In Miami, the minor-league Marlins have been around long before their counterpart from the deep blue sea, the football Dolphins, who aren't about to antagonize their followers by suddenly becoming the Florida Dolphins.

Too bad. It's almost as if Miami and Denver are denying their baseball birthrights, and ignoring the past, for the questionable hope that eradicating the names of the cities where they'll eventually play will enable them to sell more tickets and souvenirs. Regrettable.

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