Should The Houston Astros Change Their Name?

Pitcher Nolan Ryan of the Houston Astros throws a pitch during a game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. Mandatory Credit: Bud Symes /Allsport

If you think your team's nickname has been that way forever, for many MLB teams, that's not the case. Will the Astros become the next club with a new name?

On Monday, Rob Neyer wrote about new Astros' owner Jim Crane's statement that they would "evaluate" the team nickname before the club's planned move to the American League in 2013.

This sent many Astros fans into a tizzy. Change the name? Why, they'd stop being fans!

Well.

If the Astros do wind up changing their nickname, it wouldn't be the first time they've done so. When the franchise began in 1962, they were known as the Colt .45s -- try to imagine a team nicknamed after a gun in present-day professional sports. The NBA's Washington Bullets were re-nicknamed the Wizards in 1997; our SB Nation Wizards site, "Bullets Forever", pays homage to the previous name.

You might think team nicknames are immutable and forever. You've always been a Yankees fan, right? Or cheered for the Phillies, or the Dodgers or the Braves? All those teams have been around for a century or more ... but they haven't always been known by those names.

In the early days of baseball, while teams did have nicknames, they weren't considered trademarks as they are today. Two franchises -- the Cubs and Braves -- have been in continuous operation since 1876. The team now known as the Cubs was originally known as the "White Stockings". But as often as not, they were simply called "the Chicagos". Over time, they were also called "Orphans" (when many of their longtime players departed) or "Colts" (when they got younger replacements), before a newspaper headline writer, looking for a shorter name for a young team, came up with "Cubs". It stuck, and became the team's official nickname in 1907.

Other teams have similar stories. The Dodgers, during their time in Brooklyn, were known at various times as Atlantics, Grays, Grooms, Bridegrooms, Superbas and Robins; they didn't settle for "Dodgers" officially until 1932. The team now known as the Atlanta Braves was, while in Boston, called Red Stockings, Beaneaters, Doves and Rustlers; they became "Braves" permanently in 1912 -- but then, after a low period in their history, renamed themselves "Bees" from 1936-1940. It didn't help; after five mediocre-to-bad years they went back to Braves.

The Phillies, for some of the same reasons, renamed themselves "Blue Jays", though somewhat unofficially, in 1943 and 1944 after an ownership change before returning to their original moniker.

During the Red Scare of the 1950s, the Cincinnati Reds decided that having a name that headline writers were using to describe Communists wouldn't do, and from 1954-1959 were known as the "Redlegs".

And just four years ago, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays changed their color scheme and logo; instead of an aquatic creature, they were now a "Ray" of sunshine, as noted on their uniforms. This happened to coincide with the franchise's sudden leap into playoff contention, so most of their fans are likely happy with it.

All of this is to say that Astros fans shouldn't be so sure that their nickname will remain in perpetuity. The franchise has changed logos and uniform colors at least six times since they moved into the then-futuristic Astrodome and adopted the name "Astros" in 1965. With the move to the American League in 2013, why not make a break with the past and rename the club?

In the comments to Rob's feature, several people made suggestions for new nicknames, some more tongue-in-cheek than others. I've incorporated some of those ideas in the poll below, and added one suggestion of my own: Buffaloes. That was the nickname of a minor-league club that played in Houston in various incarnations from 1888 until Houston was granted a major league franchise in 1962. Often abbreviated to "Buffs", the name has historic significance. If Jim Crane wants to change the team name while giving a nod to the city's baseball history and yet looking forward, this could be a very good choice.

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