Wacky minor league team names celebrated

The Altoona Curve isn't named for a pitch. This book details the origin of that name and many others. Courtesy of Cider Mill Press

For nearly a decade, Tim Hagerty has made his voice heard around the baseball world.

He’s the current radio broadcaster for the Tucson Padres, Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, and he previously served as broadcaster for the Portland Beavers, Mobile BayBears and Idaho Falls Chukars.

Good thing he has a passion for baseball, especially the minor leagues.

The fruits of his enthusiasm and expertise have culminated in his new book, “Root for the Home Team: Minor League Baseball's Most Off-the-Wall Team Names and the Stories Behind Them.”

The subject matter is self-explanatory. The book details the nickname origins of the Fresno Raisin Eaters, Mobile Oyster Grabbers, Texarkana Casketmakers, Montgomery Biscuits, Zanesville Flood Sufferers, Leavenworth Convicts, Iola Gasbags, Oakland Dudes and 160 other teams, past and present.

Hagerty said he got the idea to write the book in 2004 when he worked in Idaho Falls. Numerous fans would come up to ask, “What’s a chukar?” (It’s a type of partridge, incidentally.) The topic of wacky minor league team names also came up often in discussions when people found out what he did for a living.

“So it became a hobby of mine, and I began to look for a book of the most unique minor league team names and where they got their names,” Hagerty said. “Nothing like it existed. I was stunned because there are all these baseball books out there. There’s books about umpires, uniform numbers, all these specific aspects of the game. I couldn’t believe nothing like this had been written.”

So he began researching. Current teams were happy to participate, but defunct teams -- some of them extinct for more than a century -- often presented research challenges. One example is the Oswego Starchboxes, members of the International League in 1886-87, based in upstate New York.

“I must have made a dozen calls to people in that town,” Hagerty said. “Nobody knew anything. Right as we were approaching the deadline to go to print, I got an email back, and somebody told me they were named for the Kingsford Starch factory in Oswego.”

So, after all this research, what’s Hagerty’s favorite minor league team name?

“It’s kind of like a favorite song. It evolves and changes. My favorite old team name is the Ilion Typewriters," Hagerty said of another upstate New York team of yesteryear. “I love how it ties into their community. That’s where the Remington Standard 2 typewriter was invented.”

Hagerty said his favorite story behind a team name is that of the Vermont Lake Monsters, Class A short-season affiliate of the Oakland A’s. The team was formerly affiliated with the Montreal Expos. When the Expos moved south to become the Washington Nationals in 2005, the Vermont Expos needed a new nickname. The team carried the Expos name for one more season, but then settled on Lake Monsters in homage to the centuries-old legend of a creature lurking in nearby Lake Champlain.

Hagerty said he tried to make the book as regional as possible with 49 states represented. Alaska, which has never had a professional baseball team, is the lone omission.

“The goal was for someone to pick up this book and immediately try to find a team near them.”