Update: Wonderful Ceremony, But They Weren’t The Highlanders

Kudos to the Red Sox for taking the concept of the mega-ceremony to a new level. Whereas the Yankees closed the old Stadium in 2008 by putting a comparatively small group of all-time greats on the field at their old positions, the Olde Towne Team went the egalitarian route, and for once, bigger really was better.

The ovation for Terry Francona was terrific, and the scene of Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek pushing the wheelchairs of the long-ago doubleplay combo of Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky was indelible. But to me, just as important was seeing Bobby Sprowl and Billy Rohr and Wayne Housie and Jim Landis and those other dozens of the 230 in attendance whose Red Sox tenures were more cameos than careers.

This is the essence of the difference between the franchises. The Yankees are about an elite, and a sense that only the best even matter. The Red Sox – at least until ownership went crazy last fall and cut off its nose to spite its face – have always been predicated on the idea that everybody, great or trivial, has contributed something to the heritage.

I will protest, however, on behalf of historical accuracy, the continual references right now to how the opponents in both today’s game and the first ever at Fenway exactly a century ago were the New York “Highlanders.” This is one of those misunderstandings of history that never seems to get straightened out. Yes, the New York American League team was colloquially known as “The Highlanders” when it was moved from Baltimore in 1903. And yes, the name “Yankees” wasn’t formally adopted until 1913.

That does not mean the 1912 New York team wasn’t known as the Yankees. In fact the name was in common use no later than 1907. Evidence?That is a postcard advertising the following Sunday’s edition of The New York American newspaper, which was to include a full-sized version of the 1907 Yankees team picture. This was just after 1907’s opening day, five years before the christening in The Fens.

They were the Yankees. Not the Highlanders. Stop saying it.

Update: Yes, I understand that the Yankees’ official history identifies the pre-1913 teams as the Highlanders and doesn’t assign the “Yankee” name to the teams until after the 1912 season. But this isn’t about a simplified record for people who don’t really care about historical accuracy (another example: the Dodgers claim their franchise began in 1890, when in fact the 1890 team was the same one that represented the old American Association in the 1889 World Series). This is about what the fans at brand new Fenway Park, a hundred years ago today, would’ve called the visiting team from New York.

Second Update: As those who never question “history” continued to push back on this idea that because the team didn’t officially call itself the Yankees until 1913 it wasn’t the Yankees in 1912, I decided to go back to where I first heard the story of the slow evolution from “Gordon’s Highlanders” (the name of a famed British army regiment of the time, which stuck because the first team president was named Joseph Gordon, and because their ballpark was at one of the highest spots in New York) to the Yanks. Frank Graham wrote his first version of The New York Yankees in 1943, when a lot of people who had seen the full 40-year history of the franchise were still alive – Graham, who became a sportswriter in 1915, included. I read the copy my father had had since childhood, either in 1967 or 1968.

The relevant passage is on Page 16:

“With 1913 coming up, there was an almost complete new deal. Jim Price, Sports Editor of the New York Press, had been calling the team the Yankees because he found the name Highlanders too long to fit his headlines; and by 1913 the new name had been generally adopted.”

So the Yankees were the last people to call themselves the Yankees and as Graham wrote nearly 70 years ago, the nickname had been generally adopted before the club went through the formality – in 1913.

Some of the less in-the-know fans at Fenway at its christening might have referred to the visitors as “The Highlanders.” The vast majority would’ve said “Yankees” – as the New York Times had after the 1912 opener in New York: “The Yankees presented a natty appearance in their new uniforms of white with black pin stripes.”

More evidence? In the biographies on the back (as shown in the lower left hand corner), there are occasional references to “Highlanders.” But the 1911 baseball cards refer to them – unofficial or not – as the Yankees:By the way, “Quinn” in the top row? That’s Jack Quinn, whose oldest-victory mark was just broken by Jamie Moyer. These are 1911 cards. Quinn is also in the 1933 set.

In point of fact, the Yankees were the Yankees before the Red Sox were the Red Sox. Created in 1901 when the American League was founded, the Boston team was known variously as the Pilgrims, and simply “The Americans” (as opposed to “The Nationals”), the new team drew much of its talent from the successful, but eminently cheap National League team in Boston. From its earliest days in the National Association (1871) and N.L. (1876) that team had worn red stockings, and were once formally known by that name.

In 1907, the N.L. team’s manager Fred Tenney became worried about the threat of blood poisoning supposedly posed by the red dye in the socks getting into spike wounds. By year’s end, he had convinced owners John and George Dovey to eliminate the color from the uniforms. A block away, where the nascent A.L. team was struggling to gain a foothold in what was still a National League town, owner John I. Taylor immediately jumped on the opportunity and announced his team would don “the red socks” in 1908 – and a name was born.

The Yankees were the Yankees by 1906. The Red Sox weren’t the Red Sox until 1908.

Parenthetically, the N.L. team’s next nicknames – the Doves, for the Dovey Brothers, and, in 1911, the Rustlers (because Doves increasingly sounded stupid) – didn’t catch on. The Doveys sold out in 1912 to a bunch of New York politicians from Tammany Hall. Since that organization had a Native American for its logo, its operatives were known as “braves” – and thus the Boston N.L. club adopted that name, and have carried it since. In fact, a week ago Wednesday was the 100th Anniversary of the first appearance of the Braves.


  1. Matthew

    You should tell the yankees to correct their history page that states their name was changed in 1913. oh wait, didn’t they fire you too?

  2. Patricia Ellyn Powell

    Why does this article end suddenly? Is it just me? When I first started loving baseball, I read a book about the first century of the Yankees and it called them “The Highlanders” too. However, the first day my daughter returned home from her first experience of college, she asked, “Guess what I learned?” I couldn’t wait to hear! Answer: “Never to believe anything you read.” I was thrilled! Great, as usual, Keith! Nobody does a blog better!

  3. Nick Carlson (@Nick_C_C)

    Seeing Pumpsie Green, who integrated the Red Sox in 1959 (becoming the last of the original 16 to do so) but I wonder if Gene Conley showed? He not only played for the Sox, but for the Boston Braves AND the Boston Celtics as well!

  4. NJ Baseball

    Yes, the nicknames back then were anything but permanent (and usually bestowed upon a club by the newspapers), so it’s likely that they were known as both the Highlanders and Yankees in 1912. The Yankees’ own website puts the official adoption of “Yankees” as April 1913, when they moved to the Polo Grounds: http://newyork.yankees.mlb.com/nyy/history/timeline1.jsp (then click on 1910s).

  5. Sam

    The Red Sox should have kept the name “the Americans.” Who’s going to say “I hate the Americans!”? I was reading about the first game at Fenway. The crowd was on the field at game time so new groundrules had to be made– all hits were two bases. The Boston Globe article said this gave the “Highland laddies” an advantage because most of their hits were singles (unlike Swish and Chavez) while Boston was hitting home runs into the crowd that just counted for two base-hits. The all white hats look pretty bad. Is this the first time Jeter has worn his socks up like that? At any rate, the Yankees didn’t become the Yankees until Babe Ruth got there.

  6. Jim

    Can anyone pick out who’s who in that 1907 picture? Is that “Wee Willie” Keeler standing on the right? “Happy Jack” Chesbro sitting on the left? Hal Chase sitting 2nd from left? Branch Rickey was also on that team, but I don’t think he’s in the picture. Clark Griffith might be in there too, probably one of the guys sitting at top.

    • Patricia Ellyn Powell

      Wee Willie and Pee Wee Wanninger were two of the first Yanks I studied when I went to baseball school. I just love the names. Fairy tale fun! Sweet as old timey taffy! xo

  7. rochdalian

    Here’s another example. The then-Brooklyn Dodgers weren’t officially known as the Dodgers until 1932, even though that had been one of their nicknames for many years (it had originally been hung on them by a Washington sportswriter who was also responsible for hanging the expression “First in War, First in Peace and Last in the American League” on his city’s team. I found an article in the Brooklyn Eagle from that year that talks about how team ownership sat the local writers down in a room and asked them to come up with a name. After a while, “Dodgers” won and “Kings” came in second (Brooklyn is also Kings County). Would the NHL team in Los Angeles have a different name if the Los Angeles Kings had moved west after 1957?

  8. ardracreator

    While team nicknames were oddly flexible in the pre-WWI era, with team owners and scribes often varying wildly in what they called a given team, even later periods would undergo some nickname flux. The Braves also had the brief “Bees” period back in the late ’30’s. Unlike the Phillies brief “Blue Jays” experiment in the mid-40’s, it was actually official. They even referred to Braves Field as the Bee Hive during that time. But, even though it was nice and short for the headline writers (and nowadays, would be far more politically correct), “Bees” never caught on.

    Probably just as well. I can’t picture Hank Aaron or Dale Murphy with Bees on their uniforms.

  9. ShoeBeDoBeDo

    I really enjoy all of the history too. And your encyclopedic knowledge of baseball is nothing short of amazing, Keith. The baseball cards are striking, but they sure were heavy-handed with the ink or coloring in 1911. The boys look like they’re wearing lip and cheek rouge. Yikes.

    • Patricia Ellyn Powell

      LOL, Shoe. That Chase player looks more kissable than even I was on a Saturday night in my teens. Our local news crew used to really overdo the make-up, too. Some of the sportscasters looked like dime store floozies. But still loved to watch them! xo

  10. Truly S. (@hotincleveland)

    Know what this whole thing reminds me of? Of how Saturday Night Live started out as NBC’s Saturday Night, but so many people just called it “Saturday Night Live” (even though there was another program called “Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell” on ABC that pretty much nobody watched and was nothing the same) that as soon as the Cosell show went off the air and wasn’t using the “Saturday Night Live” name anymore, NBC grabbed it and formally renamed the show what everyone was calling it anyway. Not that this relates to baseball, but still. Well, aside from those “Beisbol been bery bery good to me” sketches.

  11. ShoeBeDoBeDo

    Forgot to say before that the photo of you and Jake and Eve up on the masthead of your blog is so fitting and so wonderful. The maestro and his two darling pupils! 🙂

  12. ===Dan

    It’s easy to find all sorts of articles in the NY Times from the era. I found a few articles referring only to “Yankees” in 1909 through 1911. And article in 1907 used both names.
    http://spiderbites.nytimes.com/ (the label says the articles are free, but I don’t know whether they’re behind the paywall).

  13. Pingback: The Red Sox, Yankees throwback uniforms were quite splendiferous | Off the Bench
  14. Greg Fousek

    Keith I always enjoy your blogs but it appears that they were called the Highlanders in 1912 just as much as they were unofficially known as the Yankees. The official adoption of the new name in 1913 certainly demonstrates that use of ‘The Yankees’ had become more favorable but anyone who states that they were known as The Highlanders in 1912 is also correct.

  15. Patricia Ellyn Powell

    A rose by any other name still…smells like gym socks. I think we could call these teams anything and still love them. Or still watch them for sure!

  16. Joe Keyport

    Excellent – as usual. I love this stuff. I’m a Yankees fan all my life (well six years old onward) and for 51 years have enjoyed the ride. Keith, just keep it up – please!!!

  17. Ignatz (@ignatzz)

    I think people get confused because what they were actually called was “New York” and EVERYTHING else was a nickname, coined by sportswriters for descriptive and creative writing reasons. Whether a sportswriter called them “Hilltoppers,” “Highlanders” or “Yankees,” the reader would know that he was talking about the New York Team That Played On The Hill, so he would use the names interchangeably.

  18. ajmilner

    And apparently the original Washington AL team didn’t *officially* call themselves the Senators until the mid-1950s, after owner Clark Griffith died — before that, they were just as commonly known as the Nationals/Nats. They didn’t even put the Senators nickname on their jerseys until 1959, just before the franchise was moved to Minnesota.

  19. Ignatz (@ignatzz)


    [Can anyone pick out who’s who in that 1907 picture? Is that “Wee Willie” Keeler standing on the right? “Happy Jack” Chesbro sitting on the left? Hal Chase sitting 2nd from left? Branch Rickey was also on that team, but I don’t think he’s in the picture. ]

    I would have sworn that was Chase, but I would have been wrong. Here’s a key:

  20. ajmilner

    One more thing — At a NYC regional meeting of SABR in the 1990s, historian Barry Popik (whose barrypopik.com website thoroughly documents the etymology of “The Big Apple,” among other New York words and phrases) handed out photocopies of early newspaper references to “Bronx Bombers” and “Murderer’s Row.” The cover page was a front-page headline from the New York Journal of April 14, 1904 reading YANKEES BEAT BOSTON (emphasis mine)…

  21. willv

    Calling them the Highlanders is technically correct. Which is the best kind of correct. Nicknames are irrelevant. If it were 1913, then fine, but that was their official name like it or not.

  22. TomCT

    Blabbermouth is a hypocrite who on one hand inaccurately refers to the Yankees referring to the team in that era as the Highlanders as being a misunderstanding, and then a few paragraphs later concurs they are historically accurate. As usual he’s trying to show how smart he is and instead demonstrates the opposite. Can’t stand the guy, and it’s no wonder he was fired, again!!

    As for putting unofficial nicknames over official names in a ceremony celebrating an historical event, I agree with the Red Sox position of using the official name, given we are living in a politically correct world these days. I’m not one to stick up for the Red Sox, but they got this one right. As for trying to slight the Yankees on their handling of the closing of the old Yankee Stadium, how about pointing out how the Yankees are the role model for all of sports when it comes to recognizing their past heroes with awards, presentations, and celebrations. Their annual Old-timers Day is unlike any other. To say they slight the little guy is an insult to our intelligence.

  23. clarence3935

    We can now all rest assured that the year 1912 was a year Rachel Maddow will always remember with great love and affection.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s