This post contains new material and much reworked from Friday’s.
I thought we had cleared this up yesterday, but evidently not. Now my old friend Joe Buck has repeated a mistake that has unfortunately attained the aura of official history. Simply put, when the Boston Red Sox opened Fenway Park 100 years ago Friday, the faithful would have called the visiting team “The New York Yankees” – not “The New York Highlanders” (we’ll leave out any more troublesome things they might’ve called them).
The April 12, 1912 edition of The New York Times wrote of the club’s home opener: “The Yankees presented a natty appearance in their new uniforms of white with black pin stripes.”
Below you’ll see the 1911 baseball cards issued with the brands of the American Tobacco Trust, labeling the New York players “Yankees,” plus a newspaper supplement from 1907 showing a team picture of the New York Yankees.
My friend Marty Appel is just out with his comprehensive history of the franchise, Pinstripe Empire. He has some succinct insight into the etymology of the New York American League club’s name:
“Today we think the field was commonly called Hilltop Park, and the team commonly called the Highlaners. But in the first decade…the team was also better known as the New York Americans or the Greater New Yorks. On opening day (1903), the Telegram called them the Deveryites. Sam Crane in the Evening Journal was determined that they be the Invaders. In those days, team nicknames were far less formal. It was, for example, more common to say the Bostons or the Boston Americans than to call them the Red Sox or the Pilgrims.
“Hilltoppers was also used on occasion, and as early as April 7, 1904, the Evening Journal used YANKEES BEAT BOSTON in a headline. (“Highlanders” didn’t even appear in the New York Times until March 1906).”
Appel also quotes a piece from the legendary writer and historian Fred Lieb, from Baseball Magazine, in 1922:
“(Highlanders) was awkward to put in newspaper headlines. Finally the sporting editor at one of the New York evening papers exclaimed ‘The hell with this Highlanders; I am going to call this team ‘the Yanks’ that will fit into heads better.’
“Sam Crane, who wrote baseball on the same sheet, began speaking of the team as the Yankees and Yanks. When other sporting editors saw how much easier ‘Yanks’ fit into top lines of a head, they too (decided against) Highlanders, a name which never was popular with fans.”
The further back you go before the rust formed around the official history, the further it becomes clear that until the owners officially christened the team in 1913, they were known informally by many names. “Yankees” seems to have been an early favorite, “Americans” being the default second choice (just as it would’ve been for the Cleveland “Americans” or the Detroit “Americans” or – translated to the other league – for the Philadelphia “Nationals”). “Highlanders,” “Hilltoppers” and “New Yorks” brought up the rear.
It’s also pretty clear that the New York team we know as the Yankees was never formally called “Highlanders.”
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 in Frank Graham’s first version of The New York Yankees in 1943. At that time, 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.
The key to all this is Appel’s observation that nicknames were informal until the clubs began to realize they were marketing and merchandising opportunities, which probably didn’t take place until the 1920’s. Official MLB history and fans have totally reversed the team name equation. It used to be all about the cities (the 1889 World Series was “The New Yorks versus The Brooklyns”) and this is something that just does not compute to the modern mind. In fact, think of the Dodgers, who began as a new franchise in the then-major league American Association in 1884 with the uninspired nickname “Grays.” By 1888, after a spate of players got married in the off-season, they were the Brooklyn Bridegrooms. In 1899 when Ned Hanlon took over as manager, there was a famous vaudeville troupe called “Hanlon’s Superbas”- thus they became the Brooklyn Superbas. The name outlasted Hanlon, and only faded when Wilbert Robinson took over as manager in 1914 and the name changed again: Brooklyn Robins. Throughout this whole time, the fans and sportswriters used, as a kind of alternative nickname, the term applied to Brooklyn fans who were in constant danger from the labyrinth of streetcar lines throughout the city: “The Trolley Dodgers,” or, simply “Dodgers.” So when Robinson left after the 1931 campaign, the club formally declared themselves “The Dodgers” (but didn’t put the name on the uniforms until 1938). How did the Dodgers treat this confusing history? They declared their 100th anniversary to be 1990, which wiped out the 1884-89 time frame and the team’s first trip to the World Series.
And just think, we can go through this entire history controversy year after next. 2014 will be the 100th Anniversary of Wrigley Field. Only it wasn’t called Wrigley Field in 1914 and the Cubs didn’t play there until 1916.
First, back across the country and the Yankee photographic evidence.
Tip of the cap to my fellow SABR member Mark and this evidence-filled blog on the issue. He gives prominent attention to headlines from the New York Sun about the 1912 “Highlanders.” Getting lesser play? This clip from the New York Tribune, which echoes the aforementioned Times headline:Interestingly the Sun folded in 1950. The Tribune was still breathing (after a series of mergers) in 1966. The Times is still in business.
Then there’s this from 1907:
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.
Below, the 1911 baseball cards. In some of the biographies (as shown in the lower left hand corner) there are references to “Highlanders.” But the fronts tell the story:
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.