The first thing we do, let's kill all the cats.

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This press release (PDF) last week was amusing, from the Pacific Coast League's Triple-A Sacramento River Cats:

You've been warned: the moniker "River Cats" is comprised of two words, with a capital "R" and a capital "C." Effective immediately, all members of the local and national media, River Cats corporate partners, full- or part-time River Cats staff, and season, flex, and mini-plan ticket holders will be fined $1 for spelling "River Cats" incorrectly.

--snip--

For clarification, the following are incorrect iterations of the name "River Cats," and therefore subject to the $1 fine:

  • Rivercats
  • RiverCats
  • rivercats
  • River cats

First thing's first ... RiverCats RiverCats RiverCats RiverCats RiverCats. My $5 check is in the mail.

Kidding! Just as the River Cats were kidding around with this press release. But in addition to garnering just a bit of publicity, this release also reminds us just how terrible the name River Cats really is. Because, you know, there's really no such thing as a river cat.

I just acquired an amazing new book, Baseball Team Names: A Worldwide Dictionary, 1869-2011. As far as I know, the first serious attempt to document North American team names was this book, published in 1993. It was immensely useful, and has served as the standard reference for 20 years. But this new book, written by Richard Worth and published by our friends at McFarland, is far more ambitious. As the author explains,

Baseball Team Names endeavors to list every professional baseball team from every professional baseball league worldwide, and, for all professional teams that played an independent schedule in lieu of league membership worldwide, from 1869 to date.

In practice, this means that the book lists not just teams from the Negro Leagues and Organized Baseball (i.e. our minor and major leagues), but also U.S.-based independent leagues and any other leagues around the world in which players were (officially) paid to play. And perhaps most wonderfully, it's not just a listing of the teams; we also get an explanation. Of course, there have been thousands of other teams that don't qualify; for example, I just ran across an all-star team from Nebraska called the Tractolubers that competed in a big semipro tournament years ago. They weren't considered professionals so they're not in the book. But you gotta draw the line somewhere.

Anyway, here's what Worth writes about River Cats:

Rivercats 2000 to date Pacific Coast (AAA). City was built at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers. Mountain lions and bobcats inhabit the coastal and Sierra Nevada mountains. These cats sometimes forage along these two rivers. "Kats" and "dawgs" were trendy "gimmick" monikers used in the 1990s in response to Rap music lyrics.

Heh. Rivercats. And I'm scratching my head about the "dawgs" reference, which is relevant exactly ... how, in relation to the River Cats' moniker? That's one of the great things about the book; random bits of questionable information is sprinkled throughout the text, in somewhat haphazard fashion. Again, I consider this a feature rather than a bug.

Have I mentioned that I hate generic "cats" nicknames? I hate them a lot more than cat videos. I hate River Cats and I hate Rock Cats and I hate Valleycats and I hate Fisher Cats and I hate that the Fisher Cats play in Northwest Delta Dental Stadium.

I'm sorry. That's an awful lot of negativity, and hate is an awfully strong word. I should have said I loathe those things. Because there's no such thing as a Rock Cat or a Valleycat or a Fisher Cat -- a fisher isn't a cat; it's a weasel (although it's true that some people do call them fisher cats) -- and something as unpleasant as the hygienist's scratchy metal hook should never be associated with something as pleasant as baseball.

Why do teams end up with such lousy names? Because it's easy to turn a cat into a logo on a t-shirt. And t-shirts are a considerable line item in a minor-league franchise's budgeting process. I get that. Doesn't mean I have to like it, or that teams couldn't come up with better, just-or-nearly-as-marketable names if they really thought about it.

What should the Sacramento team be called? I might recommend the franchise hearken to its Pacific Coast League roots, but considering the general unpopularity (and anti-marketability of) politicians, I can't recommend Solons with a straight face. But there are so many other possibilities. Sacramento's role in the 1839 Gold Rush suggests 39ers. One of the city's nicknames is "The Big Tomato"; gotta be something you could do with that ... howzabout the Killer Tomatoes? Sacramento's also "The Camellia City"; I know flowers aren't real manly and stuff, but maybe it's time for something completely different?

We could, of course, go on like this for a spell. It's academic, because the franchise seems committed to one of the lamest names in professional baseball sports. Hey, it's working for them. It's not uncommon for the Rivercats to outdraw the parent Athletics, down the road a stretch. But just think what the Killer Tomatoes could do!

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