I’m a fan of ESPN’s Rob Neyer, one of the most astute baseball writers working today. But after reading his recent blog post, not-so-subtly titled “Omaha Joins Ranks of the Embarrassing”, it’s clear that he doesn’t have a strong grasp of Minor League Baseball operating principles.
The post is inspired by Omaha’s recent name switch from “Royals” to “Storm Chasers”, and draws heavily from my MiLB.com article on the subject.
There are some truly awful minor-league team names out there. An abbreviated list: IronBirds, Doubledays, Baysox, RiverDogs, LumberKings, TinCaps, Intimidators, BlueClaws, JetHawks, BayBears, SeaDogs, River Bandits, SilverHawks, ValleyCats. Call it the “IronRule”: If you’ve got two capital letters in your name, you’ve done something wrong.
The latest and greatest case in point: the Omaha Storm Chasers.
Should teams be denied the right to develop their own unique identities? Is homogeneity across the Minor League landscape really a better option?
The following is (the bulk of) my reply to Mr. Neyer:
With no control over the product on the field, Minor League teams are first and foremost about entertainment. While in a perfect world the fans would be keeping score while studiously analyzing MLB’s future stars, the reality is that teams surround the game with as many goofy distractions as possible in order to reach the broadest demographic (those who might not care about sports, in other words, but are looking for an evening of affordable family-friendly recreation).
And regarding the Storm Chasers, this has little, if anything, to do with the Royals name falling into “disrepute.” After four decades in beloved but oversized and impersonal Rosenblatt Stadium, the team is moving to a new ballpark and finally has a chance to create a far more vibrant entertainment destination. The Storm Chasers name offers innumerable branding opportunities within the facility, and gives the team the chance to establish a far-reaching identity within the community completely distinct from the parent club.
And, yes, the new name will greatly increase merchandise sales. This is a business, after all, and profit can and should take precedence over a masochistic adherence to tradition.
Recent entrants to the “ranks of the embarrassing” that are currently thriving include the Richmond Flying Squirrels and Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Both provide a case study of how and, most likely, why the Storm Chasers name will succeed in the long-term. In a nutshell (pun intended, in the case of the Flying Squirrels): Fun is the name of the game, and should be exemplified in all aspects of the operation. If it takes three mascots to accomplish this, then all the better.
I’m not saying that the Storm Chasers, or Minor League Baseball in general, is beyond reproach. Some fans may find it hard to embrace such a cartoonish and defiantly unserious persona, and “Name the Team” contests that seem to give short shrift to the popular vote are bound to alienate sections of the fan base.
But criticisms of the industry that don’t take into account key operating principles (and the recent success thereof) are hard to take seriously, especially when stated in such an obstinate and close-minded fashion. You have to be able to understand something before you can effectively rip it apart.
I’d love to get your thoughts on all of this, whoever you may be. Feel free to dust off the always-underutilized comments section, and of course opinions can be always be expressed through email and Twitter.
To quote the immortal Mr. Sparkle: Can you see that I am serious?