Donald Trump is right, elections are rigged. If not the ones that determine a presidential election, than certainly the method by which baseball teams select their mascot names.
Last week the former New Orleans Zephyrs announced that the team would henceforth be called the New Orleans Baby Cakes. The team’s front office said that they had more than 3,000 recommendations from which the winner was selected. Baby Cakes couldn't have been a majority opinion. The name may have gotten the support of some impulsive internet geek, but certainly it could not have gotten anything near the popular vote – not that the Zephyrs ever said that the winner had a majority vote, what is amazing is that it got any votes at all.
Baby Cakes is the kind of name out-of-towners come up with when they want to sound like they are "talking like a local." It's sort of like those who insist people in New Orleans always react to situations by saying, “Laissez les bon temps rouler.” We don’t say that, besides good times tend to happen not roll.
Zephyrs was not a great name either. The word came with the team when it moved from Denver in 1993 after Colorado was awarded a major league franchise to be known as the Rockies. Zephyrs referred to a type of mountain wind that races up and down along the peaks. As it happened, the former Pontchartrain Beach amusement park in New Orleans had a roller coaster called the Zephyr, so the name sort of fit in locally though totally by circumstance.
There are no baby cakes in New Orleans. There are King Cakes and the foreign object within them are sometimes plastic babies, but no one uses the word baby in place of king.
In fact, my own internal gut hunch is that among virile males in their twenties who play minor league baseball there are two words that they do not like to be called; one is “baby” and the other is “cakes.”
Our team is a farm club of the Miami Marlins. A moment that players dread is being sent down to the minors. Imagine the humiliation of a Marlins player sitting in the locker room and being told that he was going from the big leagues to being a Baby Cake.
Now for the truly amazing part, as weird as the name is, it will not be alone in the Pacific Coast league in which the Cakes compete. In Last Vegas the team is called the 51s in recognition of the nearby stretch of dessert where UFO’s are supposed to hangout. Then there are the big, bad Albuquerque Isotopes –for which the mascot is an alien named Orbit.
Strange names among the diamonds seem to be a growing phenomena, especially in minor league baseball – which the Washington Post, upon hearing of the Baby Cakes, acknowledged in a recent article. Making the case that such names at least draw attention to publicity-starved minor league teams, reporter Des Bieler listed other names that have made it to the scoreboard within recent years. They included:
Binghamton Rumble Ponies
Florida Fire Frogs (formerly the Brevard County Manatees)
Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (formerly the Suns)
Down East Wood Ducks
El Paso Chihuahuas
Fort Wayne Tincaps
Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs
Hartford Yard Goats (formerly the New Britain Rock Cats)
(A personal note: Both Montgomery and Jacksonville are in the same league; the Southern Association. I would crave a championship series between the Biscuits and the Jumbo Shrimp.)
To be fair, strange names are not strictly a product of modern days craziness. Some names have been around for so long we just got used to them. There were once so many trolley cars going back and forth through the streets of Brooklyn that the natives had to be alert when making a crossing. So Brooklyn folks were referred to as “dodgers.” In 1885 the team was officially named the “Trolley Dodgers.” It was pure local color depicting a native situation. The name, which was eventually shortened to just Dodgers, did not make much sense when the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1958 – where the town is laced with freeways rather than trolley tracks. At least they didn’t change the name to the Los Angeles Crashers.
According to the Baby Cakes front office, (there you go, do Baby Cakes really need a front office or just a bottle?) the logo – which shows an impish but determined looking baby, wearing a crown, bursting out of a king cake – is supposed to represent the resilience of the New Orleans people, or something like that.
(Here’s a thought: Baseball has contributed phrases that evolved into common usage in the English language, such as “touching base” and “rain check.” What if Baby Cakes catches on and eventually replaces “king cakes?” Are we destined for slices of baby cake in the office kitchen?)
Team ownership does deserve some credit. They took a chance. The name change has generated lots of early buzz. It may be the greatest marketing ploy of all time, or the worst. If it fails though we have heard that there is now a local character looking for work. He’s a nutria and his name is Boudreaux.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.
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