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8 Thoroughly Misleading Baseball Team Names

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by Bob Carson

The Red Sox spent 86 years overcoming an alleged curse. Sammy Sosa somehow got the impression that he needed corked bats to amp up his already terrific game. And a few years ago, a girl in a giant Italian sausage costume was whacked to the ground by the Pittsburgh Pirates' first baseman. We're not saying baseball makes a whole lot of sense; we're just trying to put a small dent in all the mystery—starting with those weird team names you're always hearing.

1. The Altoona Curve

Like curveballs, team names are usually meant to be intimidating.

But Altoona's moniker is based on something far more frightening than anything a pitcher could toss over the plate.

About five miles west of Altoona, Penn., is Horseshoe Curve, a span of railway built in the 1840's that cuts a deathly sharp angle. At the time, figuring out how to get trains through the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania wasn't the easiest task in the world, but fortunately, J. Edgar Thomson found an answer. Constructed with picks, shovels, horses, and drags, this stretch of railroad is considered one of the finest engineering feats of all time. And, considering the nearby rail line allowed little Altoona to grow into a thriving industrial town, it was deemed a fitting tribute for their baseball team as well.

2. Swing of the Quad Cities

If you're thinking of a baseball swing here, you miss! In 2003, Iowa's Quad City River Bandits switched their name to Swing "¦ as in jazz. Turns out, Davenport, Iowa, (a quarter of the Quad Cities) is also the hometown of Bix Beiderbecke, famed coronet genius and 1920s' jazz sensation. Though only on the planet a few short years (he drank himself to death by age 28), wild Bix managed to make quite a lasting impression. In addition to having a baseball team named in his honor, the Davenport native also inspired the 1938 novel Young Man With a Horn, and a 1950s' movie based on the book starring Kirk Douglas.

3. Las Vegas 51's

brand.gifIn the gambling and debauchery capital of America, reason would have it that Las Vegas' baseball team, the 51's, is named after a short deck of cards, or the legendary nightclub on The Strip. Apparently, all those craps games and strip clubs get old after a while, so the good people of Las Vegas searched for a name with a bit more intrigue—the mysterious "Area 51" military base in southern Nevada. Surrounded by ominous signs with phrases like "Restricted Area, Use of Deadly Force Authorized," the base has led to plenty of paranoia and paranormal prognostication since it was first established in the 1950's.

4. South Bend Silver Hawks

While bird names for mascots are popular around the country, aves aren't the highest thing in the South Bend pecking order. From 1957 to 1959, the Studebaker-Packard Co. of South Bend, Ind., produced a snazzy car called the Silver Hawk. The company was a family-owned operation that butted heads with the Big Three auto companies until its last model, the Avanti, rolled off the assembly line in 1964. A source of great pride for the town of South Bend, the Studebaker museum is fittingly located only a block from where the members of its eponymous team play each season.

5. Kannapolis Intimidators

1_logo_kintimidators.gifIn this case, both the team name and the city name merit explanation. Kannapolis is a city in western North Carolina, which was originally known as Cannonville due to its proximity to the Cannon Manufacturing Co. textile mill. Somehow, after years of misspellings and usage tomfoolery the name evolved into Kannapolis. As for the city's intimidation factor, that's based on its very own racecar-driving legend, the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. Due to his intensity (and propensity for wrap-around sunglasses), the late N.C. native was known to his legions of fans as "The Intimidator."

6. Idaho Falls Chukars

You might think the folks in Idaho were proud of how hard their players could chuck the ball at opponents and, when naming the team, simply left out that pesky second "˜c.' But that's not the case. The chukar is a small partridge, and not even the scary predator kind that might intimidate an opposing team. In fact, it's a game bird that was introduced to the northwest region of America from Asia in the 1930's for the sole purpose of giving happy hunters something else to shoot and kill.

7. Brooklyn Cyclones

Brooklyn_cyclones.PNGAside from their experiences riding in cabs through Manhattan, New Yorkers don't know too much about the fury that a tornado can unleash, which should be your first clue that this Minor League team name has nothing to do with a funnel cloud. The Brooklyn Cyclones are actually named after the famous Coney Island roller coaster. Early on the morning of June 26, 1927, excited crowds lined up to sample the inaugural run of the mammoth coaster, and by that afternoon, delighted (and nauseated) thrill seekers had a new love. Legend has it that after a brutal spin on the Cyclone, Emilio Franco, mute since birth, spoke his very first words: "I feel sick." While the Brooklyn Dodgers may have moved away, the Cyclone, continued to roll on.

8. Albuquerque Isotopes

Team names are almost always a tribute to something, but it's safe to assume that the Albuquerque Isotopes is one of the only teams in America named in honor of a cartoon episode. But, hey, if any show is going to have that kind of cultural impact, it's going to be "The Simpsons." In a March 2001 episode of the show, Homer goes on a hunger strike because his local baseball team, the Springfield Isotopes, is secretly planning a move to Albuquerque. The real city had lost its minor league team, the Dukes, but were awarded a new one for the 2003 season. New Mexico's baseball fans enjoyed being immortalized in the iconic sitcom so much that they couldn't help but suggest the name.

This list was plucked from an old issue of mental_floss. Make our editors happy and subscribe to magazine here!

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Pop Culture
The Time a Wrestling Fan Tried to Shoot Bobby Heenan in the Ring
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retro-wrestling, eBay

For a man who didn't wrestle much, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan wound up becoming more famous than a lot of the men flexing in the squared circle. The onscreen manager of several notable grapplers, including André the Giant and “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Heenan died on Sunday at the age of 73. His passing has led to several tributes recalling his memorable moments, from dressing up in a weasel suit to hosting a short-lived talk show on TNT.

While Heenan’s “heel” persona was considered great entertainment, there was a night back in 1975 when he did his job a little too well. As a result, an irate fan tried to assassinate him in the ring.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Heenan was appearing at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the now-defunct AWA wrestling promotion when his performance began to grate on the nerves of an unnamed attendee seated on the floor. Eyewitnesses described the man as friendly up until wrestlers Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel started their bout with Heenan at ringside in Bockwinkel’s corner.

“Get Heenan out of there,” the fan screamed, possibly concerned his character would interfere in a fair contest. Heenan, known as “Pretty Boy” at the time, began to distract the referee, awarding an advantage to his wrestler. When the official began waving his arms to signal Heenan to stop interrupting, the fan apparently took it as the match being over and awarded in Bockwinkel’s favor. He drew a gun and began firing.

The man got off two shots, hitting three bystanders with one bullet and two more with the other before running out of the arena. (No fatalities were reported.) Security swarmed the scene, getting medical attention for the injured and escorting both Heenan and the wrestlers to the back.

According to Heenan, the shooter was never identified by anyone, and he was brazen enough to continue attending wrestling cards at the arena. ("Chicago really took that 'no snitching' thing to heart back then," according to Uproxx.)

Heenan went on to spend another 30 years in the business getting yelled at and hit with chairs, but was never again forced to dodge a bullet.

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History
Hans Schmidt, the "Nazi" Wrestler Who Incited Riots
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Courtesy of Dave Drason Byrzynski

Waiting inside the locker room of the Pioneer Memorial Stadium, The Des Moines Register reporter Walter Shotwell thought he had found a clever way to discredit a visiting professional wrestler named Hans Schmidt. Just a few days prior, on August 1, 1953, Schmidt had been seen on national television barking into a microphone using a thick German accent. He dismissed the concept of sportsmanship and vowed to “win ze title and take it back to Germany vere it belongs.”

In the years following World War II, a German nationalist was not likely to be cheered on anywhere in the United States, but the vitriol Schmidt encouraged was unlike anything pro wrestling had ever seen. Schmidt had fans practically frothing at the mouth, stabbing him with hairpins, waving cigarette lighters in his face, and vandalizing his car. Fearing for his safety, police would often have to escort him through angry mobs. It didn’t really seem to matter whether Schmidt was truly anti-American or just playing a role. Either one seemed egregious.

Shotwell suspected the latter. During his interview with Schmidt, he handed him a newspaper clipping and asked him to read it out loud in German. Schmidt refused, saying that Shotwell wouldn’t understand him. Looking at it closely, Schmidt could see it quoted residents of Munich, where he claimed to hail from, who said they had never heard of any Hans Schmidt.

Shotwell pushed it a little further, until Schmidt made it clear he wasn’t going to continue to play along. Had he admitted the truth—that he was not an actual Nazi, but a French-Canadian named Guy Larose—then he likely would have missed out on a career that would eventually make him one of the highest-paid and most reviled athletes in the world.

Courtesy of Dave Drason Burzynski

If pretending to be an enemy of the state was his destiny, then Larose was born at the right time. He was 24 in 1949, the year he decided to become a pro wrestler; his dream of joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had ended while he was still in training after the police and several RCMP students tried to enforce an alcohol ban on a nearby Native community and had their vehicles pummeled with baseball bats.

Eager to exploit his six-foot-four, 240-pound frame, Larose turned to wrestling. In Michigan and across Canada, he was able to book contests but found that neither his persona nor his real name was drawing a crowd.

Arriving in Boston in 1951, Larose met wrestling promoter Paul Bowser, who took one look at the stern-faced wrestler and declared that he should adopt a Nazi persona. Larose wouldn’t be the first—Kurt Von Poppenheim had already devised a similar gimmick—but he’d have an opportunity to do it on television.

At the time, ring sports like boxing and wrestling were ideal for the burgeoning medium. Cheap to produce, they could easily fill programming schedules on networks like the DuMont Television Network, a onetime rival to CBS, NBC, and a burgeoning ABC that aired grappling contests from Chicago. Although Larose—now Schmidt—had been stirring up attention prior, it was his August 1953 appearance and interview with Chicago Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse that drew more disdain than usual.

After declaring “Germany has been good to me” and claiming that he believed there was no place for sportsmanship in wrestling, Schmidt was cut off by Brickhouse. With the emotional wounds of World War II still fresh, his appearance had struck a nerve. DuMont, Brickhouse would later recall, received more than 5000 angry letters from viewers who were disgusted by Schmidt. At least one viewer recommended he be deported.

Larose, however, exercised some restraint. The word “Nazi” was rarely tossed around, and he never goosestepped or carried a swastika with him. The implication of his allegiance seemed to be more than enough to stir the crowd into a frenzy, especially when he would remain seated during the National Anthem or turn his back at the sight of the American flag. He had been a motorcycle dispatcher during the war, he told journalists, and was once shot down while in a plane.

Although those details weren’t true, on many nights Larose may have felt as though he was in a war zone. Walking to the ring, he’d often be jabbed by women using their hairpins, or by men trying to singe him with their cigarettes. During matches, his “cheating”—using chairs to brain opponents, or kicking them in the groin—would draw crowds toward the ring in an effort to start a riot. At one engagement in Milwaukee, the ensuing chaos led to a brief ban on pro wrestling in the arena.

When the journalist Shotwell asked him what kind of car he drove, he hesitated. “A Lincoln,” he said. “I don’t want to describe it any more than that. I don’t want it wrecked.” He often came out of arenas to find ice picks in his tires.

Whatever argument existed about the good taste of Larose’s performance, there was no question it was lucrative. People who wished to see him get beaten in programs against the likes of Verne Gagne or Lou Thesz filled arenas. Once, special guest referee Joe Louis decked him in a staged climax. There was some kind of catharsis in watching Larose get pummeled.

Photo (C) by Brian Bukantis, www.wrestleprints.com

According to pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, who inducted the Schmidt character into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2012, Larose made roughly $1 million in his 20-year career, which wound to a close in the mid-1970s. Other “foreign menaces” like Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik were coming in, diversifying wrestling’s villain culture.

The kind of loathing he had drawn from the crowd remained rare in wrestling, which hates its heels but usually doesn’t attempt to stab them or burn them with fire. It wasn’t until Sergeant Slaughter turned away from his patriotism and became an Iraqi sympathizer in the early '90s that emotions got a bit too heated for entertainment’s sake. The WWE (then WWF) was forced to assign security to Slaughter’s family until the act was dropped.

By that point, Larose had long been out of the spotlight, having returned home to Quebec. He died in 2012 at the age of 87, his status as one of the most infamous performers of the 20th century having been largely forgotten. Never once did he admit during his prime that he was from Canada.

“Of course I’m from Germany,” he told Shotwell. “Do you think I’d go on television and say things that weren’t true?”

Additional Sources: Mad Dogs, Midgets, and Screw Jobs: The Untold Story of How Montreal Shaped Wrestling; The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels.

Unless otherwise credited, all photos (C) Dave Drason Burzynski from the book This Saturday Night: Return to the Cobo, available at Wrestleprints.com. Used with permission.

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