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8 Thoroughly Misleading Baseball Team Names

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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Big Questions
Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?
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Brett Deering/Getty Images

On Saturday night, one of three finalists will be named this year's Heisman Trophy winner. But before anyone brings home the hardware, let’s answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

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His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman (right) was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman’s Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn’t really Heisman’s Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer – he consistently received rotten reviews – and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere - in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago’s Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

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Possibly, but Heisman didn’t have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists – Vinny Testaverde won that year – and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time." [Pictured Above: Auburn's Bo Jackson in 1985.]

What’s a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol’ Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida’s student government thought Spurrier’s generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he’d get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World’s Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman’s Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn’t show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3,000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren’t totally clear – some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion – the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1,620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

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#TBT
Thin Ice: The Bizarre Boxing Career of Tonya Harding
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Al Bello/Getty Images

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked Tonya Harding about the strangest business offer she had received after her skating career came to an abrupt end in the mid-1990s. “I guess to skate topless,” she answered. In 1994, the two-time former Olympian became infamous for her ex-husband’s attempt to break the leg of rival Nancy Kerrigan. Although Harding denied any knowledge of or involvement in the plan—which ended with Kerrigan suffering a bruised leg and Harding being banned from the U.S. Figure Skating organization, ending her competitive pursuits—she became a running punchline in the media for her attempts to exploit that notoriety. There was a sex tape (which her equally disgraced former husband, Jeff Gillooly, taped on their wedding night), offers to wrestle professionally, attempts to launch careers in both music and acting, and other means of paying bills.

Though she did not accept the offer to perform semi-nude, she did embark on a new career that many observers found just as lurid and sensational: For a two-year period, Tonya Harding was a professional boxer.

Tonya Harding rises from the canvas during a boxing match
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Following the attack on Kerrigan and the subsequent police investigation, Harding pled guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution, received three years’ probation, and was levied a $160,000 fine. (Gillooly and his conspirators served time.) Ostracized from skating and with limited opportunities, Harding first tried to enter the music scene with her band, the Golden Blades.

When that didn’t work—they were booed off stage in Portland, Oregon, Harding’s hometown—she disappeared from the public eye, offering skating lessons in Oregon before resurfacing on a March 2002 Fox network broadcast titled Celebrity Boxing. Using heavily padded gloves and outsized headgear, performers like Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges pummeled one another on the undercard. In the main event, Harding used her physicality to batter and bruise Paula Jones, the woman who had accused then-president Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

This was apparently the boost of confidence Harding needed. “I thought it was fun knocking somebody else on their butt,” she told the Tribune. Boxing, she said, could be an opportunity to embrace her self-appointed title as “America’s Bad Girl.”

Harding looked up a boxing promoter in Portland named Paul Brown and signed a four-year contract that would pay her between $10,000 and $15,000 per bout. The 5-foot, 1-inch Harding quickly grew in stature, moving to 123 pounds from her 105-pound skating weight. Following her win against Jones, Brown booked her a fight against up-and-coming boxer Samantha Browning in a four-round bout in Los Angeles in February 2003. The fight was said to be sloppy, with both women displaying their limited experience. Ultimately, Browning won a split decision.

Harding rebounded that spring, winning three fights in a row. Against Emily Gosa in Lincoln City, Oregon, she was roundly booed upon entering the arena. “The entire fight barely rose above the level of a drunken street brawl,” The Independent reported.

Of course, few spectators were there to see Harding put on a boxing clinic. They wanted to watch a vilified sports figure suffer some kind of public retribution for her role in the attack on Kerrigan. Following her brief winning streak, Harding was pummeled by Melissa Yanas in August 2003, losing barely a minute into the first round of a fight that took place in the parking lot of a Dallas strip club. In June 2004, she was stopped a second time against 22-year-old nursing student Amy Johnson; the Edmonton, Alberta, crowd cheered as Harding was left bloodied. Harding later told the press that Johnson, a native Canuck, had been given 26 seconds to get up after Harding knocked her down when the rules mandated only 10, which she saw as a display of national favoritism.

Harding had good reason to be upset. The Johnson fight was pivotal, as a win could have meant a fight on pay-per-view against Serbian-born boxer Jelena Mrdjenovich for a $600,000 purse. That bout never materialized.

Tonya Harding signs head shots on a table
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There was more than just lack of experience working against Harding in her newfound career. Having been a longtime smoker, she suffered from asthma. The condition plagued her skating career; in boxing, where lapses in cardiovascular conditioning can get you hurt, it became a serious problem. Although Harding competed again—this time emerging victorious in a fight against pro wrestler Brittany Drake in an exhibition bout in Essington, Pennsylvania, in January 2005—it would end up being her last contest. Suffering from pneumonia and struggling with weight gain caused by corticosteroids prescribed for treatment, she halted her training.

In an epilogue fit for Harding’s frequently bizarre escapades, there was remote potential for one last bout. In 2011, dot-com entrepreneur Alki David offered Harding $100,000 to step back into the ring, with another $100,000 going to her proposed opponent. Had it happened, it probably would have gone down as one of the biggest sideshows of the past century. Unfortunately for Harding, Nancy Kerrigan never responded to the offer.

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