We all know the St. Louis Cardinals by their current name, one they’ve had for more than a century. But they weren’t always known as the Cardinals.
The National League was founded in 1876 with eight teams, and St. Louis was one of the original members. However, that franchise is not the same as the one playing in today’s NL.
That first squad was called the St. Louis Brown Stockings, obviously deriving their nickname – as many teams did at the time – from the color of their hosiery. That franchise started as a member of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in 1875 before becoming a charter member of the NL. However, bankruptcy forced the team to fold following the 1877 season.
After a half decade of semi-pro games, the team returned fully to the professional ranks in 1882, with the newly resurrected franchise beginning its run that continues today. In the team’s first season in the newly-formed American Association, the Brown Stockings moniker was retained, though in 1883 the name was simplified to Browns, quite possibly to make things easier for newspaper typesetters.
The Browns were quite successful during their years in the AA, though the league did not fair as well, itself going bankrupt after the 1891 campaign. As a result, the team shifted to the National League, apparently a much tougher circuit given the franchise’s lamentable performance over the next three decades, including an abysmal 29-102 record in 1897.
While a name change couldn’t hurt, the audacious choice of “Perfectos” for the 1899 season certainly was brazen for a squad that had gone 39-111 the year before. Maybe the new name energized the players, as they emerged from a seven-year stretch in the bottom quarter of the 12-team league to finish in fifth place that season when their record surged to 84-67.
The Perfectos rebranding was accompanied by a new look, with the team transitioning to red socks and uniform trim. Allegedly, a sports columnist named Willie McHale heard a woman compliment the new unis and their “lovely shade of cardinal,” and McHale began calling the team the “Cardinals” in his articles. (Reporters creating nicknames for teams was a common occurrence back then.) The fans liked it, and the name stuck, with the team officially making the change in 1900.
That renowned name has stayed with the team for more than 120 years as the Cardinals have won nearly 10,000 regular-season games, made 31 playoff appearances, captured 19 NL pennants, and claimed 11 World Series titles, second-most in MLB history.
Will the team ever change its name again? It’s highly doubtful. After all, why mess with perfection.