BASEBALL URBAN LEGEND: The nickname “Giants” for the baseball team was coined by a celebratory outburst by their manager after a rousing victory.
In 1882, John B. Day and Jim Mutrie found themselves fielding two very interesting offers. The two major baseball leagues, the National League (NL) and the American Association (AA) both wanted Day and Mutrie’s minor league team, the New York Metropolitans, to join their respective leagues. Day and Mutrie found an interesting solution...they accepted both offers!
They purchased a bunch of the players from the disbanded Troy Trojans team and used them to form their entrant to the National League while the American Association got their established roster (which was managed by Mutrie). They began competing in both leagues in 1883.
For the first two seasons, Day and Mutrie were more concerned with their American Association team since it was a much better team (it won the AA Championship in 1884). However, their National League team was more popular and even though it was not as good of a team it was making money while the AA team was losing money despite the championship (the fact that NL tickets cost twice as much as AA tickets probably didn’t hurt).
So in 1885, they turned their focus to their NL team, with Mutrie taking over as manager and a couple of their top players (future Hall of Fame pitcher Tim Keefe and third baseman Dude Esterbrook) changing teams to the National League club. Day and Mutrie sold their AA club in 1886. When Day and Mutrie’s team joined the NL in 1883 it was ostensibly also called the Metropolitans, but because of the other team, the AA club really got the name (it was listed as such in newspaper standings) and the NL team tended to be referred to as either the “New Yorks” or the “Gothams.”
As the story goes, that changed in one fateful game in June of 1885. From the great baseball history site, the Baseball Library, is a quote about the game on June 3, 1885, “New York’s Mickey Welch holds on for an 8-7 win over the Phillies in 11 innings. Dude Esterbrook comes around from 1B on a hit-and-run and though nailed at the plate‚ he kicks the ball out of the hands of C Chick Ganzel. The win leaves NY with a record of 19-5. With the victory‚ new manager Jim Mutrie allegedly proclaims‚ ‘My big fellows! My Giants! We are the People!’ The nickname catches on and the team is dubbed the Giants.” Great story. Is is true?
It appears clear that the nickname was not COINED that day, as it was in heavy usage in the New York World newspaper throughout the 1885 season. For example, from the New York World...
April 14th - Gotham Giants in Jersey.
April 21st - NEW YORK’S GIANTS WIN.
April 26th - Heavy Batting by New York Giants.
May 3rd - THE NEW YORK GIANTS WIN.
May 5th - NEW YORK’S GIANTS WHIP THE PROVIDENCE GRAYS.
May 6th - A DEFEAT FOR THE GIANTS.
May 7th - NEW YORK WINS AGAIN. THE GIANTS EASILY DEFEAT THE BOSTON PLAYERS.
May 12th - NEW YORK’S GIANTS LEAD.
May 15th - A DEFEAT FOR THE GIANTS.
And there are more. However, it is fair to note that it was later in June that other newspapers began to pick up on the nickname. The Sporting Life, the New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Washington Post all referred to the New York team as the Giants in June and July 1885. So you could make a case that Mutrie popularized the nickname.
In addition, there is an alternate theory that Mutrie began referring to the team as the Giants as soon as he took over the team in early 1885 (there WERE a lot of big guys on the team). I could believe that (as the Giants nickname clearly DID become an established nickname during the 1885 season. There are no records of it being used in 1884 and one reference to it in 1883 in a Chicago newspaper, which might have been using the term sarcastically). I could also believe that Mutrie made an exclamation in June that caught the attention of the baseball world and solidified the nickname of the team. However, it is pretty evident that the nickname was in use well before the June 3rd game. So the legend is...
Thanks to the world-renowned etymologist Barry Popik for his work on this subject. He is amazing. Check out all of his stunning research into the topic here. To paraphrase the theme song to Scooby Doo, I couldn’t have a show without him.
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