Loser of the Week: The Binghamton Mets

Earlier this week, the Double-A Binghamton Mets kicked off their “Name The Team” contest, unveiling six fan-submitted nicknames that were put to a public vote. The slate of candidates was met with extreme dislike in the Binghamton community and roundly mocked by the national media, for obvious reasons that I shouldn’t have to explain. I mean, just look at them! But I’m a writer, so it’s my job to explain the obvious. I’m also a Binghamton native who has been in the stands for maybe 100 B-Mets games, so I’m going to try to help locals and long-distance onlookers understand how we arrived here (other than on the backs of Rumble Ponies, of course).

After the 2015 season, the B-Mets were acquired by John Hughes of Evans St. Baseball Inc., who has nothing to do with The Breakfast Club but probably eats breakfast sometimes. Hughes’ new ownership came with a promise to keep the team in Binghamton, which has always been a point of uncertainty. The B-Mets have been dead last in Eastern League attendance for some time, and have endured constant talk that they’ll ship out to some other city—Ottawa, most recently.

Although the finalists were just announced, Binghamtonians have known about the Name The Team contest for months. Their typical response was to question why the name Mets—which has been used for 25 years—wasn’t good enough. Well, here’s why (in ownership’s view, at least): an all-new line of merchandise would send a fresh stream of cash into the franchise. Before you break out your Montgomery Burns memes, remember we’re talking about a franchise that’s struggling to pay the rent. With a new look and a new team name, no longer would a fan be able to throw on his Edgardo Alfonzo New York Mets shirt and say “good enough.” It’s a small price to pay—probably about $29.95 plus tax—to keep baseball in town. There would be tough moments, like saying goodbye to Buddy the Bee, who’s enjoyed a multi-decade tenure as the B-Mets’ primary mascot. But given that his species’ average lifespan is about one month, he had a pretty good run.

More importantly, though, a name change more easily enables the B-Mets to part ways with their parent club if they so choose. Minor-league clubs are not owned by major-league organizations (with one notable exception), and instead sign two-year development deals with big-league clubs, which leads to frequent shuffling of affiliations. The New York Mets have been very happy to continue their relationship with Binghamton, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t endure. But, as I said before, this is a team that isn’t exactly on solid ground in Binghamton. If the team can set itself up for the mere possibility of securing a better deal with another club, it’s worth it. Local fans would certainly cry foul over having to root for, say, Twins prospects instead of Mets hopefuls, but they’d get over it.

All of that is to say that I’m 100 percent okay with the idea of renaming the team. Truly, I am. But these names! Hoo boy. These names.

Minor-league baseball’s target demographic is families, and, more specifically, young children. That’s why there have been a bunch of wild-n-wacky team names popping up in recent years: Akron RubberDucks, El Paso Chihuahuas, and Richmond Flying Squirrels, to name a few. But no team exemplifies this trend better than the Hartford Yard Goats, the Colorado Rockies’ Double-A farm team that rose from the ashes of the former New Britain Rock Cats to play their inaugural season this year. Like the B-Mets, the Yard Goats had a list of mostly cringeworthy names to choose from (“Praying Mantis” and the fad-driven “Honey Badgers” were the worst of the lot). This article—even though it was seemingly written by a grumpy old man who enjoys pelting children with peanut shells—sheds light on what the Yard Goats were trying to do. Their all-about-the-kids approach inspired the B-Mets’ PR team, but the nicknames Binghamton settled on were all wrong. Here’s why, one by one:

Binghamton Bullheads: “Dude, you’re such a bullhead.” Sounds like a pretty good insult, right? You can even replace the first syllable with a slightly less FCC-friendly word if you want to add some extra punch. I’m not sure some starting pitcher is going to be able to take the field with his head held high on a team whose name evokes excrement, so I doubt the fans will be much more excited. A bullhead is a type of catfish, which should really hook the young demographic. Kids love the thrill of fishing almost as much as they love the fast-paced action of baseball.

Binghamton Gobblers: You can’t call a team the Turkeys, but no one says “gobbler” except for the corny uncle who’s trying to make his nieces and nephews laugh at Thanksgiving dinner. He probably also calls the Los Angeles Angels the “Halos,” because he’s super hip, yo.

Oh, and gobbler has another meaning, apparently, which I will not comment on. But I will leave this here for your not-suitable-for-work edification.

Binghamton Rocking Horses: Have you ever read “The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence? It’s about a boy who rides a rocking horse for hours on end until he reaches a state of clairvoyance that allows him to correctly predict horse races and win money for his impoverished family. Except, he’s not just riding a rocking horse or making predictions; he’s also, uh, discovering certain things that boys discover around his age. Suffice it to say that this is not a great basis for a baseball team’s nickname. Even if you think about a more innocent version of the rocking horse, the antiquated wooden toy doesn’t exactly capture kids’ imaginations (plans to put “Binghamton PS4s” on the ballot were scrapped after negotiations with Sony stalled).

Binghamton Rumble Ponies: I… don’t know what this is. Just no clue. My best guess is that it refers to those plastic, coin-operated horses outside of grocery stores, whose safety features are surely evaluated on a regular basis. It also sounds like another version of Lawrence’s rocking horse, enhanced for modern times.

Okay, so my editors have informed me that I have to research things, instead of relying on wanton conjecture and just plain making stuff up. Apparently Rumble is a character from the My Little Pony line of TV shows/films/plastic junk, but it’s unclear what, if anything, this has to do with the nickname.

Binghamton Stud Muffins: This option is the one that makes me think the B-Mets are out for some short-term attention more than anything. Sure, the name made national headlines, and it may well be the winner, on the strength of the tongue-in-cheek supporters it seems to be gathering. If that happens, leadership needs to consider whether it wants the team to be a novelty act. Sure, they’ll sell some gag gifts to the guy who says “gobbler” and recently divorced moms, but the number of people who will be able to genuinely support this wink-wink, nudge-nudge team will be low. Everything else I have to say about this can be summed up in a one-act play:

Scene: The playground

Timmy: Hey Billy. Do you want to go see the Stud Muffins tonight?

BILLY punches TIMMY in the face and steals his bobblehead of Binghamton baseball’s mascot, Muffiny.

Binghamton Timber Jockeys: This name refers to the wooden horses on Broome County’s 80-year-old circuit of carousels, but good luck figuring that out. When I say “timber jockeys,” what do you picture? Nothing, probably, because it’s a made-up term that had never been uttered before the B-Mets nominated it, not even by Gary Busey.

And that’s the biggest problem with all of these names: they don’t spur the senses. They don’t call to mind anything vivid or visual, anything that suggests a strong identity. Add in the fact that they’re all vaguely sexual (or scatological), and are in no way relevant to the interests of kids, and you’ve got a PR nightmare.

So here’s my solution, not that anyone asked for it: pick a new six, and stop trying so damn hard to pander and be unique. Pick a couple of purely “traditional names” that the codger who wrote the Yard Goats article would approve of, like the Bluestockings or the Governors or the No Women’s Suffrage. Go for two safe, solid ones that won’t inspire a ton of enthusiasm but won’t cause boycotts, like Bobcats or Gators or something. And then you can have your two off-the-wall, legitimately kid-friendly ones, which aren’t present in the original list.

If not, they’re probably pretty good at naming things up in Ottawa.

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Dustin Petzold is the editor-in-chief of Crooked Scoreboard. He wishes he had suggested a name. You should follow him on Twitter

Nate Koehler is a cartoonist and illustrator who will probably never draw a bullhead again. You should follow him on Twitter, too.

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