In the early 1950s, the Cincinnati Reds became the Cincinnati Redlegs after the team found their name entangled in the political tensions of the era.
As America’s fear of communism grew, particularly during the Korean War, the Reds decided to change their name to the Cincinnati Redlegs between 1953 and 1959. This decision wasn’t about sports; it was a move to distance the team from any communist associations, a concern amplified by the rise of McCarthyism.
Historical Roots and Political Pressures
The original name, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, dates back to 1869, becoming the Reds in 1881. However, the post-World War II era marked a period of heightened suspicion towards communism, often referred to as “The Red Scare.”
Senator Joseph McCarthy’s public witch hunts for communist sympathizers cast a shadow of fear across America. The term “Reds” became uncomfortably close to “Reds,” a common term for communists.
To avoid unwanted connections, the team opted for “Redlegs,” a nod to its historical roots and a safe distance from political controversy.
The Cincinnati Redlegs and Uniform Changes
During this period, some of the team’s most celebrated players, including Frank Robinson and Joe Nuxhall, played under the Redlegs banner. Despite the official name change, the team’s jerseys still sported the word “Reds,” and fans and media often continued to refer to them by their original name.
In 1956, an attempt to further avoid the “Reds” association led to jersey modifications, including a season featuring a Mr. Redlegs logo. However, these changes were short-lived.
Senator McCarthy’s influence dwindled following his senate censure in 1954 and his subsequent death in 1957. With the decline of McCarthyism, the climate of fear surrounding communism receded. By 1959, the team reclaimed its original name, the Cincinnati Reds.
The word “Reds” reappeared on their uniforms in 1961, a year marking their return to the postseason as National League pennant winners. Interestingly, the team experienced limited success as the Redlegs, with only two winning seasons during this period.
Reflections on the Reds’ Name Change
The story of the Reds becoming the Redlegs is a fascinating example of how sports can intersect with politics. It reflects a time when fear and suspicion influenced various aspects of American life, including the world of baseball. The Reds’ decision to change their name was a response to the prevailing political climate, a move to safeguard the team’s image amid national paranoia.
While the Redlegs name was relatively short-lived, it remains an interesting chapter in the team’s history. It signifies how external factors can impact sports teams and their identities. The era also reminds us of the power of names and symbols in representing and reflecting societal values and concerns.
Today, the Cincinnati Reds are firmly established with their original name, with the “Redlegs” period serving as a historical footnote. The team continues to build upon its rich history, contributing to the dynamic world of baseball while staying clear of political controversies that once led to a significant, if temporary, identity change.