The Universe of Discourse

Wed, 22 Nov 2006

Baseball team nicknames
Lorrie and I were in the car, and she noticed another car with a Detroit Pistons sticker. She remarked that "Pistons" was a good name for a basketball team, and particularly for one from Detroit. I agreed. But then she mentioned the Utah Jazz, a terrible mismatch, and asked me how that happened to be. Even if you don't know, you can probably guess: They used to be the New Orleans Jazz, and the team moved to Utah. They should have changed the name to the Teetotalers or the Salt Flats or something, but they didn't, so now we have the Utah Jazz. I hear that next month they're playing the Miami Fightin' Irish.

That got us thinking about how some sports team names travel, and others don't. Jazz didn't. The Miami Heat could trade cities or names with the Phoenix Suns and nobody would notice. But consider the Chicago Bulls. They could pick up and move anywhere, anywhere at all, and the name would still be fine, just fine. Kansas City Bulls? Fine. Honolulu Bulls? Fine. Marsaxlokk Bulls? Fine.

We can distinguish two categories of names: the "generic" names, like "Bulls", and the "local color" names, like "Pistons". But I know more about baseball, so I spent more time thinking about baseball team names.

In the National League, we have the generic Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Giants, Pirates, and Reds, who could be based anywhere, and in some cases were. The Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta, although to escape from Boston they first had to change their name from the Beaneaters. The New York Giants didn't need to change their name when they moved to San Francisco, and they won't need to change their name when they move to Jyväskylä next year. (I hear that the Jyväskylä city council offered them a domed stadium and they couldn't bear to say no.)

On the other hand, the Florida Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Colorado Rockies are clearly named after features of local importance. If the Marlins were to move to Wyoming, or the Rockies to Nebraska, they would have to change their names, or turn into bad jokes. Then again, the Jazz didn't change their name when they moved to Utah.

The New York Mets are actually the "Metropolitans", so that has at least an attempt at a local connection. The Washington Nationals ditto, although the old name of the Washington Senators was better. At least in that one way. Who could root for a team called the Washington Senators? (From what I gather, not many people could.)

The Nationals replaced the hapless Montreal Expos, whose name wasn't very good, but was locally related: they were named for the 1967 Montreal World's Fair. Advice: If you're naming a baseball team, don't choose an event that will close after a year, and especially don't choose one that has already closed.

The Houston Astros, and their Astrodome filled with Astroturf, are named to recall the NASA manned space center, which opened there in 1961. The Philadelphia club is called the Phillies, which is not very clever, but is completely immovable. Boston Phillies, anyone? Pittsburgh Phillies? New York Phillies? No? I didn't think so.

I don't know why the San Diego Padres are named that, but there is plenty of Spanish religious history in the San Diego area, so I am confident in putting them in the "local color" column. Milwaukee is indeed full of Brewers; there are a lot of Germans up there, brewing up lager. (Are they back in the National League again? They seem to switch leagues every thirty years.)

That leaves just the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are a bit of an odd case. The team, as you know, was originally the Brooklyn Dodgers. The "Dodgers" nickname, as you probably didn't know, is short for "Trolley Dodgers". The Los Angeles Trolley Dodgers is almost as bad a joke as the Nebraska Rockies. Fortunately, the "Trolley" part was lost a long time ago, and we can now imagine that the team is the Los Angeles Traffic Dodgers. So much for the National League; we have six generic names out of 16, counting the Traffic Dodgers in the "local color" group, and ignoring the defunct Expos.

The American League does not do so well. They have the Boston Royals, the Kansas City Tigers, the Detroit Indians, the Oakland Orioles, and three teams that are named after sox: the Red, the White, and the Athletics.

Then there are the Blue Jays. They were originally owned by Labatt, a Canadian brewer of beer, and were so-named to remind visitors to the park of their flagship brand, Labatt's Blue. I might have a harder time deciding which group to put them in, if it weren't for the (1944-1945) Philadelphia Blue Jays. If the name is generic enough to be transplanted from Toronto to Philadelphia, it is generic. I have no idea what name the Toronto club could choose if they wanted to avail themselves of the "local color" option rather than the "generic" option; it's tempting to make a cruel joke and suggest that the name most evocative of Toronto would be the Toronto Generics. But no, that's unfair. They could always call their baseball club the Toronto Hockey Fans.

Anyway, moving on, we have the New York Yankees, which is not the least generic possible name, but clearly qualifies as "local color" once you pause to think about the Charleston Yankees, the Shreveport Yankees, and the Selma Yankees. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are clearly "local color". The Minnesota Twins play in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The California, Anaheim, or Los Angeles Angels, whatever they're called this week, are evidently named for the city of Los Angeles. I would ridicule the Los Angeles Angels for having a redundant name, but as an adherent of the Philadelphia Phillies, I am living in a glass house.

The Texas Rangers are named for the famous Texas Rangers. I don't know exactly why the Seattle club is named Mariners; I wouldn't have considered Seattle to be an unusually maritime city, but their previous team was the Seattle Pilots, so the folks in Seattle must think of themselves so, and I'm willing to go along with it.

The tally for the American League is therefore eight generic, six local color. The total for Major League Baseball as a whole is 14 generic names out of 30.

This is a lot better than the Japanese Baseball League, which has a bunch of teams with names like the Lions, Tigers, Dragons, Giants, and Fighters. They make up for this somewhat in the names of the teams' corporate sponsors, so, for example, the Nippon Ham Fighters. They are sponsored by Nippon Ham, which does not make it any less funny. And the Yakult Swallows, which, if you interpret it as a noun phrase, sounds just a little bit like a gay porn flick set in Uzbekistan.

Incidentally, my favorite team name is the Wilmington Blue Rocks. The Blue Rocks' mascot is, alas, not a rock but a moose. Sometimes I dream of a team from Lansing, Michigan, called the Lansing Boils, but I know it will remain an unfulfilled fantasy.

[ Warning for non-Americans: Almost, but not quite everything in this article is the truth. Marsaxlokk does not actually have a Major League baseball club yet; however, they do have a class-A affiliate in the Mediterranean league, called the Marsaxlokk Moghzaskops. Also, the Giants are not scheduled to move to Jyväskylä until after the 2008 season. ]

[ Addendum 20061127: There is a followup article to this one. ]

Linogram: Declarative drawing
As we saw in yesterday's article, The definition of the EAS component is twenty lines of strange, mostly mathematical notation. I could have drawn the Etch-a-Sketch in a WYSIWYG diagram-drawing system like xfig. It might have been less trouble. Many people will prefer this. Why invent linogram?

Some of the arguments should be familiar to you. The world is full of operating systems with GUIs. Why use the Unix command line? The world is full of WYSIWYG word processors. Why use TeX?

Text descriptions of processes can be automatically generated, copied, and automatically modified. Common parts can be abstracted out. This is a powerful paradigm.

Collectively, the diagrams contained 19 "gears". Partway through, I decided that the black dot that represented the gear axle was too small, and made it bigger. Had I been using a WYSIWYG system, I would have had the pleasure of editing 19 black dots in 10 separate files. Then, if I didn't like the result, I would have had the pleasure of putting them back the way they were. With linogram, all that was required was to change the 0.02 to an 0.05 in eas.lino:

        define axle {
param number r = 0.05;
circle a(fill=1, r=r);
}


The Etch-a-Sketch article contained seven similar diagrams with slight differences. Each one contained a require "eas"; directive to obtain the same definition of the EAS component. Partway through the process, I decided to alter the aspect ratio of the Etch-a-Sketch body. Had I been drawing these with a WYSIWYG system, that would have meant editing each of the seven diagrams in the same way. With linogram, it meant making a single trivial change to eas.lino.

A linogram diagram has a structure: it is made up of component parts with well-defined relationships. A line in a WYSIWYG diagram might be 4.6 inches long. A line in a linogram diagram might also be 4.6 inches long, but that is probably not all there is to it. The south edge of the body box in my diagrams is 4.6 inches long, but only because it has been inferred (from other relationships) to be 1.15 w, and because w was specified to be 4 inches. Change w, and everything else changes automatically to match. Each part moves appropriately, to maintain the specified relationships. The distance from the knob centers to the edge remains 3/40 of the distance between the knobs. The screen remains 70% as tall as the body. A WYSIWYG system might be able to scale everything down by 50%, but all it can do is to scale down everything by 50%; it doesn't know enough about the relationships between the elements to do any better. What will happen if I reduce the width but not the height by 50%? The gears are circles; will the WYSIWYG system keep them as circles? Will they shrink appropriately? Will their widths be adjusted to fit between the two knobs? Maybe, or maybe not. In linogram, the required relationships are all explicit. For example, I specified the size of the black axle dots in absolute numbers, so they do not grow or shrink when the rest of the diagram is scaled.

Finally, because the diagrams are mathematically specified, I can leave the definitions of some of the components implicit in the mathematics, and let linogram figure them out for me. For example, consider this diagram:

The three gears here have radii of w/4, w/3, and w/12, respectively. Here is the line in the diagram specification that generates them:

        gear3 gears(width=WIDTH, r1=1/4, r3=1/12);


I specified r1, the radius of the left gear, and r3, the radius of the right gear. Where is the middle gear? It's implicit in the definition of the gear3 type. The definition knows that the three gears must all touch, so it calculates the radius of the middle gear accordingly:

define gear3 {
...
number r2 = (1 - r1 - r3) / 2;
...
}


linogram gives me the option of omitting r2 and having it be calculated for me from this formula, or of specifying r2 anyway, in which case linogram will check it against this formula and raise an error if the values don't match.

 Order Higher-Order Perl with kickback no kickback
Tomorrow: The Etch-a-Sketch as a component.

More complete information about linogram is available in Chapter 9 of Higher-Order Perl; complete source code is available from the linogram web site.