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Why were the Cincinnati Reds once known as the Redlegs?

Dear Cecil:

My baseball cards from several seasons in the 50s refer to the baseball team from Cincinnati as the "Redlegs." I seem to remember at one point this was because of the connotations of "Reds." What exactly is the story?

Bruce M., Chicago

Cecil replies:

When the team was first formed in 1890, it was known as the Red Stockings–quite a mouthful for tight-lipped midwesterners, who soon shortened it to Redlegs, and then to Reds. The official name of the company that owns the team now is “Cincinnati Reds, Inc.”–although no one in the organization is exactly sure when the change in names took place, thanks to the rather casual record-keeping that prevailed in the early days of baseball. But Reds they were through the 40s, until the sinister junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, started casting aspersions on that end of the spectrum. Cincinnati being as all-American as any town you could name, the citizens quickly reverted to the older nickname. The situation was disturbingly similar to World War I, when sauerkraut became “victory cabbage” and frankfurters became “hot dogs” in order to avoid the taint of German militarism. After McCarthy fell from the scene, the team went quietly back to being the Reds (no outbreak of Bolshevik activity was immediately apparent), but among native Cincinnatians of a certain age, “Redlegs” remains the preferred appellation to this day.

Cecil Adams

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