Several days ago, a story detailing the origins of the names of the 30 teams that comprise Major League Baseball caught our eye. With that in mind, we decided to use our visit to Pittsburgh to offer up a short history lesson that examined the origins behind the names of the three professional sports teams based in the Steel City – the Steelers, Pirates and of course, the Penguins.
Let’s begin with a quick look at the Steelers. The locals are quick to point out that the once thriving steel industry in the city isn’t what it used to be. During the Second World War, more than 90,000 people made their living working with steel in one way or another in Pittsburgh. In an attempt to capitalize on that employment trend and create a sense of ownership and loyalty towards his football team, Art Rooney elected to change the name of his franchise from the Pirates to the Steelers in 1940 as a tribute to the hard-working steelworkers across the region. Some sixty years later, Rooney’s efforts are still paying dividends as the Steelers remain one of the most popular teams in the NFL. While many of the steel mills and factories in Pittsburgh have since closed their doors, their workers will never be forgotten. On the river banks where countless mills and factories once stood, a monument was erected last September to honor those who made steel their life’s work. No, the monument is not one featuring two Transformer robots engaged in mortal combat, but rather two giant steelworkers constructed out of steel beams from an old bridge.
On to the Pirates, the pride of baseball fans in the Steel City. They too changed their name at some point in their history. Founded in 1882, the club was initially known as the Pittsburg (no "h") Alleghenies, then the Pittsburg (still no "h") Innocents before finally adopting the Pirates moniker in 1891 during which time the Pittsburgh-based ball club was accused by a Philadelphia journalist of « pirating » second baseman Louis Bierbauer away from the Philadelphia Athletics American Association team. Not fearing any controversy whatsoever, the owners of the team decided to rename their team the Pirates. While Bierbauer didn’t manage to lead the Pirates to much success on the field, he has been immortalized in the Pirates’ new stadium, PNC Park, with a restaurant on the 200-level known as Bierbauer’s Grill.
It’s safe to say that no penguin is capable of living in Pittsbugh’s climate. These living specimens, including the macaroni penguin, can however be observed at the local aquarium. So, why are the Penguins actually called the Penguins? That’s an excellent question. That honor belongs to Carol McGregor, the spouse of one of the club’s initial owners. The story goes that McGregor sought out the nickname for the old Civic Arena, which was then known as the Igloo. After learning of the arctic-like moniker, McGregor drew the connection – igloo…ice…Penguins!
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