From the Savannah Sand Gnats to the Montgomery Biscuits, Minor League Baseball is full of slightly bizarre names. But where do they all come from? From now until Opening Day, we'll be taking a look at the stories behind some of the greatest team names in MiLB. So far we've covered the Akron RubberDucks, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, and the Las Vegas 51s.
This one's not a surprise to fans of The Simpsons. When the Calgary Cannons moved to Albuquerque for the 2003 season, "Isotopes" won a name-the-team contest with 67% of the vote. The second place suggestion, Dukes, was a throwback to the long-lived Albuquerque team that had left New Mexico three years prior for Portland, OR, where they became the Beavers.
Other options in the online contest held by the Albuquerque Tribune included Roadrunners, 66ers, and Atoms. All good options, but none presented the same referential appeal as Isotopes. In an episode of The Simpsons that aired in 2001, Homer learns of a devastating plan to move the fictional Springfield Isotopes to Albuquerque. That move fell through, but in the alternate universe that is reality, the Albuquerque Isotopes were a smash hit. In the three weeks following the announcement of the new name in September, 2002, the Isotopes sold more merchandise than the Dukes ever had in a full season. The team had yet to play a single game.
"It's definitely a unique logo," says Laura Verillo, the Isotopes' Director of Public Relations. "It reaches out to not just baseball fans but also science fans." That Venn Diagram of appeal has helped keep the Isotopes' merchandise in MiLB's top ten — out of 160 teams — every year since their inception.
Verillo emphasizes that the atomic implications are equally valid, citing New Mexico's many nuclear technology facilities, but that doesn't mean the team is ashamed of the name's animated origins. With the approval of Fox and The Simpsons, statues of Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa Simpson can be found throughout the stadium. Kevin Levine, the writer responsible for the first episode of The Simpsons to reference the Springfield Isotopes, even came out to visit the life-imitating-art version of his vision and talk about how the name first came to him.
Courtesy of Albuquerque Isotopes
The team got another pop culture boost over a decade after the name debuted when AMC chose to set the wildly popular Breaking Bad in Albuquerque. While living there during filming, actor Bryan Cranston became a fan of the Isotopes, helping organize charity games at the stadium and even wearing a logo-ed hat in an episode.
The name is offbeat, popular and even educational. "We definitely all know a little more chemistry now with the name," Verillo says.