The Cincinnati Reds announced on April 9, 1953, a few days before the first game of the season, that it had changed the team’s name from the Reds to the Redlegs. The team issued no explanation why it made the decision. But an Associated Press story said it had dropped the “Reds” name to dissociate it from communism and the Red Scare hysteria.
Cincinnati general manager Gabe Paul later said the team “wanted to be certain we wouldn’t be confused with the Russian Reds.”
The Russians, after all, had Nikita Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov, and Vyacheslav Molotov. The Reds had Ted Kluszewski, Bob Borkowski, Harry Perkowski, Fred Baczewski, Joe Szekely, and Andy Seminick.
The Soviet Union spread communism through Eastern Europe immediately after World War II and then it expanded to Eastern Asia, where communist North Korea and democratically ruled South Korea were at war until July 27, 1953.
Conservative politicians, including U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy, stoked the “Red Scare” by telling Americans in February 1950 that he had a list with more than 200 names of Communist sympathizers working in the state department. He never produced the list.
McCarthy smeared his political rivals as communists who were intent on overthrowing the government. He later chaired a subcommittee that identified suspected “reds,” regardless of whether any evidence existed, who were fired from their jobs or sentenced to prison.
The Reds got caught up in that hysteria, Cincinnati Reds team historian Greg Rhodes said.
“The word ‘red’ was all over the front page,” Rhodes said, “and it was always bad news.”
Dozens of professional, college, and high school sports teams have dropped the names of their mascots in recent years after protests that they were offensive to Native Americans. The Washington Redskins became the Washington Football Team. This is the last year that the Cleveland Indians will use the Indians name.
The Cincinnati baseball team, which remained the Redlegs through the 1959 season, may be the only professional team to change its name because of political reasons. In changing their name to the Redlegs, one writer said, the baseball team preferred to associate themselves with slavery over communism because the name “redleg” was itself a derogatory term given to poor white slaves living in the Caribbean – though the term had fallen out of use long before the 1950s.
The Cincinnati Red Stockings became baseball’s first professional team in 1869. The name was shortened to the Reds but remained unattached with communism – or quality baseball -- for most of the next six decades. Fans often referred to the team as the “Redlegs,” Rhodes said.
The best team during that time was the New York Yankees, who were managed by Joe McCarthy during the 1930s and 1940s.
By 1950, one Joe McCarthy was beginning his infamy as a red-hunting senator while the other was finishing his hall of fame career by managing the Boston Red Sox, whose name remained untainted during the Red Scare. Boston fired McCarthy in July of that season. There’s no evidence that politics had anything to do with his dismissal.
To sportswriters and fans, the Reds remained the Reds and not the Redlegs.