If the rumors are true, the reason that there’s a minor league baseball team called the Manatees is that fans wanted a Major League team called the Manatees, but the powers that be wouldn’t allow it. Here’s Kyle Smith, general manager of the single-A Brevard County Manatees of the Florida State League:
The rumor has it that there was a name-the-team fan voting for the Florida Marlins. The fans picked Manatees, but Wayne Huizenga didn’t like the name of that, or somebody didn’t like the name of that, and decided to go with Marlins, and as a reconciliation, decided that, okay, we’ll name our minor league affiliate in Brevard, our spring training home, we’ll name them Manatees.
And while a Major League Baseball team named after a marine mammal that basically looks like a floating bratwurst with flippers might have been the greatest thing ever, Smith sort of gets it.
“I understand,” he said. “If I were them I would do the same thing. It’s not sleek, it’s not fast, it’s not sexy. Where Marlins is sleek and fast and kind of sexy, a sea cow is not.”
While manatees are not sexy, they are endearing (not to mention endangered), and they hold a special place in the heart of the local community on Florida’s Atlantic coast. “Save the Manatees foundation is 50 miles away,” Smith said. “It’s obviously a big deal down here.”
Introduced in 1994 as the single-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins, the Manatees joined the baseball world wearing teal (because it was the ’90s and that was the law). They switched to red, white, and blue (or bleu, blanc, et rouge) when they became an Expos affiliate in 2002, and they maintained that colour scheme even after they became a Brewers affiliate in 2005. The Manatees logo and mascot are notable for being decidedly not fierce, much like another teal Marlins affiliate introduced at the same time.
“We might be one of the first teams—[Portland] Sea Dogs are another perfect example—of the first wave of those kind of cutesy, non-imposing, cartoony logos,” Smith said.
“You can’t make a manatee fierce,” Smith continued. “What kind of alternate logo could we do? Do we just have a hat that’s a snout and whiskers? That’s not imposing. The only thing we can do is give him like an axe or knife. Well, we’re not going to do that.”
The team played off their mascot’s lovable image with a tongue-in-cheek “Fear the Sea Cow” slogan that was intended to be used just for one season four years ago, but fans took to it and it has been used ever since. “Anything with that on it became our number one seller,” Smith said, “so we’ve kind of stuck with that as our mantra.”
The team’s primary logo (at the top of this post) features the team’s mascot, Manny the Manatee, holding a baseball bat and wearing a cap. The team’s cap logo (at right) features an interlocking BC and Manny tossing a baseball in the air.
The Manatees made a specific design decision regarding the logo on Manny’s cap to avoid creating an Inception-style infinite loop of cartoon manatees.
“On Manny’s hat is just the BC,” Smith said, “it’s not the actual logo because obviously that would be kind of strange. It’s kind of like that one baseball card, like there was 10, 15 years ago, where the guy, it’s a baseball card of him holding that baseball card.”
The team uses the primary logo on all materials outside of the local community because the letter pairing of BC can mean a lot more than just Brevard County. “If I wear that in the Orlando area or I go back to Minnesota,” Smith said, “people think it’s British Columbia or Boston College or something like that.” (It made me think of the Brooklyn Cyclones, but my head is pretty much always in a minor league baseball cloud.)
The most recent addition to the Manatees’ identity is a wordmark that’s an homage to their parent club.
“We introduced a new script logo that we use on our road and alternate jerseys,” Smith said. “It’s the way the Brewers spell out Brewers in cursive: Starts with a B and has seven letters. Well, so does Brevard. We took that script and created Brevard.” (The image here is from a promotional night when the team wore giraffe print jerseys to benefit the Brevard Zoo.)
Some of the Manatees’ sales can be attributed to the affinity many people have for this affable, vulnerable animal.
“I think we sell a lot of merchandise online to folks that have no idea who we are or what we do,” Smith said. “Obviously they know it’s baseball because there’s a baseball in the logo, but a lot of people just buy it from somewhere because they like manatees.”
Another selling point is that the only place you see this nickname in sports is in Brevard County, Florida.
“It’s a unique name that nobody else in sports has,” Smith said. “So that’s one thing we have going for us, as opposed to the Tigers or something like that.” (Take that, Detroit. Or Clemson. Or Auburn. Or Princeton. Or Japan’s Hanshin Tigers. Or Korea’s Kia Tigers. Or Norway’s Frisk Tigers. Etc.)
It should be pointed out that the Brevard County Manatees do not play in Florida’s Manatee County, which is on the other side of the state (though the Bradenton Marauders do play in Manatee County). That said, the Brevard County Manatees may not actually play in Brevard County much longer themselves. The team announced plans earlier this year to move to Winter Park, Florida (near Orlando) for the 2016 season, though plans for a stadium appear to have hit a hitch. It’s not clear what would happen to Manny the Manatee if the team does move.
I hope that the team retains its nickname after a move because I admire the majestic (albeit a little doofy) sea cow, and I love that there’s a team named after this unique and fascinating animal. And their fun logo accomplishes exactly what it sets out to accomplish.
Because of these feelings that I have about manatees (the animal), I feel a little bit guilty when I think about the fact that the first time I saw the baseball team’s logo, I thought it looked like the label of a can of manatee meat. Again, let me reiterate that I support the noble manatee and long for the day conservation efforts succeed thoroughly enough that it’s removed from the endangered species list. And I very much like the team’s logo—but something about it made me think of cat food.
In the end, we’re only left to wonder what would have happened to logos and team names in the Majors if the Marlins had been the Manatees instead. Would the Rockies and Diamondbacks, introduced the same year and five years later respectively, have been cartoon dinosaurs and cacti instead of sleek mountains and snakes? Or would the Miami Manatees have been laughed out of the big leagues and everything would have just returned to normal?
We do know that the wave of kid-friendly cartoon logos in the minors has continued with a vengeance in the two decades since the inception of the Brevard County Manatees. In that sense, the Manatees have been baseball fashion makers—fat, sausage-shaped, marine mammal fashion makers—who helped move the trend along.