Got Our Eyes on You: The Story Behind the Chattanooga Lookouts

Written By:  •  Saturday, September 26, 2015

Lookouts-Header

Back in February of this year, baseball fans in Minnesota attending an event called Twins Fest were introduced to the Chattanooga Lookouts, their team’s new affiliate in the Double-A Southern League. It’s not that the Lookouts are a new team—they’ve been around off and on since 1885—but they are new to the Twins organization. They had been a Dodgers affiliate for the previous six seasons, and before that they were with the Reds (1987–2008), Mariners (1983–1986), Indians (1978–1982), A’s (1976–1977), Phillies (1960–1965), and Senators (1932–1959). Prior to 1932, the team played sporadically and independently.

Jackie-Mitchell-Lookouts

The Lookouts have a place in baseball lure as the team for whom a 17-year-old woman famously struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in back-to-back at-bats. Virne Beatrice Mitchell pitched to the sluggers in an exhibition game the Yankees played as part of a tour on their way to New York following Spring Training. Mitchell had been signed by Joe Engel, the Lookouts’ longtime general manager and an early pioneer in wacky baseball promotions—he built a stadium and named it for himself, traded a middle infielder for a turkey, and once had players arrive for opening day atop elephants.

With the Lookouts’ long and occasionally esoteric history, those fans at Twins Fest must have had a lot of questions for representatives of their new farm team.

“Fans were coming through,” said Alex Tainsh, the team’s marketing and promotions manager, “why are you called the Lookouts, how did you get that name?”

Lookoutmountain

The simple answer to this question is that the team is named for nearby Lookout Mountain, which dominates the landscape just over the Tennessee-Georgia border. In fact, according to the website About North Georgia,  the word Chattanooga means Lookout Mountain in the Creek Indian language.

As was often the case with teams in the late 1800s, their name could have come from sources outside the team rather than the team itself. “It might have even started casually, just because Lookout Mountain is dominant, in terms of people knowing about it that are from around this area,” Tainsh said. “What’s the team by Lookout Mountain? They’re the Lookouts.”

1024px-Chattanooga_from_north_bank

So in terms of the story behind the nickname, rather than ask how the team got its name, the more important question might be how did the mountain get its name? Some attribute it to the site’s strategic location during the Civil War, as the mountain featured prominently in a handful of battles in 1862 and 1863, just a couple decades before the first Lookouts team took the field.

“In terms of military value,” Tainsh said, “I can imagine it was important because it was a great place to not get snuck up upon.”

However, the name likely goes back further than that. According to an article in the Calhoun Times, travelers in the early 1800s were warned by Andrew Jackson’s troops to “look out” for the mountain’s dangerous features, such as rushing waters and Indians. Even before that, though, the local Cherokee population referred to the mountain and a smaller adjacent hill, now called Cameron Hill, as “Talidanda-ganu” and “O-Tulleetanna-Takunna-ee,” meaning two mountains looking at each other.

Lookouts-Primary

The current era of the Chattanooga Lookouts baseball team can safely be called “The Eyeball Era.” It began in 1991, when the team’s assistant general manager Matthew Riley drew a pair of Garfield eyes inside a letter C, creating one of the longest-standing logos in minor league baseball. (Riley is currently the president of hockey’s Bakersfield Condors, a team he’s been with since 1997.)

Lookouts-Hat“It wasn’t something like now, there’s these companies … who will design your logo for you and do a whole package and that kind of stuff,” Tainsh said. “I believe he was just a guy on the staff who just mocked it up.”

The eyeball logo was introduced in a time before wackiness was the norm. Sure, you had early adopters like the Carolina Mudcats and the Lansing Lugnuts who were introduced around then, but many teams at the time simply adopted the name of their parent club and called it good.

“It was one of the first minor league logos that really kind of had a little bit of fun with things,” Tainsh said. “We’ve had three different Major League affiliates and the logo has stayed the same. The eyes logo has stayed strong through three different affiliates and 25 years.”

Pitcher Max Kepler, via Facebook

Twins prospect Max Kepler, via Facebook

The baseball branding landscape has changed considerably since then, but the eyeballs have stood the test of time. “The way minor league baseball has gone, teams have gone 100 times beyond what we did back in the early ‘90s,” Tainsh said. “But I think the reason it’s still popular today is that it still has that history behind it.”

One thing that’s notable about the Lookouts brand is that the eyeball logo and the accompanying wordmark are basically the only logos the team has. The logo has evolved very slightly, with minor adjustments to shading and line thicknesses over the years, but no major changes have taken place since 1991.

While the primary logo is a fixture, the team may look to expanding the breadth and depth of their brand in the future. “If we were to do something,” Tainsh said, “it would be with an alternate or secondary logo, while keeping or bringing in a slightly adjusted eyes logo.”

Lookouts-Champs

Via the Lookouts on Facebook

In their first season as a Twins affiliate, the Lookouts won their first-ever Southern League championship in 2015. (If we had been writing the headline for the story about that championship season, the headline definitely would have been “The Eyes Have It.”) As the team looks to a future of what they hope will be further success, one thing is for certain, their forward-looking logo looks to be part of the team for a long time.



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Paul Caputo

Paul Caputo is a grown man who collects plastic ice cream helmet sundaes from minor league baseball stadiums because he likes logos that much. He is the author of the first book published by SportsLogos.net, The Story Behind the Nickname: The Origins of 100 Classic, Contemporary, and Wacky Minor League Baseball Team Names. He can be found on Twitter at @Count2Baseball and he maintains the Countdown to Spring Training on Facebook. Paul is a Philadelphia sports fan, but he's not so bad.