A Dog’s Purpose: The Story Behind the Mahoning Valley Scrappers

Written By:  •  Saturday, September 9, 2017

Like many industrial towns, Niles, Ohio, has had its share of ups and downs. The town thrived with the iron industry in the late 1800s, then struggled through an economic depression and a flood in the early 1900s.

The steel industry took over, with mills lining the Mahoning River, and the area found prosperity again—until the steel crisis of the 1970s. There are still a lot of scrap metal and aluminum plants in the area, but the downturn in the steel industry has forced the town of Niles and others in the Mahoning Valley (still called the Steel Valley by some) to find other industries to support their populations.

Niles is home to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, a minor league baseball team in the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League. The Scrappers have been an affiliate of the nearby Cleveland Indians since their inception in 1999. When the team debuted, they wanted to choose a name that represented their fan base.

“When they were in the development phase for the logo, they wanted to try to capture and tie in to the feel for the area,” said Jordan Taylor, the team’s general manager. “What kept coming back was the fighting spirit of the people in Mahoning Valley … ‘scrappy’ was a word that kept coming up.”

The scrappiness of the local population, along with the double entendre of the scrap metal used in the local industry, led to the nickname Scrappers. The team’s first logo featured a hard-hatted bulldog (the scrappiest of dogs, with apologies to the El Paso Chihuahuas) in a full left-handed pitcher windup position. The wordmark featured steel rivets, paying homage to that industry that was so prevalent in the area.

The team has had the same location, parent club, and nickname since 1999, with the only major update to the brand being an update by Brandiose before the 2009 season.

“We had kept things very consistent since the 99 season and really just wanted to give the logo a fresh look,” Taylor said. “Some of it we thought was getting a little bit outdated. We kind of changed the color schemes up a little bit, added some of the alternate logos.”

One of the new alternates was a cap logo that featured the bulldog’s mouth, evoking a technique that many other teams use but with a different part of the face, the eyes.

After nearly two decades with the same name in the same location, the team’s brand has taken root.

“We’re one of the top licensed teams in the New York Penn League,” Taylor said, “so there’s a lot of teams, especially Little League, who like to tie into the Scrappers name.”

With almost a generation’s worth of brand consistency and a look that appeals to Little Leaguers everywhere, the team has no plans to change its look or nickname anytime soon.

“We have a good fit locally,” Taylor said, “but also a brand that translates throughout the country.”

That said, if those initial conversations when the team debuted had gone a little differently, the Scrappers nickname and that bulldog logo may never have been. One nickname the team considered was Wildcats, which is normally one of the most boring, generic nicknames there is, but this one would have had a reason to back it up.

“There was an amusement park in Youngstown, Idora Park, that was really popular,” Taylor said, “and the Wild Cat was the featured ride.”

Even after the Scrappers name was chosen, there were other options for the visual representation in the logo. One possibility included a human cartoon character wearing a hard hat and carrying a baseball bat. Another is one that today would find itself mired in the debate over the appropriateness of using Native American imagery in sports logos.

“We also had more of a tie-in with the Cleveland Indians in terms of a potential look, tying into almost a Chief Wahoo at the time,” Taylor said.

These days, it’s hard to imagine the team going with anything other than the Scrappers nickname and logo that they ended up with. It’s hard to think of a team name and look that better suits its community. The Scrappers, who just clinched their fifth division championship in 18 years, may not get a lot of attention in the wacky world of minor league baseball, but they have one of the most appropriate nicknames out there.

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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.