Glory Days: The Story Behind the Clinton LumberKings – SportsLogos.Net News

Glory Days: The Story Behind the Clinton LumberKings


The sawmills along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River in Clinton, Iowa, were the centerpiece of a booming industry that, in its heyday, made royalty of its patricians.

Via the Sawmill Museum in Clinton
Via the Sawmill Museum in Clinton

“From the late 1800s, basically from about 1859 to about 1900, Clinton was known as the sawmill capital of the world,” said Brad Seward, the Clinton LumberKings’ public address announcer.

The city’s riverfront was home not only to sawmills, but also the businesses that relied on that industry, like furniture companies and companies that made materials and machinery for the sawmills.

“Eventually,” Seward said, “the people that were in charge of the sawmills in this town were known as lumber barons, or lumber kings.”

Louie the LumberKing as he appeared 1994-2004
Louie the LumberKing as he appeared 1994-2004

Of course, the economic influence of the lumber industry fell off significantly over the course of the 20th century, but it’s still very much a part of the culture of the American Midwest. So when the Clinton Giants rebranded as the Clinton LumberKings in 1994, baseball fans got it.

“This is a community that has, unfortunately, not had the greatest of luck as far as economic development in the past, since the 80s,” Seward said. “I think people really like that we harken back to the really fond days of our community—for lack of a better term, the glory days.”

He explained, “At one point in time, Clinton had the most millionaires per capita in the world. Think about the population in the 1800s—you had 13 millionaires in the city of Clinton.”

Baseball in Clinton started back in the days when the lumber industry was still in full swing, the late 1800s and early 1900s. “We actually were called the Orphans at one time,” Seward said. “We were a team that had moved from another community and originally didn’t have a home, so they settled in Clinton so they were called the Orphans.”

The LumberKings franchise, established in 1956, is the last of the Midwest League’s charter teams, and has gone by the names Pirates, C-Sox, Pilots, Dodgers, and Giants. When the Clinton Giants announced plans to change their name in 1993, a name-the-team contest generated references to the town’s casinos, like Blackjacks and Gamblers; its river, like Captains, River Commanders, and River Pilots; and, of course, its lumber history, like Lumber, Lumber Barons, Lumber Company, Lumberjacks, Timber Crew, and Timber Barons, to name a few.


The reference to the lumber industry is not just appropriate to the town of Clinton, but the very spot where the players play the game—Ashford University Field, which first hosted the Clinton Owls in 1937.

“That ballpark is built where some of those sawmills were,” Seward said. “A lot of the riverfront is on an old sawdust landfill. Literally, the home of the Lumberkings is where the lumber kings, the people, were.”

And as with all clever nicknames, Clinton’s is a double entendre. “It harkens back to the past, but it also goes well with baseball and the use of wood bats,” Seward said.

Seward has been the LumberkKings’ public address announcer since 1996 and is enough of a fixture that he was featured in the 2013 book Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere. (“Chapter 16 starts out with me being pretty emotional about losing the championship series,” he said.) But his involvement with the team goes well beyond his professional role. He was a fan as a child, and had the same questions about the team’s identity when the impending change was announced.

“I’ve been going to games since I was very young,” Seward said. “I went through 1993 going, well why are they changing the name from the Giants to a different team?”

Little did he know at the time that maintaining the parent club’s name would have resulted in even more change. clinton-giants

“At the time we were entering about our 12th or 13th year with the San Francisco Giants affiliation, and there were a lot of folks that really liked having that notoriety of being a minor league team and having the name of the parent club,” Seward said. “After the 1994 season, as fate would have it, the Giants actually did leave to reaffiliate and we would have been known as the Clinton Padres at that point. And then we went through several different organizations. We would have had a different name every two to four years.”

Instead, the LumberKings, who have been affiliated with the Padres, Reds, Expos, Rangers, and now the Mariners, have had the same name and, essentially, the same identity for more than two decades.

“The one thing that has remained a constant since 1994 has been the LumberKing name,” Seward said.


The team’s mascot, Louie the LumberKing, originally designed by Todd Steffens of Sullivan and Steffens Marketing and Design, did undergo a fairly significant update in the mid-2000s. He grew his mustache out to a goatee, traded out his board with a nail for a real baseball bat, and made a wardrobe change wrought with significance.

“We had gone to the playoffs several times, and I think as part of the success we finally said, let’s change this crown from silver to gold,” Seward said. “So we put some gold into our logo, and it changed things.”

It’s also hard not to notice that at a time when many of baseball’s stars were suddenly inflating like balloons, Louie was also looking a bit ripped.

“There were a few people who poked fun at the time because we were in the middle of the potential steroid controversy,” Seward said, “and they’re all, ‘Oh, what happened to Louie?’”

Seward laughed about the connection, but it’s something the team takes seriously. “We were actually the franchise that had a steroid awareness night and handed out sampling cups to folks,” Seward said. “It was poking fun at those on the steroids, but at the same point in time it was bringing a lot attention to a really critical juncture at that point in the game of baseball.”

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The LumberKings’ alternate logos include a wood-grained C with a gold crown and a CL that features actual lumber.

221807_10152298198278174_1486757741938144629_nWhile the primary logo itself is a cartoon with a fun backstory, the team’s uniforms are fiercely traditional, following baseball custom to the letter, as it were. “The home uniforms have been white with script since 1994—that script LumberKings,” Seward said. “The road uniforms have always been the grey with the green Clinton across the front of them.”

The cartoon logo is not featured prominently when the team is on the field—for now. “The only time Louie ever shows up in our uniforms are on our hats and on our batting practice tops that we occasionally wear during games,” Seward said. However, “there has been talk of incorporating Louie maybe more into a different set of uniforms.”

Sports offer fans an opportunity for escapism, a service the Clinton LumberKings perform for the entire community by paying homage to better times, to an era in the city when the lumber industry made stars of its citizens (the Timberatti?). The LumberKings have a fun nickname and a likeable mascot, but the name is much more than that. It’s the manifestation of a collective memory, a community’s longing for the days that it was on top, when business was booming and industry made men kings.