The Idaho Falls Chukars, a Kansas City Royals affiliate in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, are not named for the most intimidating bird out there.
“No, in fact, it’s essentially a little partridge,” said the team’s longtime president and general manager Kevin Greene. “It’s a fat little bird. They’re out in the countryside and they make little clucking noises.”
But there’s something about the Chukars nickname that has made it work for the team for almost a decade and a half.
For most of its history, the baseball team in Idaho Falls took the name of its parent club, as with with the Idaho Falls Braves and Idaho Falls Padres (above). There have been two notable exceptions: The Idaho Falls Russets in the 1940s and ’50s (awesomely named for potatoes), whose 1946 team featured Billy Martin, and an ill-fated attempt at branding in the early ’90s:
“The year before I got here they had taken the name the Idaho Falls Gems,” Greene said. “It was a miserable failure. It didn’t work on any level.” (That said, that 1992 Idaho Falls Gems team included future Major Leaguers Marty Malloy, Chris Brock, and Terrell Wade.”
Before their current affiliation with the Kansas City Royals began in 2004, the team in Idaho Falls had basically been associated with all of the Major League teams, and, oddly, one minor league team. Their list of parent clubs over the years includes the New York Yankees (1940–41 and 1962–65), Brooklyn Dodgers (1948), New York Giants (1949–51), the Pacific Coast League Sacramento Solons (not sure how that works, but it was 1953–54), Detroit Tigers (1954–58), Pittsburgh Pirates (1959), Chicago White Sox (1960–61), California Angels (1966–81), Oakland Athletics (1982–84), Atlanta Braves (1986–94), and San Diego Padres (1995–2003). When the time came to switch parent clubs again, the team went looking for some more permanent branding.
“We were up for an affiliation change again, I guess it was in the fall of 2003,” Greene said. “We looked like we were going to sign on with the Royals, but we didn’t know how long that affiliation was going to last, so we knew it was time to really establish our own brand, our own identity.”
So the team took on that time-honored tradition of conducting a name-the-team contest, then ignoring the results of the contest and going with something good instead.
“I put out a name-the-team contest that fall, and the most popular name was the Eagles,” Greene said. “I didn’t like the Eagles, only because you go to any county in the United States and there’s a high school team called the Eagles. Just too common.”
As the contest was winding down and there were not a lot of great names to choose from, the team’s radio broadcaster John Balginy drew inspiration from a childhood memory that would change the team.
“The contest was citywide, and there were some wretched names,” Balginy said, quoted in an article by Benjamin Hill on MiLB.com. “And Kevin Greene, our GM, he goes, ‘I just want something unique.’ So I start thinking, maybe something like the Toledo Mud Hens. And when I lived in Kansas, I remember that my dad used to go chukar hunting all the time.
“And you call a pitcher a ‘chucker.’ So I told Kevin, ‘How about the Chukars? It’s a bird that lives in the area and it’s also a slang for a pitcher.’ He goes, ‘OK’—and that day we named the team. So it’s going to be on my headstone: The Mother Chukar.”
Greene, who is from New York originally, was not familiar with the bird, so he looked it up and then asked around to see what stakeholders thought.
“A chukar is a game bird, kind of indigenous to our region out here,” he said. “I didn’t even know what a chukar was, so I started calling people, season seat holders. I did a little test marketing, and everyone I ran the idea by liked it.”
As Balginy said, the word chukar is pronounced roughly the same as the word chucker, which gives it a basebally double entendre, and that is included in the team’s visual identity.
“If you look at our hat logo, for example, the chukar, the bird is clutching a baseball and he has it in the throwing position, so the chukar did have that dual meeting,” Greene said.
While the chukar is not the most intimidating bird in real life, the logo, created by Dan Simon of Studio Simon, has a bit of menace about it.
“There’s nothing fierce about them,” Greene said. “I guess our logo makes it look a lot more fierce than it is.”
The Chukar nickname and brand have remained unchanged since the 2004 season. So long as he’s in charge, Greene says, that will remain the case. So for the foreseeable future, Idaho Falls will play host to the fiercest fat little partridge in the Pioneer League.