It’s not been much of a secret what the new name for the Boston Red Sox’s Triple-A affiliate will be after it makes the move from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to Worcester, Massachusetts, in 2021. Fans and media alike started calling the team WooSox almost immediately after they announced the impending move in August 2018. (A Boston Herald article dated August 18, 2018, began, “The Woo Sox are coming to New England’s second largest city in an economic grand slam…”)
The team made the moniker WooSox—along with a suite of Brandiose-designed smiley faced logos—official in an announcement just moments ago. When they began the process of naming the next iteration of this franchise, though, they expected the final result to be something else.
“We went in under the impression that some name would beat the WooSox,” said team president Charles Steinberg. “We went in thinking that in a city rich with baseball passion, and in a nation of wonderful minor league teams, some humorous, clever, appropriate name would emerge.”
Worcester is a city rich with baseball tradition, so there were lots of possibilities to choose from. More than 1,000 people submitted 218 names in a name-the-team contest, and team officials took those names to the community thinking one of them would rise up and take down the WooSox.
“We would go around town speaking to groups and organizations getting to know people, and we talked to children in elementary schools, we talked to octogenarians in senior centers, and we would try out the names that we were getting,” Steinberg said. “WooSox continued to edge the competition.”
Some possibilities for names drew from the city’s rich baseball history, like the 1880 National League team, the Worcester Worcesters (whose Lee Richmond threw MLB’s first perfect game), or the Worcester Ruby legs from 1882 (“Ruby Legs, as in Red Sox, but Ruby Legs,” Steinberg said). Other options included Rocket Sox, a tribute to aerospace engineer Robert Goddard, who is from Worcester; Dirt Dogs, for that hard-nose brand of Boston Red Sox baseball; or Gritty Kitties, which Steinberg attributes to the guys from Brandiose. (“Casey and I thought it might be a little much for Worcester,” said Brandiose partner Jason Klein. “Even we have limits!”)
And there were others: Train cars in the city had the abbreviation WORMA (for Worcester, Massachusetts), which led to the alliterative Worcester Wicked Worms, or the Worcester Green Bananas, with unripened fruit as a metaphor for that Triple-A player, who when he ripens goes to Fenway Park.
“At the end of the day, when we asked the question, ‘Who beats the WooSox?’” Steinberg said. “The answer kept coming back, nobody beats the WooSox.”
The official team name—the name on the birth certificate, as Klein puts it—is Worcester Red Sox. But even that was the subject of consternation.
“There was a two-week debate about, is WooSox shorthand for Worcester Red Sox, or is WooSox a complete word, a complete made-up fictitious word that represents something specific?” Klein said.
That fictitious “Woo” part of WooSox could be both the cheering of fans, and the romantic inclinations of a lovesick baseball fan—hence the importance of a particular element of the logo: a Valentines-style heart. Worcester has long associated itself with the iconic heart symbol, to the point that it’s included in the city’s seal.
Steinberg explained: “It has a heart in the middle of it because Worcester, when it went from being a town founded in 1772 to being a city, which was declared on a Leap Year Day, February 29, 1848, it declared itself the heart of the commonwealth because it’s centrally located in Massachusetts, it’s really centrally located in New England.”
Another iconic symbol that has roots in Worcester is the smiley face. The original smiley face was drawn in Worcester in December of 1963 by a commercial artist and advertising executive named Harvey Ball. (With apologies to Forrest Gump literalists, this story checks out.)
While Harvey Ball’s original smiley face was created for a local insurance company, the smiley face has become ubiquitous and is a point of pride in Worcester. Per Steinberg, the WooSox got the stamp of approval on the logo from Harvey Ball’s son, Charlie, who is an attorney in Worcester.
That original smiley face is notable for its imperfections: The smile is slightly off center and one eye is bigger than the other. Brandiose incorporated those details into the brand, but it presented certain challenges.
“We had to warp it or rotate it in a way that made sense for the pose it was in,” Klein said.
For the purposes of the WooSox, the smiley face is now the character Smiley Ball, whose swing may look familiar to Red Sox fans.
“Note the stance after this home run swing,” Steinberg said. “It harkens back to two people whose home run stances in photographs look like it: Ted Williams and David Ortiz.”
The reason for this is that both the Splendid Splinter and Big Papi have connections to baseball in Worcester. Ted Williams’s first home run in the state of Massachusetts came in 1939 during an annual exhibition game played at Holy Cross in Worcester, and nearly eight decades later, Ortiz was the featured speaker in a video that the team played during the August 2018 announcement that the team would be moving.
“So both Ted Williams and David Ortiz, with similar home run stances that Smiley Ball emulates, have Worcester connection,” Steinberg said.
The WooSox script is a combination of two distinct elements from Massachusetts baseball: “Part of it was us asking ourselves, what would the Boston Red Sox logo look like if it was a script?” Klein said. “We had to merge that answer with the Worcester Worcesters font.”
The PawSox will play one more season in Rhode Island before making the move 40 miles north to Massachusetts. In 2021, the team will debut in Polar Park, a new ballpark that is the centerpiece for an urban development project in Worcester.