May 4, 2021

Baseball Reference Is Changing Player Identification Names From Nicknames
Based On Race, Ethnicity, And Disability To Given (Or Birth) Names

Sean Forman, the founder and CEO of, announced last week that the website has "begun the process of evaluating the identifying names and nicknames for historical players" that "are based on a player's real or perceived ethnicity, a player's disability, or a trait the media decided to call attention to".

Forman admits this process is "long overdue" and he apologizes for his "mistake" and "error" of using those identifying names "for the last 20 years without concern".

For most of that time, I have told myself that the identifying names were out of our hands and that we'd be rewriting history by changing them. That self-imposed restraint was wrong and further study has shown that many nicknames were not as deeply entrenched in history as I had assumed. Identifying people with these names was a choice, and the history of their use in the media shows inconsistent adoption that is far from canonical validation.

(Forman provides some examples of former players whose identifying name includes a nickname which was actually not commonly used during the player's career.)

Players will no longer be identified by nicknames based on perceived race, ethnicity, or disability, such as "Chief", "Chink", "Jap",  "Nig", "Darkie", and "Dummy". (In 2007, B-Ref altered its url identification of Kevin Youkilis after realizing that its naming convention of using the first five letters of a player's surname with the first two letters of his first name created an ethnic slur.)

Forman states these names:

will no longer appear as identifying names, page titles, on team pages, or on leaderboards across the site, but will be noted for completeness of records on the player's main page. This figures most prominently for baseball, but we will likely have some changes on our other sites as well.

An example:


The MacMillan Encyclopedia [first published in 1969] contained hundreds and hundreds of players identified by a nickname. But in the post-MacMillan era, using nicknames for identifying names is comparatively quite rare for players who debuted in the 1960s or later. . . . Is this a change in societal naming conventions, or a change in how the names are applied by those recording the game?

Even in cases of well-documented usage, it is still important to reevaluate our current presentation of these players. Yes, Charles Bender was more commonly known as Chief Bender when he was playing, but the moniker is based on his American Indian heritage. He never claimed the name, never used the name himself, and newspapers of the time also often referred to him as Charles Bender or Charles Albert Bender as well. We have decided not to use Chief as an identifying name for any players on our website. Some will argue that there are players who like the Chief name. We don't deny that. We will continue to list Chief as a nickname on the players' pages. For any player whose name we are modifying, we will show a note on their page alerting the user to the other identifying name and include both names in our search engine. . . .

It is certainly not our goal to police your use of the names based on nicknames. You are, of course, free to use the nicknames as you'd like. But after years of tying our own hands, we are ready to make some changes in the identifying names that appear on the site.

For current or recently active players, our policy has been and will continue to be following the names used by the players themselves, since we are able to ask them quite easily and the league provides us a list of names every day.


Zenslinger said...

Good work, Bref!

FenFan said...

Just so I'm clear, the example given shows what pages will look like AFTER the change? So, like the Hall of Fame, they will reference the nickname (e.g., Smoky Joe Wood) on the main page, but the player name will revert to the player's given name (Howard Ellsworth Wood) on all other pages?

Honestly, I question when people say something like "it has long bothered me" in making these announcements. I felt the same way when Sam Kennedy stated that changing Yawkey Way to Jersey Street came after "many years" of ownership being uncomfortable with it given Yawkey's racist past. If I got in a time machine and went back even five years, would any of these people have made these comments if asked?

Like most, I never gave much thought to team names like the Washington Redskins until maybe ten years ago, and I only became vocal about changing it five or six years ago. We should continue to have these conversations and make these changes for the right reason, but the self-flogging behavior has to end because it comes across, in my view, as insincere.

Regardless, this is a change in the right direction. I've always been impressed with BBRef and, coupled with adding Negro League statistics to the site, this just further cements my respect for the efforts put forward by Sean and his team. (Yes, I do realize that MLB made the initial announcement to do this.)

allan said...

Yes, the example is what things will look like. Hoy's page has been changed.
I did not get the impression BRef would do anything to players with non-racist nicknames. For example, Joe is still Smoky.