Comparing the longevity of the Las Vegas 51s baseball club to that of any other professional franchise that’s set up shop in this dusty desert is like comparing Steve Wynn’s bank account—even post-divorce—to mine. Whereas most pro sports entities struggle to survive 28 weeks in this town, the 51s this year are celebrating their 28th year of Triple-A baseball.
For that—and the fact they offer the best bang for the family buck in this valley—the organization is to be commended. But as another baseball season dawns, the time has come for the franchise to finally step up to the plate and really knock one out of the park:
That 51s nickname? It’s got to go.
Quick history lesson: It was back in 2000 when the team’s then-owners (Mandalay Entertainment Group) were looking to breathe some marketing life into a franchise they believed had become stagnant. Rather than take a rational approach, these otherwise intelligent owners—whose main business is making movies—decided to go the radical route: new mascot, new colors, new nickname, the whole shebang. A consultant was hired to research options for a new nickname, and come Opening Day 2001, the Las Vegas Stars were rebranded as the Las Vegas 51s. Going “all in” on the Area 51 theme, the new logo featured an alien head and the new mascot was named “Cosmo.”
I’ll never forget my reaction when I first caught wind of the name change before it was unveiled: First came the dropped jaw, followed by the incredulous laughter. When I finally regained my composure, I remember telling the person on the other end of the phone, “This is not going to be well-received by the public.”
Sure enough, not long after the 51s became official, Don Logan—who has been with the franchise since its inception, serving since 1991 as general manager—was attending a charity function where former Nevada governor and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan was the guest speaker. “He didn’t know I was in the audience,” Logan recalls. “But he just ripped me and ripped the name.”
The public outcry was predictable, because as anyone knows—except maybe the consultant who made the 51s recommendation—a community’s identity is often tied to its sports teams. Las Vegans can get with nicknames such as the Rebels, Coyotes and Wranglers (whose mascot is a bull). But a riff on Area 51 (a formerly top-secret military base in Lincoln County, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas)? Complete with an alien mascot named Cosmo? What, was the Las Vegas Mafiosos with a Bugsy logo too far over the top? Did the focus group not ponder the Las Vegas Elvi? The Area 51 approach was—and is—just as ludicrous. We are Las Vegans, not cartoon characters.
But the good news is that Derek Stevens, who purchased the club from Mandalay Entertainment Group two years ago, knows it. In fact, on the day before his introductory news conference in March 2008, Stevens told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of the 51s name. We want to come up with another name, and that’s something we’d like to target for the 2009 season.”
Well, 2009 came and went, the 2010 season is upon us and the 51s are still alive. And Logan says there are no plans to change it—at least not right now. “This is the 10th year we’ve been the 51s, and it has taken hold. Are we going to keep it forever? That’s debatable. … Nothing’s forever.”
As the usually upbeat Logan speaks on this particular topic, the tone of his voice suggests that, if he had his way, he would’ve changed the name yesterday. Obviously, he can’t and won’t come out and admit the 10-year-old mistake. He doesn’t have to. When he says things like “it is what it is” multiple times and acknowledges the consultant his former bosses employed “was like hiring somebody to borrow your watch to tell you what time it is,” Logan’s views on the subject are quite obvious.
So I steered the conversation a different direction. I asked Logan—as well-liked and well-respected a person as there is in this community—a hypothetical: If the decision is made to ditch the 51s, how would the organization approach renaming the franchise? “I think it’s important to let the fans pick,” he says. “It’s not about us. It would be what the people want. So we’d do a local contest and see what came out.”
Allow us to cast the first vote: Bring back the Stars. The name worked then, and it will work again. We’ll even sign off on the return of the old Elvis the dog mascot—anything to launch Cosmo back into outer space.