Before the Rainiers’ nickname, and its stylish ‘R’ logo, became so wildly popular, there was a time when that idea wasn’t a hit with fans of the Tacoma professional baseball franchise.
In fact, it was met by scornful animosity when it was introduced shortly after the 1994 season.
“There was resentment locally from people who were opposed to us being affiliated with Seattle,” former Tacoma director of baseball operations Kevin Kalal said.
Seattle was a charter member of the Pacific Coast League in 1903. Thirty-five years later, when Emil Sick, owner of the Rainier Brewing Company, bought the minor-league team, he changed its nickname from the Indians to the Rainiers.
That nickname stood until 1965 when the team was sold to the California Angels.
The Rainiers’ moniker was resurrected in Seattle again in 1972 when California businessman Art Peterson bought a team to play in the Single-A Northwest League. It lasted until the city was awarded another major-league franchise — the Mariners — in 1977.
Days after the 1994 PCL season ended, Tacoma announced it would become the Triple-A affiliate of the Mariners, thus ending its relationship with the Oakland Athletics.
With that announcement, former owner George Foster also landed another bombshell — the team’s nickname was switching from the Tigers to the Rainiers.
It was all part of a sweeping wave of change under new club president Dave Bean, a Seattle sports marketing executive.
Bean sought bigger-dollar advertisers to fulfill his corporate partnership plan with the team. He also came up with nifty promotional nights. The idea of Rhubarb the Reindeer as a stadium mascot was also his invention.
It was a really trying time. There were some things that made us easy targets in what we were doing as an organization.
Kevin Kalal, former Tacoma director of baseball operations
Snubbing the local small business owner, however, set a foundation for backlash.
“One of the great things about Tacoma ... is that it’s a local community asset,” Kalal said. “You have to embrace that on a local level. If you don’t, you are shooting yourself in the foot.”
As far as why that ownership group decided to go with the Rainiers’ nickname, and a new logo, isn’t totally clear. Foster always said Mount Rainier was the inspiration for the switch, even though the ballclub also entered a multiyear sponsorship contract to exclusively serve Rainier beer for home games.
Critics of the moves came out in full force. Even The News Tribune penned opinion pieces and drew up cartoons condemning the club’s decision to ultimately turn Cheney Stadium into a beer garden.
“It was a really trying time,” Kalal said. “There were some things that made us easy targets in what we were doing as an organization.”
Kalal thinks what helped ease, and ultimately quiet the criticism was the success the Mariners were having in Seattle.
“They were as hot as hot could be,” Kalal said. “And it was the best time to have that affiliation with Seattle. That is when the criticism started dying off, because baseball had become so popular everywhere.”
Bean’s tenure with the Rainiers lasted one season. Foster ended up selling the team in 2006.
But one good thing stuck — the new nickname.