The 3 of 4 Rule is an MLG creation–a theoretical way to handle a tricky topic. The rule is used to determine the identity continuity for a given team. It is still evolving, but the basic formula is that two possible identities are “merged” or are “the same team” if they meet at least 3 of 4 criteria.
- Geographic location. Simply put, where a team is physically located. A continuous geographic identity is maintained if a team continues to play in the same stadium of course, but also within the same city or general geographic area–including when teams build new stadiums in the suburbs.
- Place name. The part of the team name that usually, but not always, comes first. The place name can be the city, the region (e.g. Lehigh Valley or Piedmont), the county, or even nicknames for a city or area–such as High Desert in place of Adelanto, California. Occasionally there have been instances where a team will take on a conceptual/gimmicky place name, with an example being the short period of time where the Stockton Ports rebranded as the Mudville 9. In this case, “Mudville” would be considered an acceptable place name.
- Nickname. Pretty straightforward. The other part of the team name, usually coming after the place name–though this order has occasionally been challenged. The Swing of the Quad Cities and the Sultans of Springfield come to mind.
- Visual aesthetic. The team colors, logos, uniforms, etc. This is more loose and subjective. Like if a team switches from a cap with red crown and blue bill to a blue crown with red bill, it doesn’t mean their overall aesthetic has changed. Visual aesthetic is a fancy way of describing the “gist” of a team’s look.
As mentioned at the top, the rule requires three of the four criteria to be continuous in order for the overall team identity to be continuous. If there are less, such as only 2 of 4, the two teams would be considered distinct identities. Let’s run through a couple of real-world examples.
A new identity was forged in 1989 for a team called the Prince William Cannons, with Prince William being the name of the county in Virginia where the team played. Eventually, they would take on the colors black, silver, and burgundy, and have a smiling cannonball as logo. In 1999, the team changed their name to the Potomac Cannons, with “Potomac” being a reference to the nearby Potomac River and surrounding region. They played in the same stadium and kept the same basic aesthetic, including the smiling cannonball. Were the Prince William Cannons and Potomac Cannons the same identity, or two distinct identities?
Verdict: Same identity. Only the place name changed, so 3 of 4 criteria were met. This same scenario has played out numerous times in the minors, with the Fox Cities/Appleton Foxes and Hardware City/New Britain Rock Cats being a few examples.
Following the 1992 season, the Denver Zephyrs moved to New Orleans. The new team was called the New Orleans Zephyrs, and not only did they use the same nickname, but they kept the same uniforms and logos. Same team or two distinct identities?
Verdict: Two distinct identities. Only 2 of 4 criteria (nickname and visual identity) were met, and the team changed both their geographic location and place name.
Scenario # 3
Following the 1996 season, the Syracuse Chiefs changed their name to the Syracuse SkyChiefs. At the same time, they dropped their Native American imagery and replaced it with baseball bat-shaped fighter plane motif, as well as changed their team colors. In 2007, the team began calling themselves the Chiefs again, but they opted for a railroad chief-based visual identity. So what do we make of this?
Verdict: Two distinct identities. And only two. Despite the missing years in the sky, there is identity continuity between the older Chiefs and the newer Chiefs, because the only real difference is the visual aesthetic. The SkyChiefs, however, have their own distinct identity due to the changed nickname and the changed visuals.
Though I can’t think of any real-world examples off the top of my head, I’m fairly certain that there have been instances in the minors where only the team name changes, yet the other three criteria remain the same. The limiting factor here is that if the team retained their logos and such, the new nickname would have to be shoehorned in. Let’s imagine that the Ogden Raptors were to change their name to the Ogden Velicoceraptors, but keep everything else the same. Or if the Lansing Lugnuts become the Lansing Bolts, but keep the iconic disgruntled bolt logo and team colors. In either case, 3 of 4 is retained and there is identity continuity.
It’s heady stuff, but this is the 3 of 4 Rule in a nutshell. The MLG will be using this (as needed) as a guiding principle throughout the process of compiling the Defunct Identity Archive. Naturally, this is not a perfect rule. There are some fairly easy to identify loopholes, and I’m sure I’ll uncover more as I drill back in time with the DIA.
Here’s one loophole that I’ve thought of. There are two distinct team identities that have been called the Jackson Generals; one a current member of the Southern League playing in Jackson, Tennessee, and the other, a defunct Texas League team that played in Jackson, Mississippi up until 1999. [MLG Note: the teams were only about 10 years away from coexisting, though I’m guessing the Tennessee club would have been forced to go with something else if the Mississippi team had still been around in 2010.] Now, if the current Generals had bought the same trademarks as the old Texas League Generals, and trotted out an identical visual aesthetic, then we would have a problem. If that unlikely event were to happen, I suspect that I would call it two separate identities. But then the 3 of 4 rule would be broken.
Rules are meant to be broken, right?
List of ongoing challenges
Here’s a running list of challenging scenarios that I’ve encountered as I go through the defunct teams in the DIA, and the decision that I made in each case:
New Britain Rock Cats and Hardware City Rock Cats. In this scenario, the Rock Cats began their identity by taking on the nickname of the city itself for their first season. They then switched to New Britain, and even though they made some slight changes to the visuals, they retained the overall gist. As such, I decided that they are one identity.
Oklahoma City RedHawks and Oklahoma RedHawks. This was a tricky one, because they changed their place name at the same time that they changed their visuals–so only 2 of 4, right? After some hemming and hawing, I decided to break the rule and decide on continuity. The new branding was subtle and generally unmemorable, and it could be argued that they merely updated and added on rather than did a complete redesign.
Princeton Devil Rays and Princeton Rays. What happened here is that the parent club changed their name, so the COTOB affiliate followed suit. I was all set to add the Princeton Devil Rays to the DIA, but it just didn’t feel right. In fact, the team’s primary logo actually said “Princeton Rays” even when they were known as the Devil Rays. It only seems appropriate to consider both of these Princeton teams to be one identity, especially since I combine the two Tampa Bay identities into one on the DIA “browse by parent club” page. Tough call, but for now, the Princeton Devil Rays are not defunct.
Burlington Indians and Alamance Indians. This was an interesting case. The Alamance Indians (based in Burlington, Alamance County, North Carolina) played in the long-defunct Central Association for two years in the forties. Contemporary reference sources (Baseball Reference, Encyclopedia of MiLB, etc.) uniformly refer to the Alamance Indians as the Burlington Indians, which would mean identity continuity with the team of the same name that played in the Appalachian League from 1986-2006. I was set to combine these two identities, but when my historic researcher went looking for images of the old team, he discovered that the local newspapers of the time referred to the team as the Alamance Indians. That could be written off as journalistic freewheeling, but there was a smoking gun in the pictures–a capital letter A on the team’s caps. Why would the team fashion caps with an A if their place name was truly Burlington. Also, the A cap tips the visual aesthetic scale to a point where we only have 2 of 4 factors (geographic location and nickname) in common. Verdict: two separate identities.
Lakeland Tigers and Lakeland Flying Tigers. In this case, the only major change was the addition of the “Flying” adjective to the place name. However, the team also tweaked their brand from straight COTOB to more creative military theme aesthetic. Though neither nickname nor visuals were a wholesale overhaul, they both changed enough, in my opinion, to tip the scales toward two distinct identities.
Greenville Braves and Greenville Braves. Believe it or not, this is probably the most difficult case I’ve yet to encounter. The first Greenville Braves played two seasons in the Class A Western Carolinas League in the sixties, and were a Milwaukee affiliate. The second Greenville team played in the Double-A Southern League from 1984-2004, and were an Atlanta affiliate. By the standards of the 3 of 4 Rule, this is easy–same city, same place name, same nickname, and both (likely) had uniforms that were somewhat similar in style. The main hitch here is that the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves are distinct identities in my mind. Still, after much hemming and hawing, I decided to stick to the rule and lump them in together.
Orlando Rays and Orlando Sun Rays. The only thing that makes this one a little tricky is that the Sun Rays were sometimes called just the Orlando Rays–sort of nickname for their nickname. Despite being the same franchise and despite playing in the same ballpark, these were two separate brands. The Sun Rays were a unique identity that became the Orlando Cubs for a few years, and then became a pre-emptive DimDer for the yet-to-play Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Definitely distinct identities.
Great Falls Dodgers and Great Falls Dodgers.
Knoxville Smokies and Tennessee Smokies
Louisville RiverBats and Louisville Bats.
Quad City River Bandits and Quad Cities River Bandits
Tri City Triplets and Tri Cities Triplets