The Winston-Salem Warthogs of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, played 14 seasons in the Carolina League. In that span, they served as the Class A-Advanced affiliate for two major league teams–the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox. The identity began following the 1994 season, when the former Winston-Salem Spirit decided to rebrand, and chose Warthogs–the winning entry in a newspaper contest.
The Warthogs quickly became a highly-visible brand, riding the high crest of the unique identity wave of the nineties. For example, their logo was one of the select ten on my promo poster from that era. That logo is quite memorable within the annals of the minors, with a wily gray warthog intertwined with at tusked red letter W. Perhaps the warthog is struggling to make his way through the diagonal obstacle course of the letter, or perhaps he has fallen into a hog trap. His expression is one of somber frustration, though he seems somewhat content to hold the baseball in his mouth as if it were a lozenge.
The Warthogs continued their affiliation with Reds–a carryover from the Spirit days. When the players took to the field, they wore uniforms that were heavy on black and red, though a forest green was used as a highlight color and even showed up on alternate caps and jerseys. The Reds affiliation lasted for only two years, and Aaron Boone had the most successful MLB career of Warthogs during this time, even though he is about as well known for his family ties as he is for his playing prowess. Speaking of family ties, Barry Larkin’s little brother Stephen was a Warthog in their inaugural season, and in ’96, a player named James Lofton was on the roster. Though he was no relation to the NFL Hall-of-Fame receiver, he was a distant relative of the great Kenny Lofton. James was quoted as saying, “Yeah I think he’s like my second or third cousin, something like that. Too bad I only got his second or third talent.”
In 1997, Winston-Salem inked their first PDC with the Chicago White Sox, and this relationship would carry through to the end of the Warthogs identity. A good handful of productive major leaguers came through in this era, with the big names being Carlos Lee, Mike Morse, Brandon McCarthy, and Gio Gonzalez. On the aesthetic front, they simplified things a bit over the years, and into the aughts they favored a cap with just the tusked W. The captive warthog had been removed, and presumably released back into the wild.
Just like how the identity began with a simple rebrand, it ended the same way. Following the 2008 season, the team name was changed to the Winston-Salem Dash. The Dash are the White Sox’s affiliate in the Carolina League to this day, while the Warthogs were made into a fine prosciutto; to be aged and remembered by minor league geeks in perpetuity.