Naming the Rams: It’s not what you think

Illogical as it is, there is no tangible connection between the Anniston Rams and male bighorn sheep.

A 1953 advertisement in The Anniston Star.

The Rams wore no ram logo on their uniforms. The Rams didn’t parade a live ram around Johnston Field. The Rams couldn’t attribute their name to herds of sheep roaming Anniston’s sliver of the Appalachian foothills. And there is no historical record of the team’s founders having any preference for rams over, say, goats or pigs or chickens. That would have been demonstrably easier.

Instead, the nickname of Anniston’s Southeastern League baseball team relates to an obscure worker in the cast-iron pipe foundry business — a “rammer” — that rests eternally at the core of the city’s existence. There would be no Anniston without the beds of iron ore on which it was originally built; that’s literally why it exists. And the city never would have been dubbed the “Soil Pipe Capitol of the World” had the workingmen — laborers like the rammers who used wooden tools also called rammers to pound sand into the molds — not toiled in the infernal pipe shops that long dominated Anniston’s economy.

So, early in 1938 when the Rams’ founders asked residents to suggest a name for the team, they selected “Rammers” from the responses — though they shortened it to “Rams,” not only for length but also because it was “much more vigorous than ‘Rammers,'” The Anniston Star reported. The two fans who submitted the winning name, Margaret Chadwell, of Anniston, and J.F. Adams, of the nearby city of Oxford, each received $5.

A 1938 headline in The Anniston Star.

The team’s selection didn’t engender universal applause, given that the other seven SEL teams sported nicknames easier to decipher. (In 1938, the league was free from generic mascots, so there were no Bulldogs or Tigers.) The Montgomery Bombers related to Maxwell Field, now Maxwell Air Force Base. Selma’s Cloverleafs shared their name with the city’s famed Cloverleaf Dairy. Gadsden, hard on the Coosa River, named its team the Pilots after riverboat captains. The Shippers played in Mobile, home to Alabama’s largest port. The league’s other Pilots were in Pensacola, as was Naval Air Station Pensacola. Since Jackson is Mississippi’s capital city, its baseball team was dubbed the Senators. In Meridian, the Scrappers’ name derived from the city’s Civil War defenders, the scrap-metal business, and that era’s tendency to describe rough-hewed players as “scrappy.”

Anniston’s name, meanwhile, brought confusion around the league.

A wooden hand rammer used in iron foundries.

A few days after the Rams’ birth, the sports editor at the Selma Times-Journal, Farmer Seale, sought a public explanation for Anniston’s choice of names.

Marshall Johnson, The Star’s sports editor, quickly obliged.

“Notice your wonderment as to why Anniston picked ‘Rams’ for sobriquet,” Johnson wrote. “Anniston once was known as the pipe center of the world, and the town still is proud of her foundries. Foundry workers use rams in packing down the sand around pipe patterns, thus they often are dubbed ‘Rammers.’ ‘Rams’ was selected as a shortening of ‘rammers’ (and) as being more distinctive as a word. Ram also is a goat. I’m looking for a crack on that goat business before the season is through.”

An 1899 clipping from The Anniston Evening Star.

Rams aren’t goats, but Johnson nonetheless made his point.

Decades later, in 1986, The Star examined the city’s historic foundries and the laborers who manned them. The story was stark and bleak, a document of a dying profession, yet somehow romantic. “Although the industry is just a shadow of its former self, former workers nostalgically remember when ramming pipe was the toughest job around and when 13 Anniston foundries provided most of the sewage pipe in the country,” the newspaper wrote. In the decades before and after World War II, Anniston’s foundries controlled roughly 65 percent of the U.S. business. The popularity of plastic pipe eventually melted that dominance, the memory of which the short-lived Anniston Museum of Industrial History tried to keep alive.

A 1938 clipping from The Anniston Star.

Prior to mechanization, most of the pipe-shop work was done by hand. It wasn’t for the weak. “A man’s hand would be like a piece of leather, just solid callous,” Roy Hathorne, a former shop engineer, told The Star. Frank Houston, a former shop worker, described those jobs as “about the hardest work I know of in the country, and one of the best-paying jobs I knew of in Anniston when I started.” Workers during the Rams’ existence made about $35 a week. Help-wanted advertisements for pipe rammers were common in The Star’s classified pages.

What Johnson didn’t explain, though he should have, is that Anniston’s SEL expansion team wasn’t its first named for its iron foundries. The Moulders, the city’s Georgia-Alabama League team from 1913-1917, were named for the shop workers who “moulded” the molten metal into pipes. That name was among the fan submissions in 1938, as was “Pipers,” which the judging committee nearly selected. Other possibilities were “Nobles,” since the city was founded by Samuel Noble and the name was used for a local team in 1928-30; “Models,” since Anniston is called “The Model City,” a name used by a local team in 1911-12); “Wildcats,” an eminently boring suggestion; and “Cheahas,” a name taken from nearby Mount Cheaha, Alabama’s tallest point. That moniker, The Star reported, “aroused some interest in the committee as being an unusual name.” But Rams it was.

A 1917 Hardware World magazine advertisement that lists a number of Anniston-based iron foundries.

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