Perusing through some different blogs for While We’re Waiting last night, I visited UniWatch and just by chance stumbled upon this article written just yesterday about revisiting the Wahoo/Indians nickname issue again. The article by Morris Levin references my article from sixteen months back, where I explored some of my favorite nickname alternatives from the UniWatch article that week from his colleague Phil Hecken.
The most surprising thing to me after writing the last article was that the reaction and comments turned almost completely into a pure Wahoo debate, whereas I was more interested in exploring the alternatives out there while only briefly covering some of my earlier thoughts on the issue. Of course, you don’t get to Step B without Step A, but with talk of a change, I wanted to ask the question of if there were any viable alternatives. I don’t pretend to enjoy getting into deep and heated debates that go beyond sports and have heavy amounts of politics, race, and sociology, because I’m by no means an expert in any of them. More importantly, I don’t pretend to be. I’m a sports guy, and really, I’m only interested in talking about how it affects the baseball club and its fans.
“I agree with Lammers and King, but I want to be even stricter and stay closer to current team identity elements and baseball history, precisely because taking on a new team name is momentous.
I start with the premise that we as fans attach ourselves in deep and emotional ways to our team’s names and colors. Of course we do, or this site and blog would not exist. This is a real issue at play in Cleveland.
The city of Cleveland itself negotiated to protect and retain the Cleveland Browns team identity and history when Art Modell removed the franchise to Baltimore in 1995. The current Browns claim Jim Brown as one of their own; the Baltimore Ravens effectively began with a clean slate in 1996.”
My primary point is I think fans are entitled to the feelings of nostalgia that would come from losing a nickname that has been with the baseball club since before their parents and in some cases, grandparents, were born. They shouldn’t have to apologize for it. What was the intent of the person who suggested “Indians” in the Plain Dealer naming contest back in 1915? Were they a racist who thought Indians were savages and they wanted their team named likewise or did they think of Indians as noble, honorable, tough, and worthy of a club nickname? Was it only to mimic the highly-successful Boston Braves? Did the sportswriters who made the decision let the the career of Louis Sockalexis enter into some of their thought processes? I’m not sure we’ll ever really know the true intent with all of those people dead and gone. Without anyone left to correctly answer the question, isn’t it at least conceivable that it’s about how we use and interpret Chief Wahoo and the Indians nickname in 2013? Is there anyone out there thinking that by wearing Chief Wahoo or Indians apparel that you are making a statement about the quality of human beings that Native Americans are?
More than anything, the line is drawn for me when people drop the “racist” word to accuse fans, the organization, or wearers of Indians or Wahoo gear of such thoughts or actions. The other side of this debate can get just as ugly and hurtful, with accusations of racism, prejudice, and the devaluing of one’s opinion based upon their own race and the fact that they aren’t a member of said affected race.
You know, Lukas is almost certainly right about one thing in that blurb. It’s a matter of when, because at some point, the outcry will rise to a crescendo and the organization will decide it’s not worth the negative publicity and the constant assessment of climate looming over their heads. It’s funny to me that people think it’s all about what Wahoo or the Indians represents. I’d be as equally frustrated if I was told that it was inevitable that the Cavaliers or Browns needed to undergo a name change. If the Indians had underwent a significant name change in the last generation or were a team that had moved from another city here, then I’d be much more open and willing to change the name. But, the fact remains that the Indians have been the Cleveland Indians for nearly 100 years now. That’s a lot of history to throw out the window. Maybe ultimately the Chief and the Indians nickname are two different ballot items, but we see the meaning and context of things change constantly over time.
Should we throw it out, though, I think it’s just as important to come up with a quality replacement. Picking a cheap or gimmicky replacement will only increase animosity for a team that has attendance issues, trust issues with ownership, and is battling the very real “haves and have nots” situation in baseball. So, Levin suggests the team should go with “Blues” as the new nickname:
“The Cleveland Blues played in the National League from 1879 to 1884; the American Association from 1887 to 1889; and the 1901 American League club started with this name.
Even the local Vintage Base Ball Association club calls itself the Cleveland Blues(and play their home games at League Park, natch). Cleveland Blues meets the Cleveland baseball history smell test. It could even nod in the same direction as the capital city NHL Blue Jackets, and pride in the role played by Ohio in the Civil War.
Renaming the team the Cleveland Blues presents the opportunity to adopt a new uniform set that is immediately classic baseball, and simultaneously unique.
At home, I dress the team in the 1902 all navy uniforms with a white letter C matching the current cap and helmet. They look good at Jacobs Field. I would be happy to see the team wear this cap at home. This uniform would immediately place Cleveland as the only club wearing monochromatic uniforms with a half-button collar jersey. It’s classic and fresh at once.”
How do I feel about this one? It seems plain on the surface. I would have to see what they came up with for a logo. It could be something fairly simple, but there has to be more to it than just a plain blue block C. There are some interesting things to consider though. Ohio would have “Reds” and “Blues” as their baseball teams. Cleveland would have the “Browns” and “Blues”. Sure, the St. Louis hockey franchise has this nickname, but I think enough geography separates the two for this not to be an issue. Levin makes the point of bringing back the 1902 navy uniforms that the team wore this year. That I could get behind. I thought those uniforms looked like a refreshed and sharp version of a classic. The C caps have admittedly grown on me in the last two seasons (I own both the all red and the spring training version with the red crown and blue bill), and I immediately loved the look of the road grays from the outset. The switch to the “C” on the batting helmet seemed like a big deal to me at first, but I’ve almost forgot about it. All that remains of Wahoo is the patch on the left arm of each jersey and the primary home cap.
Looking back to my previous article, I said this about the name simply switching to “Tribe”:
The third and final entry that I’ll highlight is the Cleveland Tribe, submitted by Douglas King. For those who don’t want to get rid of the Indians’ name, this may be a softer blow. I know that I myself refer to our baseball team as “The Tribe” far more than I do “Indians”.Keeping the same established red-blue color scheme that we’re accustomed to may not be the worst decision either. Nothing about “Tribe” has to necessarily be linked to Native Americans. One definition I found online: “A social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties”
I still feel that “Tribe” may be the best compromise for all involved. The team could keep its colors, most commonly used nickname, and some of its identity. People could informally wear their Wahoo gear to their heart’s desire, and those looking for something to campaign against wouldn’t have a leg to stand on anymore. I could also get behind another nod to the past in “Spiders”.
The name was used from 1889-1899 in Cleveland in the National League. The team won the 1895 championship, and while most will remember the name for the worst record in MLB history in 1899 with a 20-134 mark, the name could get a second chance. It’s a fairly unique name, with the Richmond Spiders of the NCAA being the only one that comes to mind.
In the meantime, I think I’ve reached the final stage of grief: acceptance. The Cleveland Indians at some point in my lifetime won’t be the Cleveland Indians. There are worse things that could happen, so if the team can hold on to a piece of its identity and put a new spin and improve upon their brand, then maybe it’s for the best. I’ll still wear my Wahoo gear without hesitation, much like I still sometimes call the ballpark “The Jake”, and as a fan, without any vile intent in my heart, I shouldn’t have to apologize for it.