Retire the Chief
The year is 1915, Cleveland is coming off of a truly terrible season (no, not Orioles terrible, but still, very bad). That year, they were known as the Cleveland Naps. They had been since 1903 in homage to Nap Lajoie, former player and current Hall of Famer.
They’d gone through a slew of names since landing in Cleveland in 1900. For one season they were the Lake Shores, that one is pretty self-explanatory, since Cleveland is on, you know, a lakeshore. They were still a minor league team at that point and had just moved from Grand Rapid. A name change was needed since Cleveland Rustlers doesn’t have the same ring to is as Grand Rapid Rustlers and you know what, I’m lying, both of those names sound equally dumb. No points for creativity on those names, but they do get points for not being racist.
In 1901 a new name was adopted as Cleveland (and the minor league American League) merged with the National League and Major League Baseball was born. The Cleveland Bluebirds were not great at the baseball thing with a 54-82 record, but hey at least this name wasn’t just a statement of fact?
Then came 1902 and yet another name change to baseball in Cleveland. All of this rebranding must have been really annoying for their graphics departm- oh right, it was 1902, they probably didn’t have a graphics department. 1902 was the year of the Bronco in Cleveland. This is only a little sarcastic, they actually had a winning record in 1902. Sure, it was 69 (nice) - 67, but hey, PROGRESS!
That progress must have meant nothing though because, you guessed it, in 1903 Cleveland baseball yet again changed names. This time they became the Naps, and I already kind of talked about that so I won’t bore you with the details. Well, maybe just one detail. Nap Lajoie was a player and the manager of the Cleveland Naps. Can you imagine playing on a team named after you? The Cleveland Burrys? Oh, you know what. I like that.
So, what happened in 1915 that caused another name change? Well, Nap Lajoie was feuding with the (new) manager and he was getting old and hitting less, so the team sold him back to where he came from, to the Philadelphia Athletics.
The new name was thrown to the local baseball writers who were probably all middle-aged white dudes with no concept of why a name like ‘Indians’ would be culturally insensitive at best and racist at worst, but it was 1915, that was more than 100 years ago, things have changed. That isn’t still the name of this team that changed its name five times in its first 15 years in Cleveland, that would be absurd. HA… HAHAHAHA. I’m fine.
Anyway, so the owner asks the baseball writers to pick a name and they come up with Indians. Revisionist history will tell you it’s to pay homage to a former player, like with the Naps. Louis Sockalexis was a Native American baseball player for the Cleveland Spiders, a team that has no historical connection to the current Cleveland baseball team. In fact, when the current Cleveland baseball team moved to Cleveland in 1900, the Spiders had just been sold and folded because of some seriously dramatic nonsense that I don’t even have time to get into. Just know that their attendance issues make the 4% decline in attendance across MLB this year look like child’s play.
The Spiders and the Cleveland team now known as the Indians have no affiliation. Their connection is that the Grand Rapids Rustlers moved to Cleveland because there was no professional team in the city after 1899. They are so not connected that Cleveland celebrated 100 years of their team in 2000, not in 1987.
I think you get what I’m saying. Like, you get it right? What I’m saying is that there is no historical context for why the team needs to be the Indians.
So now that I’ve given you a brief (yes, that was me being brief) history of the Cleveland baseball names, I’m going to get into opinions, mostly mine.
Here it is. I know that it’s completely shocking, but I think the Cleveland baseball team should change their name. I think they should burn anything adorned with ‘Chief Wahoo,’ the racist logo with a somehow even more racist name. I think Cleveland fans need to take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves why they get so mad when they see someone wearing a ‘Caucasians’ shirt with a caricature of a white person, but they’re fine wearing a red-skinned, big-nosed caricature of a Native American.
I know this is asking a lot of the fans. These fans are loyal. They still call Progressive Field ‘The Jake’ because tradition or whatever. But here’s the thing: people were pissed off about giving women the right to vote and for the most part I think we’re over that anger. They were mad about sharing a drinking fountain. I guess what I’m saying is, white people get mad when the status quo is questioned and when there’s an implication that maybe what they’ve been doing is kind of fucked up. If it’s just Native Americans overreacting then they aren’t complicit in racism.
But they are. I am.
The best way, and what I think the only way, to move forward here is as follows: get rid of Chief Wahoo. Retire him. He’s done enough damage. And before you go off and say he’s already being retired next year and I should shut my mouth and keep my politics out of sports, just listen. He won’t be on the gear that the team wears, but he will still be available for purchase on gear. When the team reveals the new, fresh (probably boring) look on Monday, November 19th, all they’re doing is taking him off the official jersey.
Retire him. Put this chapter in the past.
After we do that we need to apologize to the Native Americans that we’ve been ignoring. Every opening day there are protesters and inevitably, there are white people in red-face yelling back at them. Like the protesters have somehow done something worse than we have.
Then, the final-ish step in this redemption arc is to change the team name. Yes, I know that by now there’s over 100 years of history attached to it, but there’s also centuries of pain attached to the Native American story so I think we can deal with it.
If you listen to my podcast, you know that I’ve posed a list of possible name that we could use instead. I won’t re-list them here, but you can listen here.
If you’ve read this far, you either agree with me or you’re already planning angry comments. Either way, I’d like to hear from you. If you’re of the angry variety, please be advised that I’m as steadfast in my belief as you are so I’m probably just going to screenshot your shit and report you, but feel free to do it anyway.
But if you’re in the first group. If you agree with me, especially if you’re a Cleveland fan, let’s do something about this. Let’s join the protests before opening day. Let’s refuse to buy anything with Chief Wahoo on it. Let’s use our voices to call out this racist bullshit. But most of all, let’s not keep quiet anymore. It’s been over 100 years, isn’t it time we address this head on?
Find me on twitter @hburry92