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The Cleveland Indians are considering a name change

It’s way past time. What should their new name be?

Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In recent years, sports teams whose nicknames relate to Native Americans have come under some pressure to change them. This is particularly true in the case of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, whose name is a slur to Native Americans.

The pace of these pressures has accelerated in recent days. The Washington team is now “reviewing” its name, which most observers feel will result in a new name, possibly even for the 2020 NFL season (if there is one). The fact that this took pressure from sponsors to accomplish this goal — rather than simply doing the right thing — shouldn’t matter. It’s going to happen, and that’s the important thing.

Two MLB teams also have names that relate to Native Americans — the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves. Friday evening, the Indians announced that they, too, are looking into a new nickname:

The Indians, often conversationally referred to as “the Tribe,” had a cartoonish Native American logo for many years, known as “Chief Wahoo.” They resisted getting rid of that imagery until Commissioner Rob Manfred essentially let it be known that the 2019 All-Star Game might be pulled from Cleveland if they didn’t, and so it was “retired” by the team at the end of the 2018 season.

Hey, look! Manfred did something good. Credit where it’s due.

The Cleveland A.L. team has been known as the Indians since 1915; previously they were the “Naps,” after Napoleon Lajoie, their longtime star and manager. (This wasn’t uncommon in those more casual days; Brooklyn’s N.L. team was known for quite some time as the “Robins,” after their manager Wilbert Robinson.) The N.L. team in Cleveland had a Native American player named Louis Sockalexis from 1897-99 and it’s been said by some that the “Indians” name honors him. That’s been debunked by many; here’s an article summing up the topic and here is the process that supposedly resulted in the name:

The team reportedly sought input from Cleveland baseball writers for a new name entering the 1915 campaign, and the writers turned to readers for suggestions. Indians was selected, in part because of Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian who played for the Spiders from 1897 to 1899.

“Sockalexis so far outshone his teammates that he naturally came to be regarded as the whole team,” a January 18, 1915, story from the Cleveland Plain Dealer read, per the [team’s] media guide. “The ‘fans’ throughout the country began to call the Clevelanders the ‘Indians.’ It was an honorable name, and while it stuck the team made an excellent record.

“There will be no real Indians on the roster, but the name will recall fine traditions. It is looking backward to a time when Cleveland had one of the most popular teams of the United States. It also serves to revive the memory of a single great player who has been gathered to his fathers in the happy hunting ground of Abenakis.”

I think you can see how problematic that is 105 years later and it’s long past time to change it. Beyond that, Sockalexis played in only 94 games in three seasons with Cleveland, so the statement that he “outshone his teammates” is questionable.

Like the Washington NFL team, Cleveland’s MLB team has a chance to rebrand itself for a new era, and not coincidentally they could wind up selling a lot more merchandise with a new logo and brand.

One suggestion for a new Cleveland team name is “Cleveland Rocks,” after the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located on the lakefront in that city. (Incidentally, the R&R HoF is well worth a trip to Cleveland. In 2008, when I visited, they had an exhibit noting the connection between rock & roll and baseball.)

I’m not sure exactly how you’d brand that — musical notes? guitars? (they had a guitar logo for the 2019 ASG in Cleveland) — but it certainly would be a different, fun sort of nickname. There’s already a song they could use as their theme, too.

Rob Neyer has a suggestion:

“Coasters” in this context undoubtedly refers to Cleveland’s location on Lake Erie; the region is sometimes called the “North Coast.” But I dunno; when I hear the word “Coasters” I think of the thing you put under your drink.

My favorite is one that has some Cleveland history, even though the teams that bore it weren’t very good: Spiders. The original Cleveland Spiders, a National League team from 1889-99, had an ignominious end. Back then, “syndicate” ownership of teams was allowed, in other words, owners could own portions of more than one team. You can probably see how this isn’t a good idea, and in 1899, the Spiders owners purchased the St. Louis Browns and transferred all of Cleveland’s best players to St. Louis, including future Hall of Famers Cy Young, Jesse Burkett and Bobby Wallace. The predictable happened, and the 1899 Cleveland Spiders went 20-134 and wound up playing most of its schedule on the road.

But “Spiders” is certainly an evocative nickname and back in 2012, the site had a “rebrand the Indians” competition in which one of the entrants submitted this:

Now that is awesome. It keeps the current Cleveland team colors and road uniform look but gives the team a cool-looking spider as a logo and jersey patch. Imagine the jersey sales. There’s an alternate look (right) with the spider on the cap, and this look keeps the current team colors. “Spiders” is my personal choice.

One last idea is “Cleveland Blues,” another name with some history. The Cleveland A.L. team was briefly known by that name when it first began in 1901, and the N.L. franchise’s predecessor in the old American Association used that name in 1887 and 1888.

There are four suggestions; I’m sure Cleveland baseball fans and others will have many good ideas to re-brand the Ohio ballclub.

Atlanta Braves — you’re up next, and if nothing else, please ditch the Tomahawk Chop forever. It’s offensive.


What’s the best new name for the Cleveland Indians?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Cleveland Blues
    (21 votes)
  • 1%
    Cleveland Coasters
    (6 votes)
  • 14%
    Cleveland Rocks
    (53 votes)
  • 61%
    Cleveland Spiders
    (230 votes)
  • 16%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (63 votes)
373 votes total Vote Now