The baseball team in Cleveland has picked a new name for the 2021 season and they’ve settled on “Guardians.” The name was immediately met with controversy, which is inevitable in this day and age. But when it comes right down to it, “Guardians” is a fine name. It’s not showy or out there like a minor league team. It’s also not something that is currently the name of a lot of other teams. It may not excite a lot of people, but that may end up being its strength in the end. “Guardians,” as a name, is just fine.
The team that plays in Cleveland finally decided to change their name during the George Floyd protests last summer. They had been debating it for years and there had been protests of the old name for decades. But in the end, once they dropped the unquestionably racist “Chief Wahoo” logo in 2018, the team’s nickname was doomed. The block letter “C” that the team was using as a logo wasn’t, as team president Brian Barren said in the article linked below, a proper logo. And there wasn’t any possible logo connected to the old name that wouldn’t also bring up questions of racial insensitivity.
You can read up about all that went into the name change in this column by longtime Cleveland sportswriter Terry Pluto. In that article, you can discover that “Guardians” emerged from a list of names primarily because it had the fewest problems associated with it. Some of those problems were legal problems with trademarks and the like. Sometimes there were image problems with other names. Others, like “Rockers,” was just too close to “Rockies” to not cause problems. “Guardians” simply had the easiest path to being ready to go for 2022.
The Guardians, it was said, was picked because it represented how fiercely protective the people of Cleveland are about their city and its somewhat mixed reputation among people who aren’t from there. It also represents the “Guardians of Traffic” (or “Guardians of Transportation”) statues. These are a series of eight Art Deco statues built in the 1930s on the Hope Memorial Bridge in Cleveland, just outside of where Progressive Field now stands. There’s a photo of one of them with Progressive Field in the background at the top of this essay. I hadn’t heard of them before I saw the name as a candidate several months ago, but everyone in Cleveland knew about them. They also appear to be some pretty good pieces of public art, so if the name brings attention to the statues outside of northern Ohio, that’s a good thing.
“Guardians” also had the benefit of kind-of rhyming with the old name, allowing for the most continuity in lettering and uniforms. Cleveland fans said they wanted that.
The name was immediately controversial. Our friends at the SB Nation Guardians’ site “Covering the Corner” are happy with it and immediately started using the name to refer to their team. The comments from their readers are also largely positive, with some wanting to change the name of the site itself to “Guarding the Corner.”
In other areas, the name was more controversial. Most of the opposition comes from two camps. In the first, there are the ones that never wanted the old name to change and would have angrily opposed any new name. The rest of the opposition comes from people who were fans of a different option, mostly “Spiders.”
Those who opposed the name change at all can be safely ignored. They are mostly just interested in either stirring up “culture wars” for their own benefit or people who simply do not care if Native American peoples and culture are portrayed negatively. There was a debate over this issue for decades and the decision was made by the owners to change it. There’s no point in re-fighting it.
As far as people wanting to pick a different name, I understand their frustrations, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them. It does seem like issues with the University of Richmond ruled out the “Spiders” nickname, although the fact that the name “Spiders” also represented one of the darkest periods in baseball history was also a problem.
When the name “Guardians” was announced last Friday, my initial thought was “Ehh. I guess it’s fine.” I’m not a Cleveland fan and it’s no skin off my back what they’re called. But after having the weekend to think about it and writing it a few times to refer to the team, I’ve decided “Yes! It’s fine!”
Because the team and community in Cleveland won’t be defined by their nickname. The team in Cleveland will define the name. We love the name “Cubs” not because it’s a good name. It’s actually pretty generic and uninspiring on its own. But what we love about it the way it has come to represent our team and our community.
Think of the other names in baseball. “Dodgers” may have made sense in 1885 in Brooklyn, but it makes absolutely no sense today. Yet generations of Los Angeles sports fans wear it proudly because it represents them and their community. Those fans gave the name “Dodgers” a meaning beyond just dodging trolleys in Brooklyn. (In a different sport, “Lakers” makes even less sense.)
Tigers, Blue Jays and Giants are all pretty generic names. Red Sox and White Sox are laundry. Reds is a color. Cardinals may be a bird now, but when St. Louis adopted the name, it was just a color as well. Phillies just means someone from Philadelphia. Pittsburgh is called the “Pirates” because they signed a player away from another team. “Expos” is literally the dumbest name I can think of for a baseball team, yet it is beloved in Montréal and if they ever get an MLB team again, it will be called the Expos. All those names are beloved because of the association they have with their team, not because they’re great names.
And that’s what is going to happen with Guardians. Once the team starts to win with that name and provide good memories to their fans, the fans will embrace the name. The name will not have changed, but the name will be better because of the experiences. Fans will be proud to be Guardians. And they should be.
Yes, there were a lot of happy memories of the previous name and no one is saying that those memories should be forgotten. (I have a particularly happy memory associated with that name and a game in Cleveland, but I doubt any Guardians fans would agree with me.) But in the end, it was just a name and it was one with a demeaning history attached to it. In time, Guardians will be a much better name. No one will think it is just a “fine” name anymore. It will be a great name because the team and the fans in Cleveland will make it a great one.