Indians Inching Closer to Rebrand
Bob Toth | On 06, Jul 2020
Shortly after yet another movement surfaced to get the NFL’s Washington Redskins to drop its offensive moniker and logo from use, attentions turned towards the Cleveland Indians franchise.
The Indians organization has previously taken steps to move away from some of its ties to questionable displays by removing Chief Wahoo from the hats, helmets, and jerseys of the players and the signage at Progressive Field last season in a move that seemed directly linked to the team being able to host the 2019 All-Star Game in Cleveland (it remains on select merchandise sold by the club due to copyright issues). That effort has not been enough, however, as the team released a statement on Saturday night acknowledging that it was aware of the need to be sensitive of the feelings of others during a period welcoming and encouraging necessary social change and that internal discussions had again occurred revolving around the team’s often criticized nickname.
“We are committed to making a positive impact in our community and embrace our responsibility to advance social justice and equality. Our organization fully recognizes our team name is among the most visible ways in which we connect with the community,” the statement read. “We have had ongoing discussions organizationally on these issues. The recent social unrest in our community and our country has only underscored the need for us to keep improving as an organization on issues of social justice. With that in mind, we are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name. While the focus of the baseball world shifts to the excitement of an unprecedented 2020 season, we recognize our unique place in the community and are committed to listening, learning, and acting in the manner that can best unite and inspire our city and all those who support our team.”
As movements in the United States try to mold a world that is more open, equal, and inclusive of all, the timing of a rebrand of the Indians organization is very likely now. While there are some who feel that the Indians nickname is an honor to a proud group in our country, that sentiment is not shared by all, which makes it a point of contention. Every season, the subject is front and center with minor protests and demonstrations being held outside of Progressive Field, chiefly during the home opener, but at other well attended games as well, which only heightens the negative attention drawn to the long-tenured team and its nickname. If the name is offensive to some, real consideration has to be given to a new name. The more important name on the jersey is supposed to be the city represented, and the “Indians” part is questionable in nature and intent and much easier to adjust to be sensitive of all people. Holding on to a nickname for the sake of “history” isn’t too far off from being upset about the removal and destruction of statues and flags of a failed confederate movement encouraging the enslavement of an entire race of people.
History is important. Remembering where you came from helps you in moving forward to where you want to be. The Indians name has been a part of the franchise for 106 of the 120 years of its existence in the American League and is obviously what Cleveland’s baseball team is recognized best as. The origins of the name may have been linked once to Louis Sockalexis and the parts of the three years that he spent in Cleveland with the Spiders of the National League, but that story is far from whole. The desire to try to capitalize on the luck of the previous year’s World Series champions, the Boston Braves, and their usage of a name with ties to Native Americans may have very well played in the selection of the nickname by the local media, a faction that turned Sockalexis’ time in Cleveland into a sideshow act and spectacle. It certainly has not maintained its use now to recognize the 0.5% composition of the city’s population (according to the 2019 census).
So where do the Indians start in their search for a new name?
Looking around the baseball landscape, there aren’t many common themes. There are a handful of names linked to animals and specifically birds (like the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Cardinals, for example) and others tied to the region represented (like the Rockies, the Twins, and the Mets). Alliteration is not mandatory, as that at best applies to a handful of teams.
One of the most prevalent nicknames thrown out on social media platforms has been the “Spiders”. Currently sitting as the 3-to-1 favorite on Bet Online, the name has an obvious tie to the city as the moniker of one of Cleveland’s earliest baseball bands. Part of the American Association in 1887 and 1888 (as the Forest Citys and the Blues) before moving to the National League from 1889 to 1899, the team was good, but not great. The Spiders never claimed a pennant in either the American Association or the National League and at best their positive claim to fame was the 1895 Temple Cup win (a predecessor to the World Series) over the first place Baltimore Orioles, and for being the team to find Cy Young, employing him for nine years to start his 22-year career.
On the far uglier side, the Spiders are more commonly remembered for their final season in 1899, when the owning Robison brothers transferring all of their best players to the St. Louis Perfectos club that they also owned. The gutted Spiders roster went 20-134, still the single worst season in Major League Baseball history, and folded. While it may be the leader of the pack, the “Spiders” moniker has some bad juju to it.
What about the “Tribe”? The Indians organization has long seen the word assigned to the club as a secondary nickname. It would not be a far cry from Indians, but would be far less offensive by not referring to a set group of oppressed people. The name could still pay honor to the team’s long legacy as the Indians, and the nickname would be easily enough embraced by a fan base already using it. It would soften the blow of change, yet be inclusive as a noun encouraging family, community, or other close-knit groups.
There seems to be much insistence on forever tying the city of Cleveland to music, as though the two cannot be mutually exclusive. That push was visible with the All-Star Game logo a season ago, which inexplicably used a guitar as the world forgets that Cleveland consists of more than just the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum. That tendency to pair Cleveland and tunes does create a pleasing “Cleveland Rocks” or “Cleveland Rockers” possibility, but that too is flawed. Baseball already has the “Rockies”, which would be awfully close to both of these considerations. The city already had the “Rockers”, its defunct WNBA franchise from 1997 to 2003, so that makes it a little more played out.
The “Buckeyes” have a great ring to it, but can you really name Cleveland’s baseball team that without the obvious link to the same nickname used by The Ohio State University? The Cleveland Buckeyes would do well to pay tribute to the Negro league team of the same name from 1942 to 1950 (including the world series winner in 1945), but the OSU conflict may be too much to overcome. The Indians have already donned the Buckeyes name on the field three times in throwback contests in 2006, 2015, and 2017.
The “Guardians” have picked up some momentum in recent years. Perhaps unusual to those unfamiliar with the city, the Guardians would be in direct reference to the “Guardians of Traffic”, eight 43-foot tall sculptures built in the 1930s on the ends of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge (known now as the Hope Memorial Bridge) to recognize advancements in transportation. If nothing else, the Guardians could provide some unique logos to the team.
The “Commodores” draw ties to Lake Erie as a reference to high ranking naval officers. It has a built-in link to two of the Indians’ minor league affiliates also using boating themes in the Columbus Clippers and the Lake County Captains. Plus, it is a fit for those who love alliteration.
The “Lakers” or “Great Lakers” would connect the city with its Great Lake Erie, but it seems much less likely with the curiously named Lakers of the NBA (named originally during its origin years in Minneapolis prior to its move to Los Angeles in 1960).
The team could buck the trend and go with some sort of animal reference, which is underrepresented in the overall MLB landscape. In addition to the Spiders option, the team could consider the likes of Falcons, Hawks, Buzzards, Owls, or Vultures (sticking with the bird name tendencies); Catfish, Walleye, Perch, or Carp (all fish that give a minor league vibe); Raccoons (maybe at best for fun minor league Trash Panda-esque logos); or Coyotes. Falcons and Hawks may be off the table, given the city of Atlanta is already using both for their respective NFL and NBA teams. There could be something there in the other options, although most walk a dangerous line already of being more appropriate for the minors.
The team could look to a specific color for its name as well, similar to the Red Sox, White Sox, and Reds. Consideration for a “Blue Sox” nickname should be thrown right out, as having two “Sox” clubs is already too many. To just go with “Blues” would be a sound homage to the team’s early nickname in 1901 (and would give the city two “color” names for its teams, even if the Browns are not named for a color but instead for coach Paul Brown). It also has a slight tie to music (although not necessarily a style that the city is well known for) and could be a tip of the cap to the “blue collar” attitude often assigned to Cleveland workers.
To throw another color into consideration, a nickname like “Emeralds” would allow a unique rebrand altogether, utilizing an entirely new color scheme. Emeralds would be a direct tie to the “Emerald Necklace”, the public parks of the Cleveland Metroparks system that wrap around the city in said fashion. With emeralds being formed in rock, the “Rocks” moniker could fall into place as a secondary nickname as well. The green-themed name could also play off of the “Forest Citys” nickname assigned to a professional baseball club in the city from 1868 to 1872.
Other suggestions have referenced former players for the club, including the “Naps” (the team’s second-longest used nickname, in honor of player-manager Nap Lajoie from 1903 to 1914), the “Fellers”, and the “Dobys”. While all well-intended, these feel much more forced and unmemorable. Naming teams after one specific former player puts too much emphasis on the individual and much less focus on the teamwork necessary on the diamond. Do we really want a sports landscape with the likes of the New York Ruths, the Chicago Jordans, the New England Bradys, or the Los Angeles LeBrons down the road?
Whatever the future direction for the franchise, there is one thing that seems certain – the “Indians” name known to many and loved by some is going to go away, whether you like it or not. Embrace the change, because it is near.