Cleveland’s New Baseball Name

On Friday, the Cleveland Indians announced they would be looking into the future of the team’s name. They surely wouldn’t have brought it up themselves if they weren’t already prepared to make it happen. Reading the current moment in our nation’s history, they seemed to be laying the groundwork for a change while mentally preparing those who are ironically red-faced over Chief Wahoo’s removal.

The name Indians, of course, is indefensible. In 1915, the Plain Dealer described it as a fine tribute to a bygone era when Louis Sockalexis played for the Cleveland Spiders and the team became colloquially known as the Cleveland Indians because of a singular Penobscot. But in reality, Sockalexis was tormented by racists in the stands and in the press box. And the new nickname allowed for all sorts of grotesque cartoons and traditions going forward. And it eventually led the way to Chief Wahoo. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any evidence of the name Indians ever truly being used as a tribute to honor Native Americans.

I will miss the Cleveland Indians simply because the pairing of those two words is associated with so much happiness in my life. Within my mind, even Chief Wahoo was always a symbol of baseball joy and not a little red Sambo. But I also cannot offer any defense of the name or Wahoo other than, “They are what has been wired into my brain’s baseball pleasure center for decades.” My own internal Pavlovian response doesn’t change the reality.

I, for one, am not going to stand in the way. It’s going to be weird at first, but my brain will eventually re-wire itself. Hopefully, regardless of the new name, the team will keep the same red and midnight navy color scheme and basically look like the present-day Tribe. That will make the transition much easier. Heck, even keep the Block C around for a while to ease folks into it.

But the name across the front of home jerseys is surely going to change. But to what? There are many possibilities floating around the internet these days…

Cleveland Rockers
This was the city’s old WNBA team name and it just feels a little too gimmicky and on the nose at this point. Of course, people could then refer to them as the Cleveland Rocks, like the 1977 Ian Hunter song. But all of that is much too close to the Colorado Rockies. And then there’d be double the chance of the baseball postseason turning into “Rocktober” and that’s two chances too many.

My friend Rob also wants to know why people always focus on Cleveland Rockers and not Cleveland Rollers. I said maybe they would associate the team with skating in circles and knocking people down. He then suggested that it would at least make for a more interest between innings race. This is true. Rather than scampering hotdogs knocking each other down, the Cleveland Rollers could have mascot likenesses of Joe Walsh, Michael Stanley, and Trent Reznor knocking each other down while racing around the warning track on roller skates. That almost salvages the idea, but…no.

Cleveland Blues
This was actually the club’s original name. And also the name Cleveland’s first National League team from 1879-1884. And also the original name of the National League’s Cleveland Spiders. Basically, it’s got triple-history behind it. It also balances Ohio when paired with Cincinnati Reds. And it still has a musical connotation with guitar imagery. It’s bland, but has some things logically in its favor.

Cleveland Blue Sox
I’ve seen this bandied about, completing a patriotic American League trifecta of Sox teams. I once made a Strat-o-Matic team called the Kentucky Blue Sox, so “Blue Sox” has crossed my mind before. Nonetheless, I hate it for Cleveland.

Cleveland Guardians
There have been many suggestions to name the team for the iconic “Guardians of Traffic” statues on the Hope Memorial Bridge.

Famous Clevelander Bob Hope’s not-famous father, Harry Hope, was one of the local stonemasons who carved the statues, which were designed by Henry Herig and Frank Walker. An image of a Guardian is now on display where the LeBron banner used to be, and minor-league soccer team Cleveland SC uses the image of a Guardian in their badge.

“Guardians” is also a three-syllable word ending in “dians” so maybe there would be some subconscious continuity there. (And the club would only have to change half of the giant red name above the scoreboard!) I’d be fine with Guardians, although the likely demonym would be Guards, and rather than baseball, saying the “Cleveland Guards” may evoke mental images of Collin Sexton & Darius Garland or Joel Bitonio & Wyatt Teller.

Cleveland Foresters
I haven’t seen any calls for this on Twitter, but I’ve always loved this idea of Foresters for a Cleveland team, harkening to Cleveland’s “Forest City” nickname. I recently learned Foresters was actually one of the names under consideration when the name Indians was adopted in 1915. So close, yet so far away. Cleveland’s very first professional baseball club was known as the Cleveland Forest Citys, so Foresters would be a tribute to that heritage as well.

The only drawback is that they’d have to totally rebrand to forest green, which would truly make it feel like a completely alien team. I think the color continuity is important during the name change, so that’s my only reservation about Foresters.

Then again, NH Kendall designed and discussed these Forest City uniforms that look pretty good to me.

Cleveland Buckeyes
I would absolutely LOVE renaming the team after the 1945 Negro League World Series champions, especially as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues this year. What a timely and fitting gesture it would be to honor Sam Jethroe, Quincy Trouppe, Archie Ware, Parnell Woods, Gene Bremer, and the rest of those great Buckeyes who swept the mighty Homestead Grays for the title.

Plus, the Indians often wear Buckeyes throwbacks at some point in the season. And the teams have identical colors, so the palette wouldn’t be an issue at all. I love every single thing about it except that it would be a marketing nightmare. In the last 75 years, the name Buckeyes has become so synonymous with Ohio State in the Cleveland area that this otherwise perfect Negro Leagues tribute is dead on arrival.

Cleveland Cleavelands
Named after Moses Cleaveland, the guy who invented Cleveland. Okay, I haven’t seen that one legitimately bandied about, but it was a fun twitter joke.

Cleveland Spiders
This is unquestionably the presumptive favorite. It would be a unique name in present-day professional sports and it was the name of Cleveland’s National League team in the 1890s. The major drawback, of course, is arachnophobia. My wife, for example, is terrified of spiders and will disown the team if they are named after them. The last thing she wants is to look at gear and think there is a spider on it. She will probably see my hat or look down at her own t-shirt and instinctively freak out. So the name Spiders is going to offer that specific marketing challenge.

But otherwise, I love it, and if I had to bet, that’s the name I’d bet on. And it would make me happy because all the Cleveland Spiders are known for is posting the worst record in Major League history, going 20-134 in 1899. The club’s owners, the Robison brothers, also bought the team now known as the St. Louis Cardinals and decided St. Louis was a better baseball market, so they simply transferred all of Cleveland’s best players to St. Louis and all of Saint Lou’s worst players to Cleveland. The fans were so turned off by having all their best players stolen and replaced by misfits that the 1899 Spiders barely drew 6,000 attendees for the entire year and were forced to play all their games on the road by the end of the season because visiting teams would lose money traveling to Cleveland to play in front of dozens of people at League Park. (“Here you are Mr. Visiting Owner. Your share of this weekend’s gate is $2.64.”)

That’s seemingly all anyone remembers when they hear the name Cleveland Spiders, and apart from the aforementioned arachnophobia, it’s the other argument against the name.

BUT….I think adopting the name will reclaim some of Cleveland’s great baseball history and shine more light on the real Cleveland Spiders of the 1890s. Patsy Tebeau’s rough and tumble squad posted seven consecutive winning seasons prior to ownership strip-mining the club into oblivion in 1899. The Spiders finished second in the National League on three occasions, which enabled them to play in the Temple Cup, a World Series precursor that pitted the top two teams in the National League against one another in a postseason series. (There was only one Major League at the time.) In 1895, the Spiders claimed the Temple Cup over the original Baltimore Orioles, thereby winning Cleveland’s first baseball championship.

The Spiders were a talented bunch in the 1890s. They were stripped of three future Hall-of-Famers who were shipped to St. Louis prior to the 1899 season: Bobby Wallace, Jesse Burkett, and Ohio native Denton True “Cy” Young.

Cy Young, who spent the majority of his legendary career with the Cleveland Spiders.

Hall of Famers John Clarkson, Buck Ewing, and George Davis played for the Spiders earlier in the decade. Other stars of the day like Ed McKean, Cupid Childs, and Chief Zimmer also played for the Spiders. And, of course, there was the tragically brief ascendency of a potential five-tool superstar from the Penobscot tribe in Maine, Louis Sockalexis.

As Cleveland baseball moves into the future, changing the name to Spiders could actually provide a more balanced and accurate appreciation for what is a greatly overlooked era of Cleveland’s baseball past by unofficially merging it into Indians history.

And if the new Spiders ever have a terrible season, they can take solace in the fact that, no matter how bad it gets, it will be flat-out impossible to finish as the worst Cleveland Spiders team ever.

*****

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Paperback at Amazon.

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Email: sirk65@yahoo.com
Twitter: @stevesirk
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