My favorite Major League baseball team abruptly announced its name change on Friday. While we all knew the change was coming in 2022, the statement nevertheless came as a bit of a shock, to be honest. The team of my youth, the team I’ve lived and died with, will now be called: The Cleveland Guardians.
Bye-bye, Cleveland Indians.
After the NFL’s Washington Redskins announced in July of 2020 that the racist and divisive team name was going to change, Cleveland baseball team officials announced they were strongly considering doing the same. I wrote a post in this space supportive of both endeavors. I spoke of how hard it would be to let the name go but knew that the times we’re now living in made the action necessary.
More than anything else, money and corporate sponsorships are what ultimately made the decision a must-do for the organization. While the team finally did away with its racist logo and mascot, Chief Wahoo, in 2018, it became readily apparent by last year, the team name had to go as well.
This, of course, did not sit well with many in the fan base. Why the hell should the name be changed too? What’s so offensive about ‘Indians?’ It’s all about so-called ‘cancel culture,’ as the right-wing so often likes to remind us.
But the fact is, Chief Wahoo and the Indians team name are inexorably linked forever. Thus, for the team to continue to exist far into the future without protests and pressure from the corporate world, they needed a complete redo. Friday’s announcement brought that to fruition.
From what I heard on sports talk radio and social media, the reaction was overwhelmingly negative. Long-time fans were upset at the new name and complained about the cancel-culture mentioned above, with some even going as far as to say they were done with the team for good.
Even those who finally accepted the team’s decision to change the name absolutely decried the new name. The Guardians? Really? Couldn’t they come up with anything better than that? And to be honest, when I first heard the new name, that was my first reaction.
But 24 hours later, after listening to the team’s reasoning for the new name and reading some of the local journalists‘ take on it, I’m beginning to warm to The Guardians. It actually makes sense.
The name itself refers to the “Guardians of traffic” sculptures, built in 1932, that adorn the Bob Hope Memorial Bridge, which directs drivers around the facade of Progressive Field, which is where the team plays its home games. Funny, I’d been on that bridge before, and not once did I even notice the sculptures. But then I saw a photo yesterday with the bridge leading to the stadium, and I began to change my tune.
When the team was considering a new name, they asked fans and civic leaders what they thought about when they hear the word “Cleveland.” “We heard things like loyalty, pride, and resiliency in being from Cleveland,” said team president of business operations Brian Barren. “They’re protective of our city. They’re protective of the land and everything about it. Those all became part of what Guardians really started to evoke from an emotional standpoint.”
Pride. Loyalty. Resiliency. Protective. These are the words the team emphasized when coming up with the name. Again, it makes sense. You see, Cleveland really has been the butt of jokes over the years. “The mistake on the lake” was always something I heard growing up. I remember the Cuyahoga River catching on fire in the late 1960s. Entering the city from the South, 35 miles from Akron, my hometown, you couldn’t help but notice the enormous plumes of smoke coming from the steel plants as you entered the city. I mean, it really was a dump in many ways.
But we always had our sports teams. Nobody could take those from us, and even after years of futility and failure on the field, you’d always feel pride in rooting for all the professional teams. Even after moving away from Northeast Ohio as I did in 2004, that pride, loyalty, resiliency, and protective feeling never went away.
Yes, saying goodbye to the Indians was tough from an emotional standpoint. Those years in the late 60s and early 70s, as a young kid, heading up I77 North with my best friend and older brother to see the Indians clash with their team, the Chicago White Sox, are memories I’ll never forget. The cavernous Municipal Stadium awaited us – as did the hot dogs and pretzels. They were the Indians. They were The Tribe, as so many came to call the team.
But that era in time is now coming to a close – full stop. Things change. People change. Attitudes change. Many of my friends on the more conservative end of the spectrum are put off by these changes. Admittedly, most of them are white, male, and tend to skew a bit older.
The idea that sports reside so often at the intersection of politics, society, and culture doesn’t resonate with a lot of these folks. The quote from right-wing talk show host Laura Ingraham sums it all up: “Just shut up and dribble.” Yeah, that’s what she said about Lebron James a few years ago. And many of these same people who can’t accept the team name change feel precisely the same way.
I get a sense, though, that we’re entering a new phase in American society. While still indeed a vocal and opinionated group, the mostly older folks are slowly but surely drifting away. Their voices will still be heard. After all, with social media and the like, everyone can weigh in on touchy subjects, and that’s not going to change.
But to my conservative friends out there, and even those who are more moderate or even apolitical, who simply can’t deal with the new name, I’d ask that they at least give it a chance. If like me, you still love the baseball team in Cleveland, I suspect you will find a way to accept the Cleveland Guardians. You do not have to forget all the memories of what used to be. You simply should cherish them and move on.
And by the way, the new logo for the team, which replaces the aforementioned racist Chief Wahoo, isn’t too bad either. It features a baseball with wings – taken from the ones depicted on the bridge sculpture, and a script ‘G.’ That, as well, is growing on me.
Many will continue to criticize team officials with their choice of the new name and the timing of the announcement itself. But when you dig a bit deeper, you get a sense that they put forth an honest effort to move forward the best way possible. Finding a name that fans could eventually accept was never going to be easy. After all, the Indians have been the Indians, since 1915. It’s tough saying goodbye to that history.
But with The Guardians, I think they may have succeeded in that endeavor. Hopefully, in a few years, Chief Wahoo, The Indians, and The Tribe will fade into nothing more than some fond memories – replaced by something Northeast Ohioans can honestly say belongs to them.
Remember these words: pride, loyalty, resilience, protective. It really does describe the people of Northeast Ohio. Let’s give The Guardians a chance. That’s all we can ask.