The Cleveland Indians announced today that, as of 2019, they will be removing their racist “Chief Wahoo” logo from the team’s jerseys and caps. The cartoon of the grinning man with a bright red face, big nose, teeth like piano keys, and a feather sticking out of his head has been a lightning rod for criticism for years and, according to reports, was the subject of significant discussion between the team owner and the baseball commissioner leading up to the team’s decision.
It probably is no coincidence, either, that the Indians will host baseball’s All-Star game in 2019.
Having been born in Akron, Ohio and going to Indians’ games since I was a little kid, I grew up with Chief Wahoo — but I think it’s well past time to retire him. He’s an offensive caricature, and the fact that he’s been associated with the team for decades doesn’t change or excuse that. The team has increasingly been moving to the block C, which I think is pretty good, and I like the script Indians logo, too.
Native American activists also are advocating for the team to ditch the name Indians. I have more mixed feelings on that issue. I recognize that the name Indians is an historical anachronism, but I think calling an athletic team by that name is a sign of respect — and I also like the nickname The Tribe, which has a pretty cool, inclusive meaning. We’ll have to see whether getting rid of Chief Wahoo relieves the pressure on the team name, or intensifies it.
There were some protesters on the Ontario Street side of the ballpark, advocating for changing the Tribe’s name and Chief Wahoo. I agree with them about Chief Wahoo, and I get the point about the name — but it’s hard to imagine a Cleveland baseball team being called anything but the Indians. And, I think “the Tribe” is a pretty cool and inclusive nickname.
The protesters look like they have an uphill battle, as the photo below suggests. Chief Wahoo was seen pretty much everywhere.
The Cleveland Indians’ 2012 season is shaping up to be eerily similar to 2011. In both years, the Tribe played well early, surprised everyone by grabbing the lead in their division, reached their high point at about 10 games over .500, and then tried to hang on for dear life. In 2011, the Tribe ultimately collapsed and fell far behind the Tigers. With the Tribe in the midst of a six-game losing streak and now five games under .500, 2012 looks like it will be a carbon copy of 2011.
The problem is obvious. The starting pitching has been fine, and the bullpen has kept the team in games. Unfortunately, the Tribe can’t score runs — and you have to score if you want to win in baseball. The Indians’ roster is filled with .230 and .240 hitters with little power; the glory days of the 1990s offensive wrecking crews that featured Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and Omar Vizquel, among others, are increasingly distant memories. Opposing pitchers must rub their hands with glee when they get a chance to face the banjo hitters wearing the Chief Wahoo caps.
It’s hard to complain too much about the Tribe. The organization is trying to be competitive on a shoestring with a team made up of prospects, retreads, and long shots. This year, like last year, it looks like lightning won’t be striking.
Although it’s disappointing to see the Tribe once again skidding to oblivion, I have to thank the team for making the first part of the season interesting. The Tribe kept me intrigued until football training camps opened — and that’s a start.