Cleveland Guardians: It’s time to come to terms with the name change
The 2021 regular season is nearly over, and the Cleveland Indians only have a handful of games left using a moniker adopted in 1915. It’s true that the change to the Cleveland Guardians nickname signals the end of an era, one spanning over a century of America’s past time, but it does not signal the end of baseball in the city of Cleveland.
Let’s address something right out of the gates about my personal preferences before we proceed. I absolutely agree that the Indians moniker, as well as the imagery and evolution of Chief Wahoo throughout the years, has always been problematic. So much so that various Native American groups and Elders have protested each and every home opener for over 60 years.
For those that have argued that the Indians name was done in honor of former outfielder Louis Sockalexis in our comments as we’ve started to address the team as the Guardians for articles that refer to beyond 2021, I encourage you to read this blog post from 2014 by current The Athletic writer Joe Posnanski detailing Sockalexis’ history with the team and what he endured. It is far from honorable.
Furthermore, the arguments about why Cleveland should keep the Indians moniker citing teams like the Florida State Seminoles or the Kansas City Chiefs, the argument is growing old and tiresome. Florida State has long worked hand-in-hand with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, resulting in a written endorsement of support from the Tribe in 2005 and a myriad of other traditions upheld at the school found right on Florida State’s website.
As for the Kansas City Chiefs, the team has celebrated American Indian Heritage Month each year at Arrowhead, with 31 Tribes participating, as well as forming a group of Native Americans from these 31 Tribes called the American Indian Community Working Group that ownership works closely with to preserve heritage and tradition, influencing decisions such as the ban on headdresses and war paint worn by fans at Arrowhead. All of this can easily be found on the Chiefs’ website.
With all of that being said, I am, however, not a huge advocate of the Guardians moniker. I understand the decision and trying to really draw upon the blue collar mentality of Cleveland as a city, but the branding to pair with the name is lacking to say the least. I personally was a supporter of the “Cleveland Baseball Club” after the Washington Football Team grew on me once the NFL franchise shed its mascot and team name. What better name to represent the blue collar people of Cleveland then by saying exactly what you are while further embracing the “Cleveland Against the World” mentality the city has adopted over the past two decades?
Now, as someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy the new name, am I going to boycott the franchise over this? Absolutely not. To give up on a franchise I’ve known the majority of my 27 years over a nickname doesn’t exactly encapsulate what it means to be a fan. When we go to a game at Progressive Field we cheer for the 26 men in uniform who play 162 games from March to October with “Cleveland” scrawled across their chests and the block-C on their caps.
There has always been a sense of family to the Cleveland fan base, none more evident than when things are going well, which is frankly true of any sports franchise. The royal “We” mentality of being a sports fan is shared universally, but it overwrites what a mascot or a nickname are, both in the moment and as time passes. It’s difficult not to use when writing sometimes, checking myself and my biases at the door for this gig, but in 2016 when I celebrated an ALCS crown with my college roommates, the nickname didn’t matter. The team’s triumphs were the city’s triumphs.
As you grow and pay attention to the franchise, you find legitimate reasons to be angry towards them. An easy example is the frustration shared by every Cleveland fan towards the Dolan family for not spending money, not just payroll, but extolling nearly two-thirds of the cost of Progressive Field’s lease extension on the taxpayers of the state of Ohio. But despite that complaint, Dolan has already pledged to spend on the team in the coming offseason, wanting to make the first season as the Cleveland Guardians a competitive one with the team flush with young talent and a bottom-three payroll in 2021.
I’ve grown with this fan base over the course of my entire life. At my first game in 2000, my dad caught a ball thrown over the 19-foot wall in left by Kenny Lofton, which my mom later got signed by Jim Thome on the road against the White Sox while she was travelling for work. I’ve been part of groups in the right field party deck intermingling with visiting fans and making friends regardless of game outcomes (Blue Jays fans are the nicest people, I’ve been to blowouts that go both ways in recent years.)
What has never once mattered to myself about any one of those experiences was the Indians nickname. I’ve always been proud to be from Cleveland, and that I would become so enamored with the sport of baseball in a city that has such a rich history of it in my lifetime is more than enough for me to overlook not being the biggest fan of the new name. It’s time to embrace the team and the city of Cleveland, because when it’s all said and done, a nickname and a mascot don’t mean anything.
I am very open to the subject of debate when it comes to this name change, but some of the rabid reaction from the “fans” out there has been shameful to say the least, especially arguments for “but what about x team?” when a Google search can debunk so many claims. At the end of the day, regardless of what nickname the team has, the only thing that matters is that there’s a baseball team in Cleveland. I will continue to be at the heart of this fan base, writing for Away Back Gone, and celebrating in the streets of Downtown Cleveland when a World Series parade snakes it’s way past the corner of Carnegie and Ontario, even as the Cleveland Guardians.