From We’re History by Scott Longert:
The 2018 baseball season promises thrills for fans across the country and around the world. Before the season is complete, there will likely a frenzied wild-card race, a dark horse winning a division, and a new, young ballplayer capturing fans’ attention. Among all the anticipation of surprises, though, one thing is certain: it is the last go-round for Cleveland’s “Chief Wahoo.” He will be gone from the Cleveland Indians’ uniforms after this season, ending a long history of the mascot’s association with the team. Although the caricature has its defenders and has accumulated a fair amount of mythology surrounding its origins, the true story is more prosaic. It relates to a long history of unquestioned racism toward Native Americans that may be starting to come to an end—albeit for practical rather than principled reasons.
The Indians’ symbol for half a century is being retired after the 2018 season from the players’ uniforms and all signs around Cleveland’s Progressive Field. To some fans, it is a sad occasion to witness the departure of the Chief. He is seen simply as the most identifying factor of the Cleveland franchise rather than a racist caricature long past his prime. Other fans and members of society view the Chief as a humiliating icon offensive to Native Americans. Either way, the franchise’s ownership now believes that too much attention has been focused on the controversy, resulting in his ban through an agreement with the Commissioner of baseball.
As a 1901 charter member of the American League, the Cleveland team had a catalog of nicknames, ranging from the somewhat ridiculous “Bluebirds” to the worthy “Naps” in honor of the great second baseman Napoleon Lajoie. The Naps released Lajoie after the 1914 season, raising the need for a new nickname. There are several different versions of why the name “Indians” was selected, the most famous of which is the idea that it was in reference to Louis Sockalexis, a Maine Penobscot who played for the Cleveland Spiders from 1897-1899. In fact, there is little evidence to support the story that the team’s name is an homage or refers to any particular person or nation, and the actual origin of the name “Indians” is unknown.
Categories: Sports History