Bock’s Score: What’s In A Nickname

Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

On the outskirts of downtown Cleveland, close by Progressive Field, there is a bridge running over the Cuyahoga River. On either side of the bridge sit a group of winged Art Deco sculptures. They are known to local citizens as “Guardians of Traffic” and because they are there, beginning in 2022, the local American League baseball team will be known as the Guardians.

For more than 100 years, through thick and a lot of thin, the local team has been called the Indians. But in this age of political correctness, it was decided to shed that name and search for something new. Hence, the Guardians.

The current Cleveland franchise was born in 1901 after a progression of teams named Forest Citys, Blues, Spiders and Infants came and went. Cleveland’s current team had a progression of nicknames of its own–- Blues, Broncos, Naps (named after its most popular player, Nap Lajoie) and Molly McGuires (a reference a labor dispute involving owner Charles Somers, who was a coal magnate). They settled on Indians in 1915 to honor ex-Spiders outfielder Lou Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian, who had died two years earlier.

The name was eventually accompanied by a cartoonish image of an Indian, who was nicknamed Chief Wahoo. He came along in 1947, courtesy of owner Bill Veeck, a marketing genius, who hired a local commercial artist to draw the image. The Chief was an instant hit in Cleveland until sensitive critics suggested he might be racially insensitive and forced the Indians to retire him couple of years ago.

Now it was perfectly understandable when the Washington Redskins shed their nickname because it had somewhat racist overtones. Management was unable to come up with a replacement and so the franchise is now known somewhat awkwardly as the Washington Football Team. That is unwieldy and ownership promises a new name early next year.

Indians, however, seems less offensive, merely the name of Native Americans who populated this land first.

Meanwhile, the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, MLB’s Atlanta Braves and the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks stand steadfastly by their names with no plans to change.

And then there’s Seattle’s new NHL team. Instead of embracing the city’s hockey history and naming the new team after its original pro hockey franchise, the Metropolitans, who played for the Stanley Cup in 1917, the new team will be called the Kraken, named after a legendary giant octopus who occupied the Pacific Ocean.

All things considered, Cleveland may be better off with Guardians.

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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