As I walked into the newsroom last Friday morning, Hub Sports Editor Buck Mahoney turned to me and asked, “What do you think of the new name?”
“What new name?” I said.
“The Guardians,” Mahoney said.
“Who are the Guardians?” I asked.
“Your Cleveland Indians are now the Guardians,” he said.
I stopped dead in my tracks. “The Guardians?” I asked. My face screwed up like a wadded-up candy wrapper. “The Guardians?” I muttered in disbelief.
I’m a Clevelander, born and bred, and my allegiance to the Browns, the Indians and the Cavaliers runs through my veins like holy water. Flabbergasted, I sat down at my computer to probe this atrocity and found a slick video narrated by Tom Hanks proclaiming the glory of this new name.
Hanks was an intern at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Cleveland years ago.
The video’s glimpses of my hometown were impressive. Hanks’ voice was, too, but his jabbering about “guardians” of this and “guardians” of that left me scratching my head. He said that phrase adorns a slab of concrete anchoring a downtown bridge. Huh? It was too much. I wanted to put my head on my desk and cry.
Imagine that some ogre far, far away decreed that the name “Cornhuskers” was an insult to farmers and changed it to The Soybeans or The Alfalfas or Pig Slop.
Supposedly “Guardians” was selected from 1,200 suggestions from the public that poured in after somebody decided late last year that the moniker “Indians” was racist.
“Indians” is not racist. My Indians were named for Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian who was an outfielder with the Cleveland Spiders 1897-99 and the first known Native American to play Major League Baseball. In 1915, the Spiders were renamed the Indians. What a tribute. Even Chris Sockalexis, a relative of the late Louis, said this week he’s not keen on the name change. He’s afraid Louis’ achievements will just fade away.
We also got a cockeyed new logo with wings and new lettering that I suspect was designed by an artist with one finger in an electric socket.
How deep will political “correctness” penetrate in this nation where thousands of cities, rivers, cars and sports teams bear Indian names? What about Ogallala? South Sioux City? Even the word “Nebraska” has Indian roots.
Naming Cleveland’s football team for founder Paul Brown is considered an honor, but naming a baseball team for an Indian is considered an insult. I just throw up my hands.
I wonder what Bob Feller would say. The late Feller is the Indians’ Hall of Fame pitcher who grew up in Van Meter, Iowa.
When I was a newspaper editor in Cleveland, I interviewed Feller in his living room. He talked baseball and the Tribe (the Indians’ now-dead nickname) for two hours.
Feller said pitchers used to pitch all nine innings, but today, they get yanked after five innings or 100 pitches. “They’ve gotten soft,” he said.
He said even the greatest pitchers flounder some days, and all the manager can do is call the bullpen.
He talked about his two starts in the victorious 1948 World Series, and the Indians’ loss to Atlanta in the 1995 World Series. “They lost their focus,” he said.
Feller retired in 1956, but he remained in the background. “Sometimes the front office listens to me and sometimes they don’t,” he chuckled. Feller died in 2010 at the age of 92. His statue stands outside our ballpark.
I wonder what he’d say about the Guardians. For us Clevelanders, it’s just one more lance in the gut. When the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore in 1995, the NFL dawdled for three years before slapping together a replacement team that didn’t start winning for 20 years. The Browns are one of just four NFL teams who have never been to the Super Bowl.
My Cleveland Cavaliers finally won an NBA title in 2016, after which LeBron James fled; and my Indians last won a World Series in 1948, 73 years ago. That’s the longest dry spell in the Majors.
A popular Cleveland T-shirt says, “In Cleveland, you gotta be tough.” My son Matt had a gentler perspective. “At least,” he e-mailed, “they didn’t leave town.”