I don’t know how many stages of grief you need to go through to process the loss of the Cleveland Indians name, but I hope you’ve reached acceptance. Because it’s a done deal and the top priority right now is to make sure that Cleveland doesn’t get saddled with a dull or cringey name.
The Cleveland Indians and I go way back
I grew up in the Cleveland area and have returned periodically for some lengthy stretches. I confess, I’m not a huge professional sports fan. But just a few days ago, I saw a headline that said that the Indians had just won their latest game. And my first instinctive response? “Yes!! Yes!! We won!!” And if that was my response, I can only imagine how happy the superfans are.
But that momentary thrill transported me back to the summer of 1980, when, for a brief moment in time, I definitely achieved superfan status myself. It was the summer before I left for college. It was also the summer before a presidential election, and media options were a whole lot different back then. All three networks carried the Republican National Convention – night after night after night. The only alternative was a local cable station, which was squarely focused on Cleveland Indians games.
It doesn’t take long to get hooked on a sports team, does it? By mid-summer, the only thing I cared about was watching Miguel Diloné slide nightly toward his base-stealing record.
All of which is to say – I think I have enough affection for the team and enough distance to weigh in objectively on the new name.
Let’s start with why these names were chosen
There have been some names proposed that I truly hope that no one is serious about. Some of them are well-intentioned and are meant to be a sincere homage to a person, object, or event that has some profound historical association. I appreciate the sentiment but don’t saddle the ball team with a meh name in order to pay homage to someone. You may want to honor a very worthy subject. So, build them a statue. The team’s name is unlikely to be the best place to pay that tribute.
At the risk of sounding unsentimental, I think there are three top criteria that need to outweigh all others here – the new name has to be fierce, it has to sound cool, and it needs to be fun to say. If it hits all those bells and additionally has some profound historical significance – then, great. But if we have to make a choice, then fun, cool, and fierce beats a dull, historical tribute every day of the week.
Can we just put these names to bed?
The Cleveland Naps – Cleveland’s baseball team has been through several name changes, and before they were The Indians, they were The Naps – in honor of player-manager Napoleon Lajoie. No disrespect to the man – apparently, he was a legend. But today, a team called The Naps just makes me want to curl up and take a nice snooze.
The Cleveland Guardians – It’s not terrible. But its origin is from those lovely Art Deco statues, poised majestically at both ends of the Hope Memorial Bridge over the Cuyahoga River. I think a lot of people admire them in passing and then never give them a second thought. I’m not sure that many people have a strong feeling that they represent the city. As for the name itself, it doesn’t sound fierce or combative – it sounds like a generous, charitable operation. (Besides, baseball players don’t guard the way that basketball or football players do.)
The Cleveland Rocks – Of course I know the song. And I love The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But, forgive me for the annoying grammar lesson, rocks is used in the song as a verb. But the team name needs to be a nickname for people. Even if you turn it into a noun – are we going to want to call the players rocks? Just makes me think of a driveway full of gravel.
How about the related Rockers? So, like, fierce, scary singers and drummers? Yeah. No.
The Cleveland Blue Sox – Because we need to complete the red, white, and blue trilogy? Let someone else finish it up. As a name, it just doesn’t stand on its own very well. I’m literally envisioning blue socks and there’s nothing inspirational or intimidating about them.
The Cleveland Spiders – Spiders can be dangerous. But the ones I’ve crossed paths with are just tiny and irritating. They’re creepy insects. This is another historical throwback – the Cleveland Spiders were a National League team from 1889 to 1899. I know Spiderman is a cool character, but that’s a very distant association. It might be the perfect name for a climbing team. But I’m not feelin’ it for baseball.
The Cleveland Buckeyes – I know, I know. The Ohio State Buckeyes and the Cleveland Buckeyes might feel like too many Buckeyes. It’s not unprecedented – do you know how many high school sports teams across the country call themselves The Raiders? I know it’s unlikely, but it has such a strong sound to it, it represents the state, and you can have a funny mascot of a buck with a nut in its eye socket.
The Cleveland Buckeyes was also a championship Negro League team, that played from 1943 to 1948. Good history and a name that sounds tough – it’s a nice combo.
The Cleveland Barons – Knights, lords, British nobility. This one definitely isn’t reaching for a specific tie with Cleveland. Maybe the robber barons who were ruthless industry thieves. What does our team steal? Third base! Okay, seriously, it’s just a cool, strong name.
But consider the naming of The Cleveland Cavaliers. That came from a name-the-team contest. Cavaliers were literally the loyalist supporters of King Charles I during the English Civil War. “The gentleman who won the contest, Jerry Tomko, stated 'Cavaliers represent a group of daring fearless men, whose life pact was never surrender, no matter what the odds.'” I’m just saying, if it has a ring to it, it’s fine to take a little historical license.
The Cleveland Crows – No, I haven’t been watching too much Game of Thrones. (Okay, I actually have overdone it on the repeats.) It has alliteration. Crows are a bit ominous. They make their opponents uneasy. And when they win – why they crow, of course!
The Cleveland Commodores – It sounds like a great match with the basketball team – The Cavaliers and The Commodores. In addition, to which, a commodore is a military leader, and it projects an image of a whole team full of leaders. Plus, The Commodores were also a great music group, and there would be no shortage of great songs for the team theme music.
The Cleveland Cobras – I’ve only heard this suggestion from one person, and I love it. Fierce predators, it sounds great - cool alliteration, the drawn mascot can go be either savage or funny. If your team name is an animal, it needs to be a formidable creature – Hawks, Falcons, Cougars…Cobras are deadly. It’s perfect.
The Cleveland Baseball Club – Not Cleveland Baseball Team, ’cause that’s dull and generic. But club as in – a baseball bat is a club. And an elite team is a club. Instead of, ‘the tribe,” there would be “the club.” And of course, there’s the Club House. It has potential.
A rose by any other name…
…will still be Cleveland. They will still be the same team you’ve loved your entire life. Try to appreciate it as a historical moment of change. They’re still your team to cheer and support. And if it takes you a few years to make the mental adjustment, just keep screaming, “Cleveland Rocks.”