Guardians of Dignity: The Value of Team Names


On September 27, 2021, the Cleveland Indians won a meaningless baseball game against the Kansas City Royals. Both teams were eliminated from the postseason, and the biggest storylines were whether Cal Quantrill could continue his run of excellence or if Salvador Perez could hit yet another home run. However, this game was also the last Cleveland “Indians” game held at Progressive Field.

During the game, I saw social media fill up with the expected barrage of posts expressing outrage, anger, and a general unhappiness with the change the Indians made. Clevelanders of all ages came out to express their feelings toward the renaming of the Cleveland Baseball Franchise; to express how they would always see the Cleveland baseball franchise as the “Tribe” or the “Indians.” Some of the posts were even written as if Cleveland baseball was ending for good, such as infamous Cleveland telecaster Jensen Lewis: 

This somber, funereal tone was used by many besides Lewis. Some fans even went so far as to reminisce about their favorite memories of “Indians” baseball and lament its end, as if Cleveland baseball was leaving with no intentions of coming back. 

I found these reactions to be entirely misplaced. To me and to many others, the final game of Indians baseball played in Cleveland was to be celebrated. For a number of years now, I have avoided wearing hats with Chief Wahoo, or jerseys with the script “Indians” embroidered on the front. I had plenty of other options, and there was no reason to run the risk of offending others if I did not have to. When the Indians announced their intent to change their name, I felt ecstatic. Finally, Cleveland could have a baseball team whose existence was not tainted by its name and historical logo. Finally, Cleveland would not have to change their jersey designs every season in an attempt to phase out their outdated name. Finally, I could proudly wear Cleveland baseball gear without feeling that I may be offending others. Baseball in the city of Cleveland would no longer be played in the shadow of a racist name, which has caused controversy for as long as I remember.

Cleveland baseball has never been about the team name anyways. No matter what the team is named, the memories of Cleveland baseball remain. The 2016 World Series would have been the exact same if Cleveland was named the Guardians. What matters, instead, are the players and the fans that made it happen. What defines memories of Cleveland baseball are the players. For me, it is Rajai Davis hitting his ninth-inning home run in 2016, or Jose Ramirez raking in 2017. It’s being at the 2016 ALDS game around fans who cared deeply about baseball in this city, or watching a Sunday afternoon game with my family. The name of the team itself has not contributed whatsoever to the way I’ve grown to love baseball in this city.

Teams have been changing their names since the dawn of baseball. Even the current Cleveland baseball franchise will have had 5 different team names when the Guardians become official in the near future. Team names, especially those that have controversy behind them, are bound to change at some point. The Washington Football Team and now the Guardians are products of this trend, and the Braves, Blackhawks, and Chiefs could certainly be next. European football teams do not even have team names, opting for the simple city-focused name, which emphasizes the team and city rather than the name. Sure, it may feel weird at first to cheer for the Cleveland Guardians. Cleveland Naps fans certainly felt the same way back in 1915, when their team suddenly became the “Indians.” Now the Indians, like the Naps, the Bronchos, and the Blues before it, will be lost to the history books, and I, for one, am glad to say good riddance.