Friday, December 18, 2020

Goodbye Tribe, hello Spiders.

      My grandfather Irwin and I never fished, or played poker. We did not golf, build models or play cards. He did teach me how to play chess, and gave me a dollar if I won. Or if I lost.
     And once we went to the enormous cavern of Cleveland Municipal Stadium, sometimes around 1966 or 1967. I can't tell you who we played or whether our team won. All that was preserved in family lore is that we went, and that I ate two hotdogs. It was not a compliment.
     In 1973, I had perhaps my peak sports experience. A double header against the Boston Red Sox, a far better team. I saw Carl Yastrzemski at the plate in his trademark bat high stance, and afterward got his autograph as he headed for his car through a swarm of us kids. I still have the program.
     There was more: I collected baseball cards, which I also still have. I was a card-carrying member of the Buddy Bell Fan Club. I read Gaylord Perry's memoir "Me and the Spitter"—the Tribe had a habit of getting good players on their way down. I particularly liked former Oriole Boog Powell, if I recall, because he was chunky, like me, and named "Boog." I listened to sports radio so much I can still imitate callers to the Pete Franklin Show. "Pete...Pete, I'd like to tell you my Cleveland Indians dream team!!!!"
     If there is a trace of mockery in that, well, that's why I'm not a true sports fan. I have the same trouble with pol
itics, evoking that classic line of Eugene McCarthy's combining the two: "Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, 
and dumb enough to think it's important."
     I understood both games. I just can never quite master the think-it's-important part. Though there certainly were moments when both seem important. 
     The team was a Rapid Transit line ride away. Esther Otterson and I went to see the Yankees on the 4th of July. Maybe 1980. Again, I can't say whether the Indians won or lost.  But it sure was important to be there.
     There's more, but that's enough. What I'm trying to say is that I'm a Cleveland Indians fan, sort of, or was, during various periods of time, and would still be if I were in the habit of putting on airs, which I'm not. Enough of a fan that when the Indians won the pennant in 1995, I cried, and would have attended the World Series, had my wife not been giving birth during the game I had a ticket for. I decided to stay in Chicago for that. It was the right choice.
    Two years later I did go, to the '97 series, and saw us lose during a hideous, four-hour, 42-degree debacle. My buddy and I slipped out before the end of the game to hit the strip clubs in the nearby Flats.

     A certain flexibility has always been necessary to follow the Indians—or whatever they're going to be called next. The current name never offended me, but then I am not Native-American. I loved Chief Wahoo, found him appealing, not degrading—he represented out team, remember—but I also understand that fish don't consider water wet. When people more woke than myself tried to make me understand why Chief Wahoo was offensive, and said to imagine the team were suddenly called the Cleveland Jews, my eyes lit up. I would love that. A Hassid done in the Chief Wahoo style, with earlocks and that grin. I'd put that pennant on my wall.
 again, as tough a time as Jews did, historically, we sailed through history untouched compared to what the Native-Americans suffered and suffer. Jews kept our traditions and language, did well enough in whatever society we were in, and even have our own little scrap of a country punching above its weight. Let's just say if newsreel images existed of what the Native
-Americans endured, we'd view our history very differently, and none of these racist symbols would have survived to 2020 to be fussed over.
     In other words, it's hard to perceive the realm you're raised in, and when Native-Americans say that the team name, and its mascot, are offensive, and racist, I am not inclined to argue with them. Nor do I th
ink changing the name is a bad idea. Things change. One of my favorite bits of can't-make-it-up baseball trivia is that the White Stockings were founded before the Cubs but the Cubs are older than the White Sox. How can that be? Because at one point the White Stockings became the Cubs, and then the new White Sox were created. You can't make this up. The Cubs also used to be the Colts. Teams change names. When you see the white-knuckled terror with which some white folk cling to the tiniest shift in cultural tradition—say "Happy Holidays" to a multi-ethnic classroom and you're waging war on Christmas—a thinking person lets go of this kind of thing even more easily. I'm a third-generation Cleveland Indians fan, but if it's time for the name and the mascot to go, then be off with them. I approve. 
     Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis. Times change, and we change with them.
     Now if only the Italian-Americans could do the same. A word to the wise: Enrico Fermi Drive.   

     This is Cleveland after all, the city that lost its football team. The Cleveland Browns—the most anodyne name ever—moved away in 1995, becoming the Baltimore Ravens. Four years later the NFL waved a wand and created a new Cleveland Browns out of nothing, which is pretty much what the team has been worth over the past 20 years. So it's not like the city can start crying about legacies and traditions and unbroken sports bloodlines.
     The way baseball has been going, I expect they'll find some completely lame name. The Cleveland Rock 'n Rollers. Bleh. I'd reach back into history and return to "Spiders," which was Cleveland's National League name in the 19th century. I visited the University of Richmond, on a college tour with the younger boy, and their team, the Spiders, offers such great graphic possibilities I almost bought a t-shirt just because they looked so cool. Cleveland needs all the cool it can get. Go Spiders.


  1. The Cubs were never the Whales.
    Wrigley Field was originally built for the Whales in the Federal League in 1914, which folded & then Wrigley bought the place & moved the Cubs from their West Side Grounds [ I think County Hospital occupies that land now] to Addison & Clark in 1916.

    And I too want Balbo renamed after Enrico Fermi, he has nothing named after him in his adopted city other than a University of Chicago building.
    He left Italy to protect his Jewish wife, even though Mussolini said he would personally protect her from the Nazis.

  2. I know so little about Fermi I didn't know he had a Jewish wife

  3. I believe the Sox adopted the White Stockings moniker to own the Cubs.

  4. The Cubs too had their over-the-hill stars for a year or two of semi-retirement before they segued into coaches: Alvin Dark, Richie Ashburn, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Frank Thomas, who went to the same high school I did in Niagara Falls, Bobby Thomson, who hit the famous homer for the Giants, Whitey Lockman, and many more. Sometimes I yearn for those days when a win over a top team was unexpected and an excuse for exuberance, in contrast to the perennial disappointment after winning the World Series in '16.


  5. Baseball came first. Sixty cents round trip from the Milwaukee Ave. turnaround at Niles to Wrigley Field. $1.25 for a Bleachers seat left enough for dogs and Cokes on a $5.00 budget. But eventually hockey and the Blackhawks took precedence, the red Hawks jersey being considered the best professional uniforms. Yeah, that vote was a long time ago but Hawk fans haven't changed loyalties. Except for the most recent update to a smile from a more impassive countenance, it is a perfect logo. Chief Wahoo reminds me of the Milwaukee Braves similar cartoonish icon laughing hysterically in a highlight reel of their '57 or '58 World Series team that would play during rain delays back in the day. I can understand how Native Americans can find them objectionable. Eventually the Blackhawks will bend to the same pressure, even though their image might be the least objectionable. When your history is more tragic than the Holocaust victims, the loss a team nickname is beyond trivial, so insignificant that a word doesn't exist to describe it.

  6. Oh man, I can see it now: a smiling arachnid wearing lots of baseball gloves!

  7. I am a HUGE baseball fan and root for the cleveland franchise through marriage. As a cubs fan growing up lou beaudreau laid the cleveland love groundwork. Player manager of the WS CHAMPS in 48.

    I agree with your take across the board. though if they had a team named the kikes or some such derogatory term you may not feel warm and fuzzy about it.

    There is considerable chatter over the last few days about the spiders being a good alternative. I mentioned it in a group text with some fantasy owners in our league .

    One remarked since cleveland has the browns already and the reds and blues are taken maybe they could pick some other color.

    I really like the spiders.

    Chess? Still play?

    1. How about the Greys. I believe there was a pre-1900 team so named. And it would fit Cleveland so well, at least my notion of Cleveland. And we geezers could root across state lines.


    2. And then, in keeping with that rationale, they could name the Blackhawks "The Overcasts." ;)

  8. Personally I wouldn't mind if every single sports team with an Indian-related name changed it tomorrow. That includes the Blackhawks. (And yes, I know all about how Chief Black Hawk was a guy, not a tribe, and the team was named after a military unit in WWI etc. I don't care.)

    Look at Washington. The owner of the Redskins, by all accounts an asshole even by the standards of NFL owners, swore the name would never change, no matter how offensive some people found it. But then enough people found it offensive, and those people included some of the team's sponsors, and all of a sudden it became the Washington Football Team.

    Not only is Washington D.C. still standing, but the team is in first place in its division. (Granted, it's just the NFC East, but still.)

  9. I've followed your fan trajectory more or less similarly, though I cared about more sports, for longer, before losing interest gradually a long time ago.

    But, I grew up in Ohio as a Tribe fan, too, in the days when Fred Whitfield and Max Alvis anchored the corners. Like you, I made a pilgrimage to the '97 World Series, though they won the game we attended, during which it snowed. That was awesome, but the late Game 7 implosion shortly thereafter was just so Tribe. I was really torn deciding who I wanted to win the 2016 Series, but tried to adopt the mindset that it was a no-lose situation for me.

    While I appreciate the heritage of choosing the Spiders, I don't like spiders. I've got no better idea, however, and fortunately, nobody's going to be asking me. The graphics possibilities are promising, I admit. I have little team apparel for any teams, but do have a Chief Wahoo cap that I really like. I stopped wearing it out of the house a few years ago -- which means I pretty much stopped wearing it at all.

  10. My Dad grew up in Cleveland (he went to John Adams HIgh School), but moved to Chicago with my Mom after college and the war, to work in Chicago. My brother and I were huge Cleveland Indian Fans. We often went to Chicago White Sox games, rooting for the Tribe. My brother took my Dad to the first game played at Jacobs Field which was a thrill. Presently, I'm a Cubs fan, but I try and follow the Indians.....excuse me, the Spiders!!

    I enjoyed your well written column today, Neal. I know the Indians logo is derogatory to Native Americans, and we should empathize with our original settlers of this country, but I do have fond memories of the Tribe, and I find it rather sad that the name will be changed.

  11. Wow, Mr. S, you sure opened a big can of Wrigley worms (sorry, couldn’t resist). There’s so much to ground to cover…

    I came late to the party. Went to my first baseball game before I was eight, at old Comiskey (May 21, 1955…Sox 7, Kansas City 4) but didn’t get bitten by the baseball bug for another five years, despite the Sox pennant in ’59. Then my father took me to my first Cub game (Aug. 20, 1960…Cubs 9, Giants 5), and I was hooked for life. Sat in the front row of the center field bleachers and saw Willie Mays make his famed basket catches. In those days, you could walk up to the ticket window on a Saturday afternoon and join the other six thousand or so happy die-hards. The Cubs stunk every year, and all my bandwagon cousins became North Side Sox Fans, but not me. I lived and died with the Cubs…but mostly died.

    I lived through ’69 and ’84 and '89 and ’03. Experienced some of the original Bleacher Bum days that the play was based on, and I was a Left field Bleacher Creature in the Eighties. Went to Opening Night in '88. If I mentioned my nickname here, spmebody would probably recognize it.

    Married my college sweetheart (from Cleveland) in ’92, and went to work for the Tribe that same year. Group and season ticket sales. In the mid-Nineties, there were noises about changing the Indians to the Rockers in order to ditch Chief Wahoo and the “racist” logo, but they were just that…noises. Nothing ever came of it. The WNBA franchise adopted the name in ’97. But they folded after only seven seasons. What a great logo they electric guitar (natch)...

    I, too, grew to love Chief Wahoo, and the more “woke” folks derided it, the more I clung to it, the way Chicagoans wrap their winter coats and scarves around themselves in January, or the way a Mississippi good old boy loves his Confederate flag. I swore that it would have to be pried off my cold, dead body. A lot of folks in Cleveland will never give it up, unless it is banned from “The Jake” or it becomes illegal to wear. You will still see Chief Wahoo on unreconstructed Tribe diehards...and old geezers...for another twenty years. If Wahoo merch ever becomes “uncool” to wear in Cleveland (which it won’t until I’m long dead), then maybe I’ll retire my gear. Personally, I will take what comes. I will blow with the wind, even if it's off Lake Erie.

  12. Mr.S, did you know there was an earlier Chief Wahoo that was designed for Bill Veeck in 1947? The skintone is brown, not red, and the nose…well, let’s just say that if you remove the feather, the '47 Chief Wahoo logo looks more like a Chief Wahjoo, who’s wearing a yarmulke.

    True story: I even tried to buy a “Chicago Jews “ shirt from a Wahoo protester in the early Nineties. He asked me why I wanted it. Because…I AM one! He still wouldn’t sell. My wife had one custom-made. I wore it to a Sunday afternoon game. A Jewish guy actually wanted to buy it from me. Wore it for two decades, until it finally fell apart.

    As for team names…the White Stockings were one of the original NL franchises when the league began play in 1876. They were later the Colts, and even the Orphans, and were finally nicknamed the Cubs because of the team’s youth. The Chicago AL team stole the name to piss off the Cubs.

    The Whales were the team that the North Side ballpark (which was not renamed Wrigley until 1926) was originally built for in 1914. The Cubs moved in when the Whales folded. The Cleveland Spiders got their nickname because Cleveland had some long, lean, lanky ballplayers. But they were horrible! In 1899, they had the worst record in MLB history. Their record was 20-134... and they finished 84 games behind pennant-winning Brooklyn. They disbanded after that horrendous season. The Cleveland AL franchise began play in 1901.

    I have no love whatsoever for “Spiders”--the name has nothing to do with Cleveland. The original Spiders sucked as a team. "Spiders" sounds more like a silly superhero logo from a comic book. Hey, I'm a Spider, man.

    I go with the Rockers, or maybe the Blues. Or the Greys, who were a 19th century Cleveland military unit that fought in three wars, and who were founded to defend Cleveland from a possible Canadian invasion in 1837. That's not a joke. You can look it up. Also, it would honor our perpetually cloudy skies. The Browns? Great colors. Love the orange-and-brown...and that Brownie elf. And they’re playoff contenders at last.

    We don’t need all the cool we can get. We’re still fine as we are. Why knock your hometown? When I still lived there, Chicago's detractors and critics were told: “Hey, pal, if you don’t like it, there’s a plane leaving O'Hare in two minutes.”

    Cleveland's okay, despite its crappy winters and springs. Summers and falls are very nice. It's less expensive than elsewhere. In normal times, there's plenty to do. Fine museums. Best damn band in the land. There are worse places.

  13. Neil, old friend,

    Thank you for sharing that wonderful paen on your Cleveland memories. I remember the smell of old beer, urine and hot dogs that was so unique to Municipal Park, home to the Browns, Indians, and an odd assortment of World Series of Rock concerts.

    One thing CLE lacks is good marketing. Aside from LeBron and Mike Polk, not many have brought marketing savvy to the North Coast.

    Thus, the Spiders will never catch on in spite of the super cool homage to David Bowie. Too creepy... The Greys is a much stronger contender, given the Browns moniker and the near permanent overcast skies over our fair city. Lastly, CLE fans, like OAK fans, have had to watch each year as their best players and free agents are picked apart like road kill to large market teams. Grey seems to color that sentiment quite well.

    Come by and visit soon.


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