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 politics, 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.
Then 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 think 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.
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.