Our Cleveland Guardians

Cleveland's biggest trade before this year's deadline.

Technically we continue to be the ‘dians.

On July 3, 2020, Cleveland announced they would investigate the possibility of a name change. The announcement came days after the NFL Washington Football Club dropped the name Redskins and two years after the ball club stop using the Chief Wahoo mascot on team jerseys and caps.

In the statement announcing the possible name change, the team talked about “making a positive impact in our community and embrace our responsibility to advance social justice and equality.”

Reports in Cleveland hinted that after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, the team owners, the Dolan Family, were concerned how the community would continue to see Cleveland baseball with a racially insensitive name.

 

Another name change? At least this one lasted 106 years!

 

Cleveland baseball previously were the Forest Citys, the Spiders, Blues, Bronchos and, Naps. The Naps name was an honor Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie. The problem was, Lajole left Cleveland after the 1914 season to play for the Philadelphia Athletics. Technically during 1912 – 1914 Cleveland was officially the Molly McGuires but continued to be referred to as the Naps.

The Molly McGuires were 19th-century activities in the labor movement. In 1915 sportswriters and the team polled fans and chose the name Indians. The Boston Braves won the 1914 World Series causing a bit of envy. Rumors persist that the name was an honor to Louis Sockalexis, Cleveland Spiders player 1897 – 1899 and believed to be the first Native American to play organized baseball. There is no proof of this rumor stop passing it around.

I am sad to see the Guardians replace the Indians. Not for any fondness for the name but nostalgia. But the name Indians was a product of a different time. It was time for something new. I say this as somebody that has spent all 51 years of my life in Northeast Ohio.

Fifteen of those years were in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood of Cleveland. For the remainder of those years, I lived in a small best side, umm west side, Cleveland suburb that many Cleveland athletes have called home. For college? I am a proud Cleveland State Viking. Also, I am married to a Standing Rock Sioux. I have a bit of skin in this game.

I agree with the general opinion among folks on the south shore of Lake Erie that the name is safe and a bit boring. The sentiment among my friends, family, fellow pub mates is the significant part is “Cleveland.”

Truth be told, we have to agree on that because ain’t many agreein’ on the name change. The same ideological responses that raged on social media were not absent from the North Coast. Hell, a sheriff made an official statement, yes on official letterhead, denouncing the name change. Members of the regional Native American councils made statements applauding the name change.

Back in 2020, the missus asked me if I thought they would change the name. She wasn’t a fan. If they did, what would it be? I told her it would be the Cleveland Guards. Missed it by that much!

 

The Dolans and Community

 

Why did I think that? It is all due to the owners of Cleveland, the Dolan Family.

Larry Dolan originally ran the team after they purchased it from Dick Jacobs in 2000. In 2012 Larry passed control to his son Paul. Cleveland baseball is owned by a Dolan Family trust with Paul Dolan as the current approved “controlling owner.”

Paul Dolan is a fifth-generation Clevelander, unlike the owners for the Browns and Cavs, both of whom are outsiders that rarely Moses Cleavland’s settlement. The ties to Cleveland run deep for the Dolans with Cleveland baseball an important part of the community.

Fans can, rightly, question the Dolans baseball decisions. People inside baseball and players respect the Baseball operation. Players are generally not happy with their frugality with contracts as well as the fans. The focus on the name was about the community and the business side.

Larry Dolan graduated from Cleveland Catholic High School Saint Ignatius in 1950 and continued by graduating from Notre Dame before coming back to Cleveland. Larry Dolan eventually became the managing partner and president of a large and successful law firm.

The Dolan family have been, and continue to be, significant contributors to Catholic charities. They have, and continue, to be a part of the Cleveland community and support many charitable efforts. In 2018, when Cleveland City Schools had a funding problem for baseball and softball programs, the Dolan family ensured that the programs could continue. The Cleveland community is important to the Dolans.

 

Four Words

 

After announcing they would investigate changing the name, the Dolans reached out to civic leaders, Native American Councils, and other parts of the community to see if they should change the name and if they did what would represent Cleveland. From those discussions, the Dolans team came up with four words they thought represents the community.

  • Pride
  • Resiliency
  • Loyalty
  • Protective

They wanted to avoid names with negative connotations, so any names mentioning burning rivers were out.

This left off certain names, such as colors. Animal names would also be difficult. This really upset the proponents of the Cleveland Squirrels. A name that I couldn’t quite dismiss.

The names Spiders, Rockers, and Guardians soon became front runners.

The Spiders was a former name of Cleveland’s. Spiders had a few problems. Many people didn’t like the name. Many teams, including the Richmond Spiders, would make trademark and marketing negotiations difficult.

The Rockers name have similar issues, including being too close to the Rockies.

Guardians proved to have the right feel for how the Dolans saw Cleveland baseball in the community in Cleveland. Guardian was a fit for the Dolans vision of Cleveland baseball in the community.

 

It Still is a Business

 

Cleveland is one of the smallest markets that have a football, baseball, and basketball team. Baseball has always been third in this generation. Corporate sponsors can easily spend their dollars on the Browns and the Cavs. Changing the racially insensitive name could reduce pressure on sponsors. Changing the name would be a good business move for Cleveland in their market.

Changing the name met both the civic and business requirements for the Dolans. Cleveland had to get approval through MLB. MLB’s legal team researched possible trademark barriers. Cleveland worked with Marvel, a New York XFL team, and a local men’s roller derby team to move forward.

As a person educated in public schools in Northeast Ohio, in terms of Native American heritage, there are no special history lessons. As the husband of a Native American, there is no real embracement of Native American history and heritage in the community. Occasionally one might see a table or booth sponsored by a Native American council at a fair or a local park event.

Native Americans were not, sadly, a large part of the local communities. Perhaps that is because the state of Ohio recognizes no Native American Tribes for the state. There were not strong community ties between the Native American history of Northeast Ohio and Cleveland baseball. The name Indians was simply the name given to a baseball team.

It was decided about 12 weeks ago, Cleveland was going to become the Guardians.

 

Tom Hanks and The Black Keys 

 

Who better to announce it than Tom Hanks! How did they get Tom Hanks? Tom spent the summers of 1977, 1978, and 1979, as a member of the Great Lakes Theater. During this period he became a Cleveland baseball fan, attending games at the old stadium.

In 2016 he said ‘Go Tribe!’ while hosting Saturday Night Live. He had mentioned Cleveland baseball in his TV show Bossom Buddies and several of his movies. On TV talk shows, he would name drop Cleveland Municipal Lakeshore Stadium, the former home of the Indians.

He would also talk about players like Sid “Sudden” Monge, Andre “Thunder” Thornton, Mike “The Human Rain Delay” Hargrove, and Duane Kuiper. Tom was the obvious choice to voice the announcement video. It was fun to listen to the narration and hear Tom Hanks pronounce names like Carnegie and Cuyahoga like a Clevelander.

Cleveland rocker, and radio DJ, Micheal Stanley passed away earlier this year. He was an obvious choice to provide music for the video. A baseball player at Hiram College near Cleveland he would often admit he would give up his music career to start at second base for Cleveland.

Early this year, when Cleveland fan and drummer, John Adams missed his first home opener in 48 years, The Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney sat in as Mr. Adams’ pinch-drummer. So, Arkon-based band, The Black Keys provided the music.

The video flashed location from the Cleveland area, including fans, and had a flash of all the area codes associated with Cleveland baseball. The announcement video focused on community.

 

Seriously? A Bridge?

 

Cleveland, and its neighborhoods, are separated by the Cuyahoga River. In the 1920s’ a new bridge was needed to help the increasing traffic needs to cross the river. Lorain Avenue was on the west side of the river. Carnegie Avenue was on the east side of the river.

Cleveland leaders proposed the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge and had Clevelander Frank Walker design it. Walker, who previously worked on the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland, once again worked with sculptor Henry Hering on the project. They added four statues to the bridge on the pillars on both ends of the bridge.

The art deco status would be Guardians of Traffic. Eight guardians, two on each pillar facing east and west, would be holding different vehicles. Four types of trucks, two types of wagons, a stagecoach, and a car would represent the progress of transportation and each guardian would be holding one.

The bridge wasn’t finished in 1932. The construction helped to provide jobs during the Great Depression. One of those workers was local stonemason, William “Harry” Hope, Bob Hope’s father. Bob Hope would become a famous comedian, song and dance man, USO supporter, and, for a time, part-owner of the Cleveland Indians.

Like Cleveland baseball, the bridge was almost destroyed in the 1970s. Restored and renamed the Hope Memorial Bridge in the 80s, the Bridge has had a real resurgence since the 1990s. In 2018-2019 Sherwin Willams used the Guardians in a large banner that replaced the LeBron James’ banner on the side of their HQ.

The banner was a montage of smaller pictures of Clevelanders, shaped as Guardians, forming a larger single Guardian and included the slogan, “All for the Land.” The Cleveland Guardian Mile, a race across the bridge, was started in 2018. The history of the bridge has seemingly followed the same path as Cleveland baseball. On the east side, the bridge exits directly in front of Progressive Field, the home of Cleveland baseball. Yes, the Guards of Traffic will overlook the Cleveland Guardians.

For graphics, the team script is close to the current Indians script. Block C has been replaced by a script C that looks like a shield. The logo is a baseball with the wings of the Guards of Traffic on each side. The color will stay the same. While I like the current designs, they need maturity.

 

It’s about CLEVELAND baseball!

 

The Dolans decided to change the name, not on a whim or under pressure from outside forces. It was a name they found problematics. The Dolans believe the name had become racially insensitive. They believed the name could hinder Cleveland baseball as a member of the community.

They were also looking at the future, recognizing the business impact the name Indians would have. Cleveland baseball has had many a name change. Will this be the last? Does it matter?

One thing the Dolans have made very clear is that they will keep the team in Cleveland. While announcing the name change the Dolans are currently in negotiations to extend their lease on Progressive Field.

Paul Dolan has stated there is no intention to move the team. By making the team an integral part of the community the Dolans have ensured that it will be harder for any future owner to circumvent the “Art Modell Law.” Ohio enacted the law after Art Modell moved the Browns. It provides barriers to moving Ohio professional sports teams and saved the Columbus Crew professional soccer team.

The team has also stated they know that they can not ask the city for a new stadium location, despite having one of the older new stadiums in baseball. They are committed to trying to turn Progressive Field a long-standing part of the city, much like Wrigley Field and Fenway are part are to Chicago and Boston.

If you really can’t get behind the name change, I offer this suggestion. Take Interstate 90 to exit 151 (State Route 611) and visit Mercy Health Stadium, home of the Frontier League’s Lake Erie Crushers. That most recent team to win a baseball championship in Northeast Ohio when they defeated the River City Rascals in 2009. If I’m not at a Guardians game, you’ll see just might see me there.

If you are a fan of Cleveland baseball the future looks brighter for the team, even if you disagree with the name change. Sure, Guardians is safe and boring. You may disagree with the reasoning behind the name change. But the Dolans stated intentions in the future is to ensure one thing will remain the same: Cleveland.

Go Guardians!

Mat Kovach

Despite being an Indians fan in the late 70's I grew to love baseball. I started throwing spitballs when I was 10 and have been fascinated with competitive shenanigans in baseball ever since.

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