What’s in a name?
The Cleveland Indians made it official this week with the announcement that they will be changing the team name.
It was not exactly breaking news, as the move has been expected ever since the team dropped (sort of) the use of Chief Wahoo as part of the team’s on-field logo package.
Team officials did not set an actual date for when a new name will be announced, but made it clear they will still be called the Indians at least through the 2021 season. Team owner Paul Dolan declined to offer up any clues about what the new name will be other than to say changing from Indians to The Tribe is not on the table, according to mlb.com.
Naturally, the news has led to speculation and suggestions for how the team should rebrand itself.
Some favor Spiders, which was the name of Cleveland’s baseball team from 1889 to 1899. The Spiders went 20-134 in their final season, the worst record in major league history, and paying homage to one of the worst franchises in the history of American sports would be an interesting choice.
If the idea is to honor a former team, the Cleveland Buckeyes would seem to be a better choice. The Buckeyes played in the Negro League from 1943 to 1948, winning the World Series in 1945. Renaming the team Buckeyes would probably lead to some agita from Ohio State University, however, so it may not be worth the effort.
Others have put forth Guardians after the Guardians of Traffic art deco statues that are a prominent feature of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge in downtown Cleveland. While that idea has its merits, there are some who criticize the choice as being too minor league for a franchise that has not won a World Series since 1948.
The idea that there might be a “right” or a “wrong” choice for a team name brings up an interesting discussion, namely (sorry) what makes a team name be worthy of a professional franchise?
Is there something in a name that triggers fans’ brains to say, “that is a major league club!” Or do we simply accept a name because it is associated with a franchise is part of MLB, the NFL or the NBA?
After all, what is it about Red Sox or White Sox that screams a high level of expertise? If simply selecting a random article of clothing is the bar to clear, then Cleveland could simply change to Blue Shirts and call it a day.
Some names make sense from a regional perspective, like Texas Rangers, Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies. But there are just as many that are nonsensical, such as the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates (was piracy an issue in Pittsburgh once upon a time?), or names that have followed franchises as they moved from their original cities, such as the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Giants.
Cleveland Cardinals has a nice alliteration to it, but St. Louis appropriated Cardinals in 1900 apparently because the Eastern Bluebird, the state bird of Missouri, was deemed lacking.
The takeaway here is that while one could make the case that there right names and wrong names — think anything related to Rockers, for example — it is a bit harder to say that there are names that are more professional than others.
As long as the Dolans don’t do anything completely wonky, the name they come up with will likely be at the very least serviceable and pass the test of sounding professional.
Given the pace that they are moving on this issue, however, Cleveland fans will have plenty of time to continue to debate the issue.