MEDINA, Ohio — Walter Goldbach rooted for his hometown Cleveland Indians in Wednesday’s final World Series game glued to his living room chair, afraid he would jinx the team if he moved.
“Don’t ask me to walk around the house,” Goldbach, 87, told CNN from his home in Medina, Ohio.
In the seventh inning, he was hopeful his Indians would pull it out — even though they were losing to the Chicago Cubs 6-3.
“But they’re running out of innings, that’s what bothers me now,” he said.
Goldbach isn’t just an ordinary fan. He is more tied to the baseball team’s history than most. He designed what became known as the Indians’ Chief Wahoo logo in 1946, when he was a 17-year-old working for his family’s design business near Cleveland.
Team owner Bill Veeck had asked the family firm, J.F. Novak Co., to design a team logo featuring a cartoon-type character. And Goldbach, who had free rein in the art department, created a dozen sketches for Veeck.
Veeck selected one with an orange face, a pony tail and a crooked feather, Goldbach said. The logo, which later became known as Chief Wahoo, was tweaked over the years.
Goldbach said he didn’t know as a teenager that his creation would be a part of baseball history.
“When I was that young, it didn’t hit me that much. It was just something that I did for the Cleveland Indians,’ he said.
Chief Wahoo logo viewed by some as racist
The Chief Wahoo image, a red-faced, smiling Native American man, has been controversial, drawing criticism as a racially insensitive depiction of Native Americans. Many have called on the team to abandon it.
The controversy echoes calls for the National Football League’s Washington Redskins to ditch its famous moniker — viewed by critics as a racial slur.
The Indians changed the logo to a block “C” in 2014 — but players voted to wear caps and uniforms with the Chief Wahoo image for the 2016 postseason.
Goldbach said he didn’t agree with the change because the Chief Wahoo logo was distinctive.
“If you wear a hat with Chief Wahoo on it, you can go all over the world … and they’ll know where you’re from,” he said.
He recalls meeting a Native American man earlier this year who said he was offended by the logo.
Goldbach said he understood why the man felt that way, but told him, “this was never done to offend anybody.”
Others view Chief Wahoo differently.
As the World Series began, the American Indian Movement of Ohio called for demonstrations at Progressive Field over the use of the logo, saying in a Facebook post: “100 years of racism towards us by this baseball team is enough.”
“Let the world know that this name and logo does not honor you, your culture or your spirituality. Demand that it be changed.”
MLB Commissioner to address the issue
The debate over the use of Chief Wahoo intensified as the World Series neared. Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred recently said he would reassess whether the logo should still be a part of the sport.
Goldbach said he never named his drawing Chief Wahoo and he doesn’t know where the name came from. He has remained a fan of Cleveland’s professional teams during winning and losing years.
For 15 years, he and his late wife, Barbara, trekked to Winter Haven, Florida, for the team’s spring training games.
His wife, who died in September at age 80, was “up in heaven rooting for the Indians right now,” he said.
‘I don’t know what to do now’
A dramatic Game 7 saw the Indians start to creep back into the game in the eighth inning. Outfielder Rajai Davis’ two-run homer tied the score at 6-6. They were close to winning their first title since 1948.
“I thought that we’re back in the game and we had just as good a chance or better now than Chicago,” Goldbach said.
Then, the field staff brought out the tarps for a rain delay in the top of the 10th inning.
Goldbach was perplexed: Should he get up from his brown recliner?
“I don’t know what to do now,” he said.
Goldbach decided to stay seated, hoping the game would end in a tie.
“Co-winners of the World Series,” he said.
But in the end, the Cubs won 8-7 after 10 tense innings.
“Well, it was a wonderful game,” Goldbach said. “Cleveland fought right down to end, really.”