In December, the team said it would be changing the name for the first time since 1915. It’s been a slow process, involving hundreds of interviews and a list of nearly 1,200 suggestions.
The Early Years
From the 1860s to the 1890s, Cleveland had a few different professional baseball teams with names like the Forest Citys and Blues. There was even a year for the Cleveland Infants.
The name most-often remembered name from this era was the Spiders. Named for their lanky players, the Cleveland Spiders were around for a decade. They were led by pitching great and Ohio native Cy Young, and Louis Sockalexis, believed to be the first Native American player.
Sockalexis, of the Penobscot Nation, wowed fans and writers, who started referring to the team as the Indians. While he was an exceptional athlete with an impressive arm, his struggles with alcohol, both on and off the field, could not be ignored. It led to a messy departure from the team.
Start of the American League
The team we know as the Cleveland Indians originated in Michigan as the Grand Rapids Rustlers. They went by the Cleveland Lake Shores, Cleveland Bluebirds (sometimes shortened to the Blues) and the Cleveland Bronchos in the newly-formed American League.
For more than a decade, they were Cleveland Naps. It was in honor of player-manager Nap Lajoie. The second baseman was considered one of the league’s first superstars. But with Lajoie’s time in Cleveland at an end, the club needed a new moniker again.
The Indians and Chief Wahoo
Baseball writers at the time voted on a new name, choosing the Indians. While some suggest it was a way to honor Sockalexis, who died two years prior, that’s been disputed over the years. He played for the Cleveland Spiders for just three years and was released from his contract for his conduct. Plus, the Spiders were not associated with the current team. It’s more likely the writers were influenced by the success of the Boston Braves, who just won the World Series.
It would take several years before Cleveland formally adopted the Indians name. Players wore uniforms with “Cleveland” and a “C” from 1915 to 1927. During that time, they won their first World Series.
Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck went to local company to design a new logo in 1947. A 17-year-old Walter Goldbach drew the first Chief Wahoo, which would undergo several revisions before becoming the version we see today.
Chief Wahoo appeared on hats in the years that followed. Then in the 1973, annual protests of the logo began on Opening Day, but that didn’t stop the club from using the problematic character.
2016 to Present
The Indians adopted the Block C are the club’s primary logo in 2016 as Chief Wahoo was slowly phased from uniforms and merchandise. That same year, the Indians appeared in the ALCS against the Blue Jays, prompting activists in Canada to file a lawsuit to prevent the team from using their name and Chief Wahoo logo in Toronto. A judge dismissed it and the Indians went to the World Series, losing to the Cubs in seven games.
In December, owner Paul Dolan announced the team would change the name following the 2021 season. This season also came with a new policy at Progressive Field: “Headdresses and face paint styled in a way that references or appropriates American Indian cultures and traditions. Inappropriate or offensive images, words, dress or face paint must be covered or removed, and failure to do so may constitute grounds for ejection or refusal of admission.”