An enduring symbol of the Cleveland Indians is a cartoon character named Chief Wahoo. I trust that you are familiar with his image. I also assume you are familiar with the murky history of how the team came to be called the Indians. As with many other sports mascots that reference Native American people, the use of Chief Wahoo continues to breed controversy.
On Friday, while the league announced that the Indians would host the 2019 All-Star game, several reporters followed up with commissioner Rob Manfred on his promise to discuss the use of Wahoo with the owner, Paul Dolan.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has met with Indians ownership about Chief Wahoo and those conversations are on-going, Manfred says. pic.twitter.com/FUxJ2qhVEA— T.J. Zuppe (@TJZuppe) January 27, 2017
Commish Manfred met w/ Indians ownership about Chief Wahoo today. Manfred wouldn't speculate on potential resolution, said talks ongoing.— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) January 27, 2017
Some believe that the Indians receiving the midsummer classic is a sleight-of-hand, tit-for-tat, scratch-my-back-and-we’ll-change-our-logo deal. Regardless, the fact that conversations are taking place indicates that Wahoo’s days may be numbered.
That begs the following question: what will the logo of the team become? Will the Indians nickname remain?
Fear not, fair Tribe fans. I have a plan.
I have a plan for a new team name and a new mascot behind which all Clevelanders can #RallyTogether, now and forever.
I have a plan that Tribe fans will immediately recognize as being solid as granite, with the same gorgeous shine when cleaned and polished.
It is a modest proposal that will make the Major League Baseball Team in Cleveland the true envy of sports fans all over the globe. I believe it deserves “Headline 1” Status.
NAME THE TEAM THE CLEVELAND ROCKS
Certainly it is not a name that any person anywhere would consider to be silly, absurd, or ludicrous. By the end of this article I expect that you and all of the strangers on the train reading over your shoulder will agree that Cleveland Rocks is a perfect sports team name.
The nickname features a built-in theme song
A strategic location along a major body of water inevitably becomes a hunting ground, then a settlement, then a city, the complex evolution of the network coinciding with the evolution of its constituent species. Since time immemorial, humans sought shelter along the shore of Lake Erie, and this shelter became the bustling city of Cleveland. In this long span of history hard times have never befallen its inhabitants. For this very reason, England native Ian Hunter wrote the seminal ballad “Cleveland Rocks” which celebrates the enduring brilliance and eternal shine of the city. Shortly after releasing the song, Dennis Kucinich even gave him a key to the city, making him the latest in a long line of Europeans to cross the ocean and gain a claim to part of America.
The team already uses The Presidents of the United States of America version of the song as fans file out of the stadium. Why not elevate it more and make it a centerpiece of everything that the team does? Surely Drew Carey won’t mind lipsyncing to it during the 7th inning stretch 81 times every year.
It’s tradition, and we need to honor it
If you’re asking how this has anything to do with the tradition of Cleveland, shame on you. I’ve never lived in Cleveland, and even I understand how it honors the history of the region. Berea, mere minutes away and part of the Cleveland Metropolitan area, gained notoriety at the end of the 19th century as the Grindstone Capital of the World. Ferrous tools across the world stayed sharp and useful thanks to the industrious citizens on the far west side of Cleveland. Many noteworthy buildings are constructed out of the stone, such as St. Bart’s Church in New York. Can there be a better symbol to represent a city of gritty, hard-working Americans then a dependable all-natural tool sharpener that also provides a solid foundation for massive monuments? In a world of mascots littered by hunting birds, ferocious beasts, and overgrown cats, a circular piece of rock is not an odd duck at all.
When it comes down to it, the grindstone is Cleveland, even though it is technically Berea. It is all of us. We are all the bedrock from which the grindstone was quarried and cut. This will be reflected in the new team mascot, Barry the Grindstone.
Can you feel that? It’s your heart swelling with pride at this magnificent logo. This is a character for whom Clevelanders can feel immense, unambiguous pride.
That’s just the literal interpretation of the word, “rock”. Don’t forget that Cleveland has a long and storied history of hosting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. By coupling the direct definition of the word rock — a piece of sandstone hauled from the bowels of the city — with the figurative “rock” of Rock and Roll, we’ve covered the tradition and history that some Cleveland Indians fans adore about the Chief in a completely organic, non-forced way.
Team merchandise, ballpark promotions, and tie-ins
With an updated nickname and a mascot change, the Cleveland Rocks would have a chance to make team swag great again. Who wouldn’t want to leave Progressive Field without their own talking pet rock with eight pre-recorded messages from Flo? All of the children would beg parents to let them buy Genuine, MLB Certified Cleveland Rocks Berean Sandstone Rock of Cleveland. At a price point of $16 per ounce, who could say no to such a spectacular deal? The use of the Cleveland Rocks name also blasts open a deep mine filled with veins of lucrative ballpark promotions. Come to the grindstone on the Home Run Porch and have all of your steel and iron tools sharpened by Michael Brantley, limit two per guest! Bring your fanciest rock to the ballpark and enter a competition to see which fans’ rock gets to be Mascot for the Day! For the entire month of May, every single hitter’s walk-up music is “Cleveland Rocks”! Bring the kids and meet the real life rocks from the Saturday Morning cartoon tie-in Rocky and Pebble Chase the American League Pennant Featuring Jason Kipnis as Doctor McShale!
Picture this: all of the Cleveland Rocks players wearing hats and helmets emblazoned with a picture of Barry the Grindstone featuring actual, functioning googly eyes. As Jose Ramirez’s helmet bounces off of the turf, the pupils of Barry oscillate in glorious slow motion.
You would wear a hat with that logo if it had actual googly eyes. You know it to be true.
Best case scenario: the team enforces a rule that all official merchandise must include googly eyes, showing just how serious the team is about its new branding. Free trade-ins are offered for old gear, and within a month Barry’s smiling face will stare down at us from thousands of cars, flag poles, and caps. Fans would be free to continue wearing clothing and displaying memorabilia depicting Chief Wahoo. That’s their prerogative, but the team’s official logo will be all Barry, all of the time.
We kind of deserve it
The key to this entire scenario is that all controversy is avoided from now until the end of time. Who in their right mind would be upset about the team using a rock, a grindstone, a layer of hardened sediment as its nickname and mascot?
To me, it is a pragmatic solution to the issue. Other routes require a bit more work, as Culture does not easily change. We could continue our attempts to explain how the use of a derogatory caricature despite lobbying to stop is offensive not only to those being depicted, but other fans of the team and league. It should be an opportunity to have a measured, public conversation about the legacy we can shape. Instead is is a shouting match that touches on racism, tradition, and Louis Sockalexis, and the shouting not only grows louder and more persistent: it grows absurd.
As such, it deserves an equally absurd response, which is why I recommend displacing Chief Wahoo and the Indians nickname with Barry the Grindstone and the Cleveland Rocks.
Yes, all of the people on the train reading over your shoulder are nodding now.
Will these changes take some getting used to? Yes, but the precedent of forcefully removing Native American chiefs is well-established in this country. It should alarm us that the one people seek to protect — at a time when violence against Native Americans persists — is a cartoon character. So I capitulate, and recommend we make the mascot an anthropomorphic, talking rock. It’s less ridiculous than keeping the Chief as an official logo beyond the year 2016.