Guarding the Guardians: Why the name change is great

It’s impossible to walk into a restaurant wearing anything Cleveland-related without being asked about the recent change. “’The Cleveland Guardians,’ huh? How do you feel about the news?” It’s not a judgmental question. Mostly, people seem curious. They’re wondering two things: how do you feel as a Cleveland fan, and what the heck are the “Guardians”?

Well, the first answer is shorter. As a Cleveland fan, I love it. The reasons are numerous, and we’ll touch on them later. The second answer is longer, but the more you learn about it, the better the new direction seems.

The First Guardians

The Cleveland Guardians derive their name from the “Guardians of Traffic,” a pair of sculptures adorning the city’s Hope Memorial Bridge. They date back to 1932 and are a testament to the city’s blue-collar, industrial past. Here’s an image of them. The stains on the faces are intentional. They’re meant to be soot, reminiscent of the workers who built Cleveland (and the sculptures).

The Guardians have long been part of the city’s culture. Local shops sold Guardians-inspired clothes for years prior to this announcement. The Guardians are already in “Major League,” a film that follows a fictional season of Cleveland baseball. See for yourself: they’re right in the opening credits, while Randy Newman’s “Burn On” plays. Not only are they in the movie — they’re the first image! Also, the Hope Memorial Bridge is only a short walk from Progressive Field. As such, many fans will see the Guardians on their way to watch the Guardians play.

The Old Name

However, there are a great many Cleveland fans who resent this decision. Most of them never wanted a new name in the first place. This is understandable to an extent. They grew up with the Cleveland Indians. To them, it’s tradition and nostalgia, and we should acknowledge this perspective.

Still, it is worth considering the many problems with the “Indians” name. It’s an outdated and insensitive term, and even if it were a fair way to refer to Native Americans, it seems utterly bizarre to name a team after an ethnicity, especially when the team notably lacks players of that ethnicity. Native American groups have responded negatively to the name, and the team faced legal issues in Canada years ago due to litigation surrounding their “Chief Wahoo” image.

The name was never bound to stick, either. It originated in the 1910s when the team was the Cleveland Naps, named after a player, Nap Lajoie. When Lajoie left, the team needed a new name. The “Indians” nickname originally applied to Cleveland’s other team, the Spiders, who had a Native American player named Louis Sockalexis. White audiences who watched Sockalexis play often intended for “Indian” to be an insult when referring to him, and in 2000, the Penobscot Nation, to which Sockalexis belonged, denounced the team’s “Chief Wahoo” mascot.

If these arguments don’t move you, it’s then worth asking: what does the name “Indians” have to do with the city of Cleveland? It doesn’t derive from something in the town. It doesn’t honor any specific Native American group in the region. But you know what does relate to the city of Cleveland? That’s right: the Guardians.

Patience is a Virtue

No one has to be entirely satisfied with the shift. Few are suggesting the Guardians rollout is perfect. Many, including myself, take issue with the new “Winged Ball” logo. You may reasonably point out how it looks like the Detroit Red Wings and the St. Louis Cardinals had a child. You may also hope the team introduces a new color scheme, potentially a more industrial look. These are all fair critiques.

But these major changes are never flawless. We should be patient. All teams go through rebrands. Heck, the Tampa Bay Rays stripped “Devil” from their title only eight years after the franchise began! The Padres have updated their color scheme, and the Marlins have revised theirs, too. If the logos don’t work, they can (and will) change. Major League teams will take every chance they have to sell more merchandise.

Nothing the Guardians revealed so far is permanent, save for their name. If we can get on board with the name, this announcement is a success. Winged ball or no, Cleveland ownership got it right here. They took their time and made a necessary change.

Peace, At Last

Even if you feel Cleveland should keep the “Indians” moniker, there is a silver lining. Yes, the “Guardians” name will be controversial for a while. But ten years down the line, it won’t be a talking point. The Guardians will be the default. Kids will grow up knowing only the Cleveland Guardians. This is the benefit: why make the name a focus?

“Indians” draws attention. It creates controversy – frankly, it causes headaches. Who wants more lawsuits and arguments about the name? How often do fans of other teams dwell on names each year? How many shouting matches do Cubs fans have about a baby bear?

This is a welcome respite for all. We can finally talk about Cleveland’s baseball team without worrying each conversation will be heated. This is the team with the longest World Series drought in Major League Baseball. Wouldn’t it be nice to only worry about that? Wouldn’t it be nice to buy a shirt for your team without worrying about whether you’re sending a message or hurting someone?

The Guardians are liberation. We have a cool name we never need to think about again. The Guardians are how we end the infighting. It won’t be this year or likely in the next few. But in ten years, the Guardians will be just another team – hopefully, a successful one.

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