Hardesty: My proposal for the Cleveland Indians name change

Head shot of Tom Hardesty, a white man with short hair in a grey golf polo with the caption "Round Two with Tom Hardesty"

Love it or loathe it, the Cleveland Indians will have a new nickname in 2022.

Regardless if you think the name change is long overdue or it’s yet another example of political correctness gone over the cliff, the Indians nickname in Cleveland will be thrown onto the scrap heap of history and replaced with something else.

So what will “something else” be? Will it harken back to a beloved connection with the franchise’s past, or will it be more forward-looking and slick? Will the colors stay the same, or are we in for a complete overhaul?

If I had a vote in the matter — and I’m still waiting for a call from the team’s front office — I would vote against dredging up names of yore. Prior to the current franchise becoming the Indians in 1915, Cleveland baseball clubs, in various incarnations, had been named the Forest Citys, Blues, Rustlers (when the franchise was located in Grand Rapids, Michigan), Lake Shores, Bluebirds, Bronchos (a suggestion by the players that never caught on), Napoleons — named after the team’s captain, Napoleon Lajoie, not the French dictator who ravaged Europe in the 1800s — which was shortened to Naps, Spiders, and even Infants.

Spiders has been a somewhat popular choice for the new name, largely because that was the name of another Cleveland baseball team that featured a Native American player, Louis Sockalexis, whose presence on the club earned it the unofficial nickname of “Indians.” With Lajoie gone from the Naps after the 1914 season, the team, searching for a new name, decided on “Indians,” a nod to the Spiders and Sockalexis, starting with the 1915 season. So those in the Spiders camp like the name for historical reasons as it keeps the franchise anchored to its roots.

But it’s not really warm and fuzzy. OK, depending on the species of spider, it could be fuzzy — which is part of the problem. Rather than fun-loving Slider chasing the kiddos around the bases on Sunday afternoons at the ballpark, it would be a menacing eight-legged creature with eight beady eyes — and maybe fuzzy — chasing terrified youngsters (and most likely adults, too) around the bases and presumably out of the stadium.

And I can see some marketing genius in a corner office coming up with a brilliant PR move of somehow converting the protective netting in the lower bowl of Progressive Field into a gigantic spider’s web.

No thanks. For me, Spiders is out.

I’ve heard Forest Citys mentioned, again for nostalgic reasons and for the simple fact that Cleveland is known as “The Forest City.” While I’m a huge fan of the region’s metroparks systems and especially Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where my wife Kim and I often hike and enjoy its serene beauty, when you think of forests, what usually pops into your mind is something along the lines of the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachian Mountains, the wilds of Montana. Not a megalopolis of 3.5 million people living amidst urban sprawl in all directions.

So Forest Citys is out.

Rustlers, Lake Shores, Bronchos and Infants are out. Rustlers is more symbolic of the Wild West. Lake Shores, while geographically accurate, sounds like those who named the team back then weren’t even trying. Bronchos are broncos, and any Browns fan alive today who remembers The Drive and The Fumble would consider it sacrilegious to name a Cleveland franchise after the team that was responsible for the city’s greatest sports disasters. May as well go all the way and call them the Fighting John Elways.

Which brings us to Infants. That would be age-inappropriate for a T-ball team, let alone a Major League Baseball club. So that’s out — and it should have been out in 1890, the lone season that the team and its league existed. Making matters worse, the Infants were affectionately called the “Babes.” While we might not all agree on putting the Indians nickname in mothballs, I think we can agree that “Babes” would be all kinds of problematic on a lot of levels today.

So that leaves Blues, Bluebirds and Napoleons if we’re going to go with tradition.

And they’re workable. Hear me out:

Blues and Bluebirds are fairly interchangeable, but they can be tweaked into a more baseball-sounding nickname like … Blue Sox. We already have the Red Sox and White Sox, and a team called the Reds (which also went by Red Stockings and Redlegs at one time) in our very own state, so marrying colors with garments to come up with a team name is a tried and true proposition in Major League Baseball.

And in Cleveland, it would be a nod to the franchise’s great teams of the 1990s, symbolized by slugger Jim Thome’s preference of pulling his uniform pants up to his knees to fully expose his blue socks underneath. Thome’s wardrobe statement was among the most recognizable in baseball at the time, and the Indians were even referred to as a “sock-cess story” in their mid- to late-90s heyday because of it.

Naming the team the Blue Sox would fit in with MLB heritage and serve as a nod to the Indians’ glory days of the ’90s, when the once-forlorn franchise reached the World Series twice in three years.

But Blue Sox is my runner-up choice.

Naming the team after a player would be the best way to honor the club and city’s past as the franchise moves into the future. And that player is pitcher Bob Feller, the face of the franchise for the better part of 80 years.

Feller, who died in 2010, has the star power, name recognition and fan admiration to qualify as worthy of having the franchise named after him. He’s the most instantly identifiable Cleveland Indian of all time and the franchise’s greatest player. Feller was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962, a first-ballot inductee who received 93.75 percent of the vote.

Over the course of a career that spanned from 1936 to 1956 — interrupted by his U.S. Navy service in World War II from 1941 to 1945 — Feller was an eight-time All-Star, six-time American League wins leader, seven-time MLB strikeout leader, pitched three no-hitters, and helped the Indians win the World Series in 1948 and reach the Series again in 1954.

Feller threw one of the most devastating fastballs in history, earning the nickname “Rapid Robert” when he was a 17-year-old rookie with the Indians in 1936. And there’s my top choice for the Indians’ new name:

The Rapids.

It honors history and tradition, keeps the franchise firmly attached to its legacy, and also serves a dual purpose, with Rapids also referring to the Cuyahoga River that snakes its way through Northeast Ohio and empties into Lake Erie at Cleveland.

Rapids also sets up some cool logos. The team can keep the ‘C’ on the hat and batting helmet (although I would prefer the crooked C of the 1970s, which had style and pizzazz), with two alternate logos to be worn on each jersey shoulder: a red or blue (or both) silhouette of Feller in his trademark high leg-kick delivery on one shoulder, and a blue-and-white patch of the rushing water of the Cuyahoga on the other.

As for the mascot, the club can either keep Slider or go with a fun, blue wave-type costume that signifies the Cuyahoga River — and won’t send the children screaming in terror.

The Cleveland Rapids.

Feller’s team. Our river. Cleveland’s heritage.

I like it.

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Tom Hardesty is a Portager sports columnist. He was formerly assistant sports editor at the Record-Courier and author of the book Glimpses of Heaven.

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