(portions published in the May 18, 1999 USA Today in response to Erik Brady's May 12, 1999 article "Cleveland might be next in line for suit”)
May 17, 1999
As Erik Brady reported in his May 12 article “Cleveland might be next in line for suit,” the baseball club has long maintained that the term was used to honor Louis Sockalexis as the result of a newspaper contest. However a May 17 Plain Dealer article “Tale of Indians’ name off base” reveals that a check of four Cleveland newspapers from January 1 through April 30, 1915 does not support this theory and suggests that the decision was made by a group of sportswriters. Following owner Dick Jacobs’ recent announcement of his interest in selling the team, the new owners of the Cleveland baseball franchise should change the team’s nickname. Mr. Jacobs passed up a golden opportunity to mark the team’s renaissance by not changing the name when the club changed its uniforms and address upon moving into Jacobs Field in 1994.
If the newspaper contest origin of the Indians’ name is merely a myth (like the hundreds of Eskimo words for “snow” which was disproved by Cleveland State’s Dr. Laura Martin), and there is no evidence that this was meant as a tribute to Sockalexis, there is no reason to keep the name. The popularity of Wahoo merchandise is not good enough.
The Plain Dealer article contained an impressive list of names considered at the time. My favorite is The Grays (also a reader favorite in 1915) because of its later use in the Negro Leagues, but many modern fans may find it too dull. I also like The Panthers or a return to The Blues, but these may be out of the question due to potential trademark disputes with the NFL (Carolina) and NHL (St. Louis). The Buckeyes, Pioneers, Originals, and Spiders are also good, but may seem too traditional or old-fashioned.
So with an eye to the new millennium and the team’s recent reputation for power, I will suggest another nickname: Nova. This has the double meaning of a shining star and the Latin and Portuguese words for “new.” Marketing departments could have a field day designing a bright, highly stylized star as the new logo. In addition, the name Nova could lead to interesting debates over whether the name should be invariable (à la Utah Jazz, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, and Minnesota Wild), pluralized as Novae, or as an irregular plural, Novas (like the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Florida Marlins).
If instead we continue to believe the Indian myth and give in to greed, racism, and the status quo, then another 1915 favorite nickname seems more appropriate: The Hustlers.
Milton Alan Turner