Longtime and controversial Cleveland Indians mascot Chief Wahoo is being retired from all uniforms, Progressive Field, and mlb.com in 2019.
Cleveland has had a particular American League baseball franchise since 1901(The team existed before that, but the league was not recognized as a major league). While they changed names a few times in their early stages, from the Blues to Naps, in 1915, the franchise settled on the Indians.
To understand Cleveland’s love of the Indians, one must look back at history. The name was conjured up before the 1915 season. The old name, the Cleveland Naps, were named for star player Nap Lajoie, who was traded. The name originated from Louis Sockalexis, a Native American player who played for the Cleveland Spiders from 1897 until the team was dissolved in 1899. Sockalexis had died a couple of years prior and when Cleveland owner Charles Somers solicited name ideas, the idea of naming it after him, his heritage.
While named the Indians, they didn’t start using a Native American based logo until 1928. This initial logo was a small Indian head that was more reminiscent of the Buffalo nickel than a cartoon. While the Indians continued to use a number of Native American head logos, it wasn’t until 1946 where the direction of the logo changed. Indians owner Bill Veeck wanted a logo that showed pure joy and unbridled enthusiasm. The yellow-skinned Indian logo was born. On the uniform, Cleveland did not use the word “Indians” until the introduction of this new logo. At the time, the logo had no official name.
The logo evolved and in 1951, the red Indian head logo fans knew and loved was here. While there was a red-skinned variation that looked more like the previous logo, the logo was now streamlined. In 1952, the name Chief Wahoo was officially used for the first time in reference to the loved mascot.
The logo was everywhere in Cleveland. There were variations used based on the context of what it was being used for, such as a Wahoo with a full body at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
As time went on, and society’s conscience grew, this logo became a source of decisiveness outside of Cleveland. In fact, when the Indians moved to their current stadium before the 1994 season, they considered replacing the logo. The Indians ultimately kept Wahoo as the primary logo but started to creep in an alternate block C logo since 2008 that looked a lot like their logo from 1902. The block C has made a number of appearances on Indians hats in their history. In 2014, that block C logo became the primary logo, replacing the Chief, but Wahoo was still used heavily, most notably during the Indians’ World Series run in 2016. The announcement to remove Chief Wahoo finishes this transition. Surprisingly, Chief Wahoo’s history on a cap was a whopping five seasons in the 50s and 60s prior to 1986.
As a third generation Clevelander, this gives me some perspective. While I’ve lived away from Cleveland for 20 years, I still have a kindred connection there.
The city of Cleveland and her people relish the past. During the mid-1940s through the mid-1960s were the golden years in Cleveland. The Cleveland Browns never put a logo on their helmet. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. The move was fiercely rejected in 1965. Chief Wahoo was designed during the middle of this time and it stayed frozen, looking back at an era of prosperity in Cleveland.
As other sports teams have shown us, times change. Mascots and logos change. Attitudes change. The world changes. While the block C the Indians are using is a bit dated, it’s time to move on.
That’s right. It’s time to move on from Chief Wahoo. The team existed before Wahoo and will continue beyond. Cuyahoga County is an extremely progressive county and Chief Wahoo has been a polarizing figure among Indians fans and activists. While the team has been very accommodating to protestors to let their voices be heard, it’s time to close this chapter. Will that satisfy the activists? Maybe, maybe not. That’s a different battle for another day.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Cleveland Indians and always loved Chief Wahoo. I still do. As a kid, a cartoonish character was very comforting. I’ve since grown up and have become more cognizant of the world around me. I’ll still wear my Indians gear, but I understand why the team had to take them off the field. The Indians might be taking it off the field, but Wahoo isn’t going away completely. The Indians will still own the logo and can license it. It’s expected to see the team shop and 3rd party vendors still carry Chief Wahoo merchandise.
Cleveland is no longer a city lost in time. They have redefined themselves from a dilapidated rust belt city to a blossoming medical research city. They hosted the RNC convention in the same year and were one of the final four for the DNC(RNC picked first). They broke a 62-year major sports championship drought in 2016. The saying “once before I die” no longer applies.
As Chief Wahoo receives his gold watch for his 73 years of service as the logo of the Cleveland Indians, fans can look forward to hosting the 2019 All-Star game. The last time Cleveland hosted it was in 1997. This is a new era for Cleveland. It’s time to live for today.
I've been writing off and on since 2003, where I first wrote for Southern College Sports. After a hiatus, I returned in 2012 with The Sports Chronicles, a predecessor of NGSC Sports. After a brief stint with WBLZ in 2017, I have returned to NGSC Sports. Also, from 2015 to 2017, I helped run Off the Cuff, a sports program and blog with STLR Media.
I have done radio and podcasts dating back to 2006 with The Student of the Game, an NFL podcast. In 2012, I cohosted TSC Saturday Night on the Sports Chronicles and The OT With Andrew G on WTMY in Sarasota, FL. I later moved the OT to NGSC Sports until 2014 where I started The College Cram, also on NGSC Sports. After a brief hiatus, I returned to radio in 2015 with both Off the Cuff on STLR and The Mad Scientist Sports Lab on The Inscriber.