Q&A: Cleveland Indians Play Their Last Home Game As The Guardians Era Looms

The script "Indians" name on the  Progressive Field scoreboard is illuminated as post-game fireworks kick off in July 2019.
The script "Indians" scoreboard will be retired during the offseason after today's final home game as the team changes its name to the Guardians. [Gayle S. Putrich / ideastream]
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Cleveland’s baseball team plays its last home game as the Indians this afternoon against the Kansas City Royals. It’s a makeup for a rainout last week.

The team is dropping the divisive Indians name, considered racist against Native Americans by many and defended by diehards who see no such connection. The team will be the Guardians next season.

Ideastream Public Media's Amy Eddings spoke with host/producer Glenn Forbes about the end of an era in Cleveland sports.

Glenn, the Indians name is the only name Clevelanders today know. It dates back to 1915. Tell me its history.

Even that is in dispute, Amy. Supporters of the Indians name say it honors Louis Sockalexis, a Native American who played with the Cleveland Spiders in parts of a few seasons before 1900, but longtime Cleveland sports columnist Terry Pluto (of The Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com) found a different reason for the name Indians while writing his book "Our Tribe." 

“It’s kind of like making a decision and coming up with something afterward," said Pluto. "The 1914 Boston Braves were known as the miracle Boston Braves and baseball was very taken with this team. So, here you are, looking to change the name going into ’15 and they kind of threw a bunch of names out, I really think the Indians sort of came out of that."

Pluto admits he’s not entirely sure, but the Boston Braves theory makes more sense to him rather than a seldom-used outfielder from about 20 years prior to the name change. Nothing seems to be unanimous when it comes this nickname.

A lot of people support the name change, especially Native Americans, who’ve long lobbied against it. But the team is still facing heavy criticism from people who don’t like it, who think officials were caught up in the moment of racial reckoning after George Floyd’s death in 2020. Former President Trump cited the name change as a reason not to endorse Ohio Sen. Matt Dolan in the GOP Senate primary.

Yes, now we get into the tangled web of the very wealthy Dolan family. It was Larry Dolan who bought the team more than 20 years ago. Larry is now 90 years old and son Paul is chairman, CEO and a co-owner who operates as majority owner for the franchise. Matt Dolan is Paul’s brother and also part owner, but says he was against the name change, citing the culture wars. Add in their cousin, New York Knicks owner James Dolan, and honestly this is a pretty unpopular family when it comes to sports fans. They’re all connected and I think it’s something that might be a detriment to Matt Dolan’s campaign in the sense that it’s the wrong kind of name recognition for some.

The George Floyd riots were certainly a factor, but when the Washington Football Team announced a change from Redskins during that time, that’s what really prompted the club to announce they would change their name as well, and Pluto and others believe it really came down to not wanting big sponsors like Progressive to face any additional pressure.

Is the team marking the moment in any way?

No, the team told me nothing formal was planned and I’m really not surprised. They know this is a divisive issue and I think they’re just ready to move on. They’re stuck between honoring the history and tradition of the team and acknowledging that some found the name very offensive. The announcement was made, the band-aid was ripped off, so to speak, and they’re moving on quietly.

What’s going to happen to the massive script Indians logo over the left field scoreboard?

That’s undetermined as well, according to the team. Communications chief Curtis Danburg told me they’re working through the details on the sign and it won’t be an immediate removal but that’s all we know. But fans heading to the ballpark should get their pictures today if they want one.

The Indians’ season will end Thursday in Kansas City against the Royals. They won’t make the playoffs for the second time in six years. Glenn, what held the Indians back this year?

Well, some fans would say low payroll. If you recall, All star shortstop Francisco Lindor and veteran pitcher Carlos Carrasco were traded before the season to save money. President Chris Antonetti says the team lost tens of millions of dollars due to no attendance during the shortened pandemic season and Paul Dolan does not spend a lot of money in what’s considered a small Cleveland market. But the team was doing pretty well until injuries derailed their top three starting pitchers toward the middle of the season. It’s tough for any team to overcome that.

Then second basemen Cesar Hernandez was traded to division rival Chicago and Manager Terry Francona took the rest of the season off for multiple surgeries. He was hurting badly and hobbled and that was kind of an unofficial end to their season. Francona, a lock for the hall of fame as a manager, is expected back next season but the elephant in the room is a looming labor dispute. The collective bargaining agreement expires December 1st and the players and owners have a contentious history, including a battle over the pandemic season last year that wiped out about another 20 games just because they couldn’t come to an agreement. The good news is the two sides are negotiating but there’s certainly no guarantee that next season will even start on time.

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