December 30, 2007

The bogus Cleveland Indians story

The imaginary and true origins of the “indians” name for the Cleveland baseball teamThe Cleveland indians baseball team, in its official version of its history, claims that the team was named in honor of Louis Sockalexis the first Indigenous Major League player. On its web page ( the Cleveland indians MLB organization propagates its mythology about how the name was chosen.The myth:The team employed several nicknames throughout the years prior to the arrival of Sockalexis and after his departure. The one that was used for the longest period of time was “Naps,” in honor of the team’s player-manager Napolean Lajoie.

After Lajoie was released in 1914, a Cleveland newspaper held a contest to rename the team. The winning entry in the contest was “Indians.” The fan who sent it in explained that the name would be a testament to the game’s first American Indian player. The memory of Louis Sockalexis was not forgotten then, and today, decades later, he is still remembered.
The reality:Cleveland Press, January 7, 1915

President C. W. Somers of the Naps has appointed the sporting editor of The Press a members of a committee of sport writers to select a new nickname for the team.

The sporting editor wants the fans to help name the team.

The Cleveland Leader, January 17, 1915

“New Name for local American League Club is Selected by Writers.”

The Indians are with us! That’s what will greet the Cleveland American League club when it hits a rival city this year, as the Naps have been officially laid to rest. In place of the Naps, we’ll have the Indians, on the warpath all the time, and eager for scalps to dangle at their belts.

[T]he name should prove a good one and may be a mascot which will aid the locals in more ways than one. Ball players as a rule are superstitious and the change in name may work wonders with them. The old “Naps” seemed to imply lack of speed and fight and the new one shows just the opposite.
The website's conclusion:Either the honor to Indigenous Peoples and particularly Louis Sockalexis somehow escaped the notice of the 4 Cleveland Dailies at the time, or the official Cleveland indians history is a fabrication. But the re-naming did not escape notice by the Cleveland newspapers. In fact it prompted the articles we have reprinted here--all of which contained racist, demeaning references to Indigenous Peoples.

The only mention of Louis Sockalexis in association with the new name was an obscure, op-ed piece that offers the Sockalexis history as an afterthought to embellish the new name.

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