Ushering in the Guardians Era and Honoring the 100-Year Legacy of the Indians
Cleveland’s baseball team played its final home game as the Indians Monday, retiring the nickname it’s had for more than 100 years. They’ll be called the Guardians starting next spring.
WKSU’s sports commentator Terry Pluto says the name change has been a balancing act for the front office as it ushers in a new era while honoring the team's legacy.
Finally dropping the name
The build-up to the name change occurred over several years.
In 2019 the team removed the Chief Wahoo caricature from uniforms and from the stadium, something Pluto wanted for years.
But owner Paul Dolan resisted calls from Native American groups and Major League Baseball to rename the team. Then, after a year of racial unrest following the death of George Floyd, the team announced in December 2020 it was making a change.
The team spent most of 2021 narrowing down a list of thousands of potential names, and announced it selected "Guardians" in July. One positive, Pluto said, is that the "Indians" and "Guardians" will look similar on signage and merch. They are also keeping the same color scheme and similar script logo.
"For me, I remember by father taking me to the old Cleveland [Municipal] Stadium ... and it felt like this baseball cathedral. So, 'Indians' to me brings back that image."
"Getting through" 2021
Monday's finale didn't include any tribute or ceremony marking the end of the Indians. The team chose to just move on quietly after a tumultuous year.
Along with the name change the team was dealing with the financial fallout from the pandemic. Payroll was cut, and star player Francisco Lindor was traded to New York. The team also played most of the season without manger Terry Francona, who is battling a number of health issues.
The feeling of the front office was to just get through the season and start fresh in 2022, with a new name and hopefully more money.
"It [was] almost like hanging over the franchise is when are they going to announce what the new name is?" Pluto said.
Still, the team ended the season with an attendance of 1,114,368 fans. That ranks No. 20 out of the 30 MLB teams in average attendance per game. Pluto says that's good news.
Another piece of good news: The team isn't moving. Rumors had been swirling that the name change signaled ownership could be considering relocating the team. The current lease at Progressive Field expires in 2023.
However, in August, a $450 million lease extension was announced that will keep the Guardians in Cleveland at least through 2036. Cuyahoga County and Cleveland City councils have to sign off on the deal.
"Whether they are the Indians or the Guardians, they are in the process of getting a new lease worked out [for Progressive Field]," Pluto said. "That's a big deal."
"Whether they are the Indians or the Guardians, they are in the process of getting a new lease worked out. That's a big deal."
Pluto says that while many fans understand the need for a change, it's a painful process.
"Internal polling I know shows that more people favored keeping the name than changing the name. So this is not overall a very popular move for the fan base," Pluto said.
Pluto says for many fans, the Indians name carries a deep tradition among generations of families.
"For me, I remember my father taking me to the old Cleveland [Municipal] Stadium and putting me up on his shoulders," Pluto said. "We would walk down the West Third Street Bridge, and you see the boats on Lake Erie. And there was this huge stadium, this looming monstrosity there. You would look out, and you would see the greenest grass. And it felt like this baseball cathedral. So 'Indians' to me, brings back that image."
And Indians to others it may be sitting in front of the TV with maybe three generations of fans. To others, it may be Omar Vizquel, or Rocky Colavito or Charlie Nagy or Frank Robinson ... or for some, I still get fans who remember the 1948 World Series. That's why there's some inherent sadness."