Baseball groups have been named for animals, native landmarks and a model of handgun. Several of them have been recognized by the colour of their socks. There is one named after a mountain vary and one other that references dodging the trolleys of a metropolis the group left greater than 60 years in the past.
The strangest identify in baseball historical past may be for the group that was named after its greatest participant. That group — the Cleveland Naps — was pressured to undertake a new identify when Napoleon Lajoie left the membership after the 1914 season. With the assistance of native sportswriters, the group grew to become the Cleveland Indians.
After years of criticism, Cleveland has agreed to drop the identify, which many view as racist, and can start trying to find a new one — a course of that has occurred comparatively few occasions since group names grew to become standardized within the early half of the 20th century. Name modifications, it needs to be famous, can take a whereas to get proper, as evidenced by the N.F.L.’s Washington Football Team, which is briefly going with a generic designation after dropping its personal racist identify.
How Cleveland and Washington navigate their modifications may present a blueprint for different groups because the push to get rid of offensive names in sports activities grows stronger. It may ultimately have an effect on groups just like the Atlanta Braves and the N.F.L.’s Kansas City Chiefs, and even perhaps much less apparent examples, just like the N.B.A.’s Golden State Warriors.
Much of the early enthusiasm in Cleveland’s seek for a identify has targeted on having the membership renamed the Spiders, the present favourite, in keeping with a number of oddsmakers. While that identify has some baseball historical past in Cleveland — not notably good historical past, however historical past — it has no connection to the present Cleveland membership. The Spiders had been a National League group from 1889 to 1899. They misplaced the 1892 championship to Boston and, when final seen, set a mark for baseball futility by going 20-134 earlier than disbanding. A minor league membership additionally used the identify in 1915 earlier than bolting for greener pastures in Toledo.
The present Cleveland group, then again, was one of the American League’s authentic franchises in 1901. The membership has a wealthy 120-season historical past that features World Series championships in 1920 and 1948. If Cleveland wished to decide on a identify from the group’s personal previous, somewhat than referencing a failed N.L. group from the 19th century, it might have 4 to select from: the Blues, the Bronchos (additionally spelled “Broncos”), the Molly Maguires and the aforementioned Naps.
It may be exhausting to think about a group renaming itself the Boston Big Papis or the Los Angeles Trouts, however that was precisely what Cleveland did for Lajoie’s first full season with the membership in 1903. Lajoie, a Hall of Famer considered one of the perfect hitters in main league historical past, largely justified the weird honor. He hit .339 in 13 seasons with the membership, gathering a number of batting titles. He continues to be the franchise’s profession chief in wins above substitute.
The Naps nickname caught round even after a 1912 effort by the group to vary its official designation to the Molly Maguires — itself an uncommon sports activities identify, because it referenced a group of Irish labor rights activists. But after a last-place finish in 1914, Lajoie demanded a trade and was sent back to his previous club, the Philadelphia Athletics, necessitating a name change for Cleveland.
The team’s search for a new name has often been credited to a newspaper contest, though academic studies have made the claim of a fan contest or a reference to Louis Sockalexis (a Native American player for the Spiders) to be specious. In reality, a committee that consisted of local sportswriters and team representatives decided on the name, with some Cleveland newspapers reporting at the time that it was temporary. It stuck.
Cleveland’s being in the market for one again also shines a light on how rarely a name change happens, at least in baseball. Recent name changes have included the Tampa Bay Rays dropping “Devil” from their name in 2008, and the Expos being renamed the Nationals after a move to Washington in 2005.
To find an established team that changed its name without changing cities, you would have to go back to the 1965 season, when the Houston Colt .45s became the Houston Astros. It would be easy to assume it was the association with a firearm that inspired the change — similar to Washington’s N.B.A. franchise changing its name from the Bullets to the Wizards — but the change to the Astros appeared to be more about capitalizing on the space craze at the time, and honoring the team’s exciting new domed stadium, while also addressing the fact that the Colt firearms company had objected to the team’s souvenirs.
“We think it is in keeping with the situation in which we are the space capital of the world,” Roy Hofheinz, the club’s president at the time, had said. “The name was taken from the stars and indicates we are on the ascendancy.”
In all, baseball will be left with 11 teams playing under their original name as major league teams, including the Detroit Tigers, who began play in the A.L. in 1901 and are the longest-serving major league team that has never had any other home city or nickname. (The Chicago White Sox, who began play in the A.L. the same year, were briefly known as the Chicago White Stockings.) Each of the other 19 active teams has had at least one change. One of the more interesting reasons for a change belongs to the Cincinnati Reds, who went by the Redlegs in the 1950s to distance themselves from any connection to communism.
There is no timeline for when Cleveland will rename its team. The Indians name will be used in 2021, allowing the franchise time to avoid rushing into an unpopular name change, like the one done by the N.B.A.’s Wizards.
Be it Spiders, Blues, Bronchos, Molly Maguires or some other name, the team has an opportunity to make a positive out of something that has been painful for many years. And while a return to the Naps is highly unlikely, the team could always nod to it by naming itself after one of the team’s many stars, like Jose Ramirez or Shane Bieber.
The Cleveland Biebers? Probably not.