The History of and Story Behind the Cleveland Indians Logo

The Cleveland Indians have had that name for a very long time. In short, there was a time when the team was called the Cleveland Naps because of the player Napoleon Lajoie, who was often called Nap Lajoie as well as a number of other names and nicknames. However, when Lajoie left the team following the 1914 season, the Cleveland Naps became outdated, which prompted the team owner Charles Somers to ask various baseball writers to come up with a replacement. This request resulted in the Cleveland Indians, which came from a nickname for the Cleveland Spiders that played from 1887 to 1899. In that case, the name sprang up because the team had a Native American player at one point in time before proceeding to stick around.

How Has the Cleveland Indians Logo Changed Over Time?

By 1932, the newspaper called The Plain Dealer had started using a caricature of a Native American in relation to its coverage of the Cleveland Indians. It wasn’t an official symbol of the team, but it nonetheless managed to prove popular, which is why it started seeing more and more usage in said coverage. Eventually, when the Cleveland Indians decided to come up with its own official symbol in 1947, it was clear that the creator had been inspired by said image, which is why some people have outright called the two “blood brothers.”

Supposedly, the instructions called for a symbol that was supposed to project a sense of joy as well as enthusiasm. The result was a cartoon caricature of a Native American with yellow skin, a very prominent nose, and a very unmistakable grin. As for how the symbol managed to become known as Chief Wahoo, said name had already been in use for some time by that point, which is perhaps unsurprising considering the existence of a newspaper comic strip called Big Chief Wahoo that ran from 1936 to 1947. There are some stories that claim that this choice of symbol as well as this choice of name were supposed to honor Louis Sockalexis, who was the Native American player who had inspired the Cleveland Indians team name. However, the circumstances make this particular claim pretty dubious to say the least, meaning that it tends to be seen as an origin myth but nothing more.

By 1951, the symbol had seen some adjustments. In particular, the yellow skin was changed to red skin, while the nose was made less prominent in size. As a result, the Cleveland Indians had gained what was to become its most iconic logo, which lasted until very close to the present day. Said symbol has seen some modifications in the decades between those two points in time, but for the most part, it has remained very similar.

Very recently, the best-known symbol of the Cleveland Indians saw its last use in October of 2018. Opposition to the use of the caricature has existed since at least the 1970s, but over time, said force has become stronger and stronger. For a long time, the Cleveland Indians resisted pressure to stop using the symbol by claiming that it is meant to honor rather than hurt Native Americans, which was in addition to their claim of strong support from the fans. However, Native American organizations eventually managed to prevail upon the team to phase out the use of the symbol, which makes sense because there is a fair amount of evidence to suggest that the continuing use of symbols that reinforce Native American stereotypes contribute to the creation of negative environments for actual Native Americans. Due to this, the Cleveland Indians have stopped using Chief Wahoo but still plans to sell the occasional piece of merchandise showing the character so that it can continue to hang onto it. Meanwhile, in its place is now a prominent C, which might not be as distinctive but should nonetheless be more than enough to make it clear who is playing.

It will be interesting to see how the Cleveland Indians’ logo continues to change in the times to come. However, it seems safe to say that its previous symbol won’t be making a comeback anytime soon.

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