They could have been the Spiders. Instead, Cleveland’s major-league baseball team, known for more than a century as the Indians, will be called the Guardians. The change will take place at the end of the 2021 baseball season.
The “Guardians” name pays tribute to a Cleveland landmark: the twin Guardians of Traffic statues on the Hope Memorial Bridge, near the team’s home ballpark, Progressive Field. Sports Illustrated provided some historical detail:
The Guardians of Traffic statues have flanked both sides of the Hope Memorial Bridge since 1932. Each of the four-winged Art Deco figures sports winged helmets and crowns, and each statue holds a different vehicle to signify "the spirit of progress in transportation," per bridge engineer Wilbur Watson. Each guardian stands 43 feet tall, and they remain the only public Art Deco monuments in Cleveland.
In a launch video, actor Tom Hanks—an odd choice, since he’s a San Francisco Bay Area native—waxes rhapsodic about Cleveland in the first person plural: “We are a city on the rise … We are a city of fire and water … And this is our team.”
Together, we are all... pic.twitter.com/R5FnT4kv1I— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) July 23, 2021
The “Indians” name, and in particular the “Chief Wahoo” mascot and logo, had been criticized as racist for years by Native Americans and others. Neither was part of the team’s early history: The team was founded in 1900 as the Lake Shores, and went through multiple name changes (including being called, briefly, the Spiders), before setting on Indians in 1915. As I wrote in a 2014 post, “Chief Wahoo was created in 1947 by a 17-year-old draftsman, Walter Goldbach, who’d been commissioned to draw a mascot that ‘would convey a spirit of pure joy and unbridled enthusiasm.’”
Old name and mascot
New logos. The one in the lower left quadrant incorporates wing elements from the Guardians of Traffic. 216 is the Cleveland area code. For more on area-code branding, see James I. Bowie: “How the Boring Area Code Became a Hot Branding Commodity.”
There were the predictable “Guardians of the Galaxy” jokes, and the predictable “I hate it because it’s new” reactions. (Remember: We are predisposed to hate new brand names until we don’t.) Predictably, TFG hates the name change, which may help you make up your own mind.
The former President says “Indians” are angry over the Cleveland @Indians name change. Perhaps he means people from India because Native American groups have been asking for this for years. pic.twitter.com/r7KqV2Otyq— Andrew Feinberg (@AndrewFeinberg) July 23, 2021
Vincent Schilling, a Mohawk journalist who’s the associate editor of Indian Country Today, probably speaks for many Native Americans: “I am glad Cleveland has taken such a step.”
I like the new name and the local pride it evokes. Unlike names of hockey and football teams, baseball-team names don’t need to sound aggressive (hey, they are two MLB teams named after socks), and “Guardians” is both distinctive and memorable. It doesn’t hurt that it has the same three-syllable cadence as the previous name, or that both names end in -dians. I judge it an inside-the-park home run: a rare feat we should be cheering.
For local-landmark fans: “10 Things You Should Know About the Guardians of Traffic Statues, Since You Now Root for the Cleveland Guardians Baseball Team,” from the Cleveland Scene.
UPDATE: Read Dan McQuade’s very good piece in Defector about the Guardians backstory.