November 28, 2020

A Brief History of the Cleveland Indians

It started in 1894 when the Grand Rapids Rustlers began play. Fast forward to 1900 when the Rustlers relocated to Cleveland and became the Lakeshores. After a few years of struggles and somewhat bad play the team finally decided to change their name from Naps, named after player Nap Lajoie, to the Cleveland Indians after owner Charles Somers asked the fans through the newspapers to name the team in 1915. A young female fan opted to name the teams the Indians after former player Louis Sockalexis, baseball’s first Native American player.

Now being one of the charter eight members of the American League, in 1920 the team would win their first World Series title. They defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in a best of nine series. The Indians wouldn’t reach that feat again for another 28 years. In 1948 the Indians once again reached the World Series. This time, they met their aptly named opponents in the Boston Braves. Ironically, this was one of the very few times a championship game/series would¬† feature two teams featuring Native American team names, as the rematch would occur again in 1995.

The most interesting fact about this series and the Indians at this time is that between games Two and Four the Indians were given a special blessing by Native American chief by the name of Chief Thunder Water. With that blessing the Indians would go on to win the series 4-2. Giving them their second World Series title since 1920.

Sadly, the chief would pass away several years later. To honor him for his blessing and good faith in the team, the team would come up with arguably one of the most iconic and scrutinized logos in Cleveland sports history in Chief Wahoo. To put all doubt aside, the chief is indeed based on Chief Thunder Water’s image, but due to the limited photos of the chief, he was poorly drawn and eventually evolved into a more cartoonish image. The image stuck and was eventually doctored over the years into the image that was retired in the 2019 season to secure the 2019 MLB All-Star game.

The 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s were met by subpar seasons and mediocrity. By the 1990’s, the team had renewed interest and a new home in the newly built Jacobs Field. The special link between the new stadium and the previously mentioned Chief Thunder Water is that the chief’s final resting place is located directly across the street in Erie Street Cemetery.

With this new stadium and the apparent spirit of the chief watching over the Indians, the team would enjoy success the rest of the 90’s and 2000’s. They would go on to reach the World Series in 1995 and 1997, and numerous playoff appearances throughout the period. Although the Indians lost the 2016 World Series and rose the current title drought to 72 years for the team, it’s hard to deny the historical context and presence of both Chief Wahoo, Thunder Water, and Louis Sockalexis, And with ownership contemplating a name change, the hearts of die hard fans will always scream Indians til’ the last drum beat inside Progressive Field.

sources: Cleveland Indians.com, Case Western Reserve Encyclopedia of Cleveland history

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