Follow the author: @Banjo_440
Both loved and heavily scrutinized, Chief Wahoo is a Cleveland icon. He has been the staple of our baseball franchise since 1947. From sitting high on his perch atop the old Municipal Stadium to being plastered all over Indians memorabilia, you haven’t been able to walk anywhere in Northeast Ohio without seeing the Chief.
And that’s how it should be. Forever.
A few days ago, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred asked the Indians to “transition away” from Chief Wahoo. But he’s not going to go quietly.
The name ‘Indians’ surfaced in 1915, after a bevy of name changes in the previous 15 years. Why the Indians? Former Cleveland great ball-player, Louis Sockalexis. Sockalexis played with Cleveland in the late 19th-century and was the team’s best player. Sockalexis left a lasting imprint on baseball in Cleveland as a Native American. Thus, the homage paid by the Cleveland baseball team. They would call themselves the Cleveland Indians.
In 1928, the first Native American logo was used by the organization. (Shown below)
After 19 years of similar-looking warrior head logos, the first cartoon depiction was used (shown below). Drawn by 17-year-old, Walter Goldbach. Chief Wahoo was born.
Goldbach worked for a local advertisement agency at the time and was approached by owner, Bill Veeck to draw a new logo. Goldbach defends the logo to this day. Being quoted as saying that it would be “100% wrong” to retire the logo, and that, “It was never meant to offend.”
I actually had the pleasure of meeting one of Walter Goldbach’s grandsons as I was strolling through a local grocery store last year. Appropriately enough, I was wearing my “Keep the Chief” shirt from GV Art & Design at the time. He said to me, “I noticed your shirt and wanted to give this to you.” He handed me a card explaining the history behind Chief Wahoo. He then said to me, “My grandfather designed that logo. He would be proud.”
I was honored and shocked, honestly. Here I was preparing myself for this guy to tell me he was offended by a T-shirt, but instead, he told me about the close ties he and his family share with that logo. Had I been able to come to senses instead of acting like a little fanboy, speechless in the moment, I would have had a conversation with him. I would’ve asked him about his grandfather’s decision to draw the original Wahoo and just talked to him about something that has meant so much to this city for 70 years. I would have told him that most Indians fans love that logo and most fans feel the same way that I do — that we should keep the Chief.
Should the Indians cleanse themselves of the Chief, we would still love them just as we do now. We wouldn’t stop watching games, we wouldn’t stop buying tickets and most importantly, we would never stop wearing that red and blue ball cap with the smiling Chief on it.
That is why Chief Wahoo will never die. The people, the fans, will not allow it.
But the point is, the Indians should not remove Chief Wahoo from anything just because they are told they should. This is sports, not politics. And the day we let political correctness pollute something as pure as sports is the day we have all lost.
The Cleveland Indians aren’t the Indians without our Chief. And quite honestly, I don’t want to imagine a world without him as the face of this franchise. He is unique to not only this baseball team but to this city and region. Everyone, everywhere, knows exactly what team you’re rooting for when they see the Chief.
So let’s put on our Wahoo apparel, go to a game at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario and shout, “Go Tribe!” to everyone we see wearing the same iconic logo. Let’s come together and keep the Chief in Cleveland, where he was born and still calls home. Where he belongs for the next 70-plus years.
Follow the author: @Banjo_440
Images via SportsLogos.net, CBS New York, GVArtWork.com and IndianCountryMediaNetwork.com