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The Best and Worst Uniforms of All Time: The Cleveland Indians

Nov 15, 2010, 3:30 PM EDT

Indians Buddy Bell

The Best: Let’s be clear about something: I despise Chief Wahoo. I despise him with the intensity of a thousand burning suns. He’s racist. He’s stupid. And anyone who defends him as “part of the team’s culture and history” should defend this, this and this and argue in favor of their continued use or else they should just shut the hell up about it.  If I ran that team I’d scrub Wahoo out of all current merchandise and marketing materials faster than you can sing a medley of “Kaw-Liga” and “Running Bear.”  For now, however, I’m just rating uniforms, so the best I can do is to eschew every single uni that included Wahoo in some way. That takes out the bulk of the past 60 years and — until they get rid of the lone, small Wahoo on the sleeve — keeps me from picking their home alternates as the best, even if they look great otherwise.  Non-Wahoo division: I love the the 1921 ‘World’s Champions” look just like I loved it when the Giants did it back in the aughts. More practically speaking, I liked the early 40s ensemble.

The Worst: Obviously anything with Wahoo. Let’s go with these as the worst, because from what I can tell it’s the largest Wahoo the Indians ever used. Non-Wahoo category: the all-red 1975-76 ensemble would have been terrible even if Boog Powell had never joined the team.

Assessment: Every time I bring Wahoo up, the conversation takes on the same pattern, so let me at least try to preempt a few comments: I don’t have a problem with “Indians” as a team nickname. People feel differently about that, I realize, but I think of it as harmless. As far as names go, only “Redskins” is bad in my view, inasmuch as it is an epithet in and of itself. “Indians,” “Braves,” “Blackhawks” and the like are not problematic as far as I’m concerned, inasmuch they’re not demeaning a people with racist caricature or stereotype. Sure, you may need to be more careful about how you use the trappings of the nickname in such instances — no white boys in war paint going “woo woo woo!” and no Tomahawk Chop — but the name itself doesn’t strike me as problematic.

If you wish to take issue with me on that, please first tell me where you stand on the Wahoo issue. Because I’m willing to be persuaded on the names thing by people who are reasonable. If, on the other hand, you can’t acknowledge that a red-faced, big-toothed, hook-nosed Indian is offensive, and you are simply taking me to task on the “Indians” thing as a means of showing me to be a hypocrite, then no, I won’t listen to you or respond to you. In such an instance I am merely drawing an arguable line. You, on the other hand, are being either schizophrenic (“Chief Wahoo is OK, but ‘Indians’ is not!”) or else you’re just being cute. The image is a zillion times worse than the name and you know it.

Bet you weren’t expecting a rant like that in a uniforms post.

  1. BC - Nov 15, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    Oh Lord, I forgot about those red unis. Those are definitely worse than even the 80’s Astros!

    • Jonny 5 - Nov 15, 2010 at 4:33 PM

      Close tie. I think they are equally as ugly. It’s just what hurts your eyes more i guess….

  2. Old Gator - Nov 15, 2010 at 3:39 PM

    I dunno about this Wahoo thing. That team DC-3 wouldn’t have looked nearly as classy without the Chief painted on the nose.

  3. billtpa - Nov 15, 2010 at 3:42 PM

    Completely with you on the Wahoo issue (if it’s possible to go any further than you did — and I’m not sure it is — I’d say you didn’t take it far enough).

    I actually avoid using Cleveland’s team name in my writing as much as possible. I guess not because I think it’s offensive in and of itself, but because the only use of it necessarily calls to mind (much more than “Braves” does) things that ARE offensive — Wahoo himself, terms like “Indian trader,” a lot of stuff from the 40s and 50s about “cowboys [good] and Indians [bad],” etc. Can’t separate the otherwise innocuous name from its associations, so it’s best (for me and, IMO, for Cleveland) to just stop using the name.

    People that rail about the history and such, I think, are really just railing against what they see as PC gone mad; if the Twins suddenly decided to change their name to the Loons or the Keillors or something, I’d think it was odd for a year or so (especially that second one), but it wouldn’t change my interest in the team or my memories or really affect my life in any way. It would be a small price to pay, I think, if the things associated with my team’s name made the team and its fans seem like insensitive buffoons.

    • billtpa - Nov 15, 2010 at 3:43 PM

      um, I think the term is “Indian giver.” Well, whatever.

  4. schlom - Nov 15, 2010 at 3:45 PM

    I think the difference between the examples that you linked to above and Chief Wahoo is that no one identifies the Indians emblem as anything other than an identifier for the team, while those others are direct caricatures of actual people (or races, whatever).

    • solidzac - Nov 15, 2010 at 3:53 PM

      Chief Wahoo is a racist caricature of an actual group of people. To suggest otherwise is just bizarre.

    • billtpa - Nov 15, 2010 at 4:01 PM

      Wahoo isn’t a caricature of an actual race? Wow.
      He could be anybody! Maybe it’s just a Scandinavian who was in the sun way too long!

  5. rpriske - Nov 15, 2010 at 3:59 PM

    Marginally acceptable: Braves

    Completely Unacceptable: Redskins, Chief Wahoo, the tomahawk chop

    Just bizarrely wrong since the word doesn’t mean what they are tryign to say in means: Indians

    • frug - Nov 15, 2010 at 7:36 PM

      Well to fair, the tomahawk chop began (and is still used) at FSU whose Native American imagery is used under the auspices, and with the approval of, the Seminole Tribe of Florida and a 2004 poll (the most recent I could find) commissioned by the University of Pennsylvania found that 91% of Native Americans approved of the name the Washington Redskins. Not saying either is right or wrong, just reporting pertinent facts.

  6. stmccull - Nov 15, 2010 at 4:05 PM

    So, here’s an honest question.

    Is it just the Bugs-Bunny style cartoonish logo you don’t like, or is it _any_ logo of a Native American?

    Would you be ok, with, say, the Seminole head that Florida State uses?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Nov 15, 2010 at 4:07 PM

      It’s the Indians’ specific logo. It is clearly a racist caricature, whereas most teams who use NA iconography at least attempt to use realistic depictions.

  7. spergler - Nov 15, 2010 at 4:06 PM

    Here’s my argument against the Indians nickname: If there was a team called the “Newark Negroes” or the “Baltimore Blacks” or the “Atlanta Africans” or whatever, that would seem pretty wrong. I think that defending the Indians nickname implies that those nicknames, if they were similarly longstanding, would be OK.

    The only Native American-themed nicknames that seem OK to me are those that are based on a specific tribe when the tribal leadership has explicitly agreed to it.

    • amhendrick - Nov 15, 2010 at 4:20 PM

      So why weren’t there teams named ““Newark Negroes” or the “Baltimore Blacks” or the “Atlanta Africans”” (outside of the Negro leagues) and why have only the Native American caricatures persisted, while the others Craig linked to haven’t?

  8. Jonny 5 - Nov 15, 2010 at 4:11 PM

    Rut-roe raggy…

    I think Wahoo could be offensive to some people. I think The little Irish guy for Notre Dame could be offensive too. But i’m not going to try to make them change them. I mean a fan of Family Guy is offended by Wahoo? Are you sure you’re really offended by him? Because if you can laugh at Family guy, Wahoo isn’t sh!t.

    True story on how to offend me. I was offended and disgusted by something I bought at a yard sale about a month ago. My wife wanted this super antique mother goose nursery rhyme book someone was selling for like 4$ so natrually she got it. It was tattered and very old, I still have no idea how old it is. Anyway, I’m not repeating what it said that disgusted me so badly. All i’m going to say if this is the kind of crap people were reading to their children for bedtime stories they should have been shot. It was not only super racist, it also was super offensive in about 10 other ways if they would have left race out of it, which they obviously didn’t. (this was one of almost a few hundred nursery rhymes the rest seem harmless)
    Ya know, the more I think about Wahoo being from this same time period, the more I think it isn’t just some silly cartoon.

    • billtpa - Nov 15, 2010 at 4:42 PM

      Seems like a question of expectations, really. The whole point of Family Guy (which I rarely find funny, but neither here nor there) is to be kind of offensive (hopefully on an equal-opportunity sort of basis) and make people laugh at themselves and/or each other. If that’s the goal of the Indians’ marketing department, I think they’re going about things all wrong.

      • tomemos - Nov 15, 2010 at 5:15 PM

        An extremely good point.

    • tomemos - Nov 15, 2010 at 4:51 PM

      I’ve heard the Fighting Irish argument too, and if anyone is bothered by it I think they have a case, but here’s the difference: Notre Dame was founded by Irish Catholics. “The Fighting Irish” and the cartoon were originally self-descriptions/self-caricature. If the Cleveland Indians were originally a team of Native Americans, then that logo would have a different context and be arguably acceptable. As is, though, I don’t see any way.

    • solidzac - Nov 15, 2010 at 4:59 PM

      The oft-used comparison regarding the Notre Dame leprechaun strikes me as inept for a couple of reasons: first, it’s not depicting an Irish person but a leprechaun, a mythical human-like creature. Chief Wahoo is just supposed to be a Native American, flat out. Second, it’s a little bit similar to the flat out fact that “reverse racism” isn’t generally as harming because majority groups in power aren’t as vulnerable to harm as minority groups. Think about the comparative situations of the Irish currently in America and Native Americans currently in America. Sports logos are surely a minor problem for both groups in the grand scheme of things, but which, really, is more harmful?

      • Jonny 5 - Nov 15, 2010 at 7:44 PM

        I’ve seen the comparing of the two and I agree with you about not doing it. I wasn’t comparing, but mentioning they may both offend people. I’m no judge of which is more harmful since I’m a part of neither group.

      • billtpa - Nov 15, 2010 at 11:34 PM

        How are (a) comparing the two and (b) mentioning the two together, and explicitly saying you’re not going to judge which is more harmful (thereby clearly implying that they might be equally harmful) any different? You were definitely comparing, and it doesn’t work for all the reasons cited above.

  9. Rosenthals Speling Instrukter - Nov 15, 2010 at 4:19 PM

    The chef looks nothing like us.


  10. hackerjay - Nov 15, 2010 at 4:33 PM

    I definitely think that Chief Wahoo needs to go, however, I think they are getting rid of him the right way. If they just started a season with it completely gone there would be a bunch of people all up in arms about things going too PC. As it is, they’re just slowly marginalizing it to the point that no one is going to care, and then they will be able to get rid of it with no fanfare.

    I hope in the next few years that home alternate is their regular uniform. It’s really great looking.

    • Charles Gates - Nov 15, 2010 at 8:25 PM

      I definitely think that Chief Wahoo needs to go
      Agreed, 100%.
      I think they are getting rid of him the right way…As it is, they’re just slowly marginalizing it to the point that no one is going to care
      I Disagree. I believe this is a moral/ethical issue with financial consequences, which you make note of. If I were running the Indians, well, I don’t think I’d call them the Indians, and the Wahoo would be gone faster than you could say ‘Calcaterra’ knowing full well that the move could alienate a portion of my fanbase causing a monetary fallout.
      Do I fault the Indians ownership for moving slower than I’d like? No. I don’t necessarily think that a position more moderate to mine, like the phase out approach, is immoral in this case. The progressiveness they’ve shown by inviting ‘new skool’ bloggers to the park to cover their team is ironically shadowed by their racist symbolism. But as long as they are actually in a Wahoo strategic phase out strategy, I applaud them for doing the right thing.

  11. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Nov 15, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    If I weren’t Jamaican, then why would I wear this hat? Sorry, wrong post.

    • Jonny 5 - Nov 15, 2010 at 4:41 PM

      You burner!!!

  12. kmgannon - Nov 15, 2010 at 5:11 PM

    Craig, I totally agree with your take. I’m a lifelong Tribe fan and a college History professor. So I can’t in any way see the Chief Wahoo mascot as something other than what it is–part of the pantheon of racist caricatures that plagued earlier eras. It makes it tough to be a fan and demonstrate my fan-dom with one of my ubiquitous ballcaps. Thank god for the home alternate “C” logo.

    Anyone who argues that Wahoo isn’t racist needs to listen to the various Native American groups who have formally protested over the years that it is indeed a racist mascot. Their opinion matters the most. It’s not “PC run amok,”or “liberal pandering,” or any of the other weak defenses of the mascot that I’ve heard. It’s about not being a racist douchebag. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request.

    @hackerjay: I agree with you–I think they’re phasing it out, and doing it in a manner that will attract the least debate. At least it’s progress.

    Now, if we can get rid of the “Redskins” team name–which might be the only thing out there worse than Chief Wahoo (or those gawd-awful red unis.)

    • woodenulykteneau - Nov 15, 2010 at 6:28 PM

      How quickly folks forget about the tiny public high school in eastern Oregon (Enterprise High School) that persisted (insisted?) in keeping its nickname of “Savages” until 1998. The arguments for keeping it seem eerily similar to the Cleveland fans, except they were poorly educated teenagers. Perhaps age is the only difference.

      • kmgannon - Nov 15, 2010 at 7:06 PM

        Wow. I hadn’t heard about that before; those arguments *do* seem fairly familiar….

    • frug - Nov 15, 2010 at 7:44 PM

      To build on what I was saying earlier it is worth noting that the protesters do actually represent a significant minority of the Native American population as a whole (at least in regards to this issue). As I stated above the most recent polling data I could find on this issue (from 2004) found that 91% of Native Americans approved of the name the Washington Redskins.
      (Full disclosure I grew up in Tulsa, OK and have cousins who are full blooded Cherokee so I tended to be very sensitive to issues like these even though I tend to be agnostic on questions of whether names need to be changed)

  13. kmgannon - Nov 15, 2010 at 5:14 PM

    And by the way, if you think the current Chief Wahoo is bad, you should see the older version, with the yellowish complexion and even more pronounced hook nose. It’s so bizarrely racist that it’s truly jarring to see.

  14. simon94022 - Nov 15, 2010 at 9:05 PM

    Stuff White People Like: “Number 101: Being Offended”

    Priceless, hilarious post and discussion.

    • tomemos - Nov 16, 2010 at 2:09 AM

      I love Stuff What People Like, but I hate when people use it as some sort of discussion-ender. Apparently another Stuff White People Like is taking Stuff White People Like way too seriously.

  15. handsfour - Nov 17, 2010 at 4:17 AM

    Just want to say that I appreciate the calm and reasonable discussion here.
    I grew up around (and graduated from) the University of Illinois, home of the Fighting Illini, and saw years of bitterness and divisiveness over the Chief Illiniwek mascot/symbol. Few people seem willing (even now) to acknowledge the other side’s views, and efforts to remove/reduce the Chief’s appearance have spawned a sizable backlash by folks who seem to think they are the ones with the moral high ground. To me there’s been little resolution, only exhaustion.

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