Jun 20, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT
Here’s an interesting historical deep-dive from Brad Ricca of Belt Magazine. It’s about the history of the Chief Wahoo mascot, and it uncovers a number of intriguing little nuggets that even a guy fixated on Wahoo like I am hadn’t heard before.
Most specifically the origin of the caricature and its name. Which are two separate things, according to Ricca. He notes that, while the accepted story has come to be that Bill Veeck commissioned a young artist to draw up Wahoo as a mascot, a Cleveland Plain-Dealer cartoonist had been using a profoundly similar character as a form of illustrated box score for some 15 years before that. Click through to see the examples.
The name is more interesting. The newspaper version was not named Chief Wahoo and neither was Veeck’s until at least 1952. But that name had come to be used, again, by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, to describe someone else. A real person this time: former Indians pitcher and then-current Yankees star Allie Reynolds. Reynolds was a Creek Indian and was far more famously known by the nickname “Super Chief,” but Plain-Delaer reporters often referred to him as “Chief Wahoo” when he made return visits to Cleveland as a member of the Yankees:
A surprising nickname for Reynolds’ appears on October 6, 1950 in his old local paper, the Plain Dealer. Under the title of “Chief Wahoo Whizzing,” Reynolds fans learn that “Allie (Chief Wahoo) Reynolds, the copper-skinned Creek” lost to Philadelphia, but “in the clutches, though, the Chief was a standup gent—tougher than Sitting Bull.”
The Yankees are always big baseball news (even in Cleveland), but Reynolds especially garnered a lot of coverage in his old town. In subsequent articles, he is called “Chief Wahoo,” “old Wahoo,” and just plain “Wahoo.”
Later, it came to be used derisively. Reynolds was traded away from Cleveland when Bob Feller came back from the war and there was no room in the rotation. Get a load of this:
The name “Chief Wahoo” also appeared in the popular Cleveland sports column “The Sports Trail” by Jimmy Doyle. On May 25, 1951, Doyle writes that “It’s great to see Bob Feller show how he’s mastered that old pitching know how” and signs it “Chief Wahoo’s-this” as a possible parting shot against the departed Reynolds.
Such a fascinating article about a fascinating subject that is so often itself subject to misinformation, intentional or otherwise.
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