Thursday, November 7, 2013

So long to Cleveland's Cuddly Red Jigaboo?

Suspicions are rising that the Cleveland Indians are quietly retiring their appalling racist mascot, Chief Wahoo.  According to a report on Sportslogos.net, a site that covers (you guessed it) the world of sports logos, the Indians unveiled their uniform designs for next season and the Chief is noticeably absent. 

A few years back, the Chief's leering visage was on the caps. By last year, he had been moved to the sleeve and the team went with a cap 'C' on the cap. In 2014, no Chief. I'm curious whether this will extend to the souvenir stand, where Wahoo is one of the biggest moneymakers in baseball swag. We'll see.

This hasn't hit the somnambulant media here in Cleveland yet. And the racist trolls that fill sports boards will fucking FLIP OUT when they hear the news. 

In honor of the soon-to-be-departed Chief, here's some of the cartoons I've done over the years. I'm gonna miss the fucker. He was cartoon gold.





This one above, from 1991, was the first time anyone in Cleveland had called out the Chief as preposterously, indefensibly racist. Seriously! The cartoon cost the weekly paper its Indians press pass. The team yanked it in retaliation!

Clevelanders are so goddam clueless about this mascot. They just love the bastard, practically weeping whenever someone threatens the beloved racist icon of their youths. And local media never really called the Indians or the fans on it until recently, although the daily paper had, at the time the above cartoon appeared, sort of banned the Chief form its pages. "Downplay" would be a better description. He still appeared in ads, and, of course, on photos of the team, but staff artists were banned from drawing him. Yeah, that's really drawing the line.

Most Clevelanders cling to myth that Wahoo was created to honor Louis Sockalexis, a Native-american player who was on an early Cleveland team, The Spiders, for three years from 1897-1899. He was an infamous drunk. Notre Dame kicked him out of school for boozing and his intake only increased in the majors. He once knocked himself out of the line-up when he injured an ankle jumping out the window of a brothel!  He could hit, but reportedly couldn't field or throw worth a damn. He was eventually sent packing for his alcoholic antics. Why a team would want to "honor" a mediocre ballplayer and embarrassing drunk doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Especially it wasn't even the same franchise! The Spiders were a National League team. Ask White Sox fans how much nostalgia they have for Cubs history. And why would the franchise want to remind ANYone of the Spiders, still regarded as the worst team in baseball history? The 1899 squad went an eye-popping 20-134, after the sleazy owner (some things never change) shipped all the team's good players to the St. Louis Browns, which he also owned. Including Cy Young! ! The Spiders were so dreadful, it averaged but 31 fans a game in 30,000-seat League Park. Other teams refused to come to Cleveland for games, since their cut of the gate wouldn't come anywhere near covering travel expenses, so the Spiders played the entire second half of the 1899 season on the road. The team was disbanded after the season.

The Indians began in 1901 when the American League was founded. They were first known as the Blues, then the Broncos, then as The Naps (in honor of their HOF superstar Nap Lajoie), they didn't become the Indians until 1914.

So suddenly 15 years later, the owner decides to name the team for this drunk? Preposterous. Truth is, a contest was held in the press to select a new name and "Indians" was the top choice, probably because the similarly-named Boston Braves had just won the World Series.

Wahoo didn't materialize until 1947. A full five decades after Sockalexis' brief, sad career, the team decides to "honor" him with a bug-eyed, hook-nosed caricature? The first version was even WORSE, with bright orange skin and a giant gold tooth. The present Wahoo came along in 1951 and we've been stuck with ever since. The Indians haven't won a title since Wahoo's bright, red leering mug was adopted. the Curse of Chief Wahoo, it's called here.

But as I said, the fans love it. Any call to retire the character brings out howls of "PC thought police!" and the usual blatherings when sports fans are called out on their racist behavior. And the vast majority still cling to that "it was as an honor" bullshit, the way a Birther clings to  a copy of a fake Kenyan birth certificate.  Read the troll comments after this column by a local scribe if you want to lament for humanity.  I've seen Indians fans screaming at Native American protestors who picket every opening day. I remember one guy who got so incensed he got himself hauled away by cops. 



Above is a local TV interview with Native-american activist Russell Means from 1994. "Chief Wahoo has to go. It will begin the changing of policy. I'm a human being! I'm not anyone's mascot." I shook this guy's hand at one opening day and apologized for the idiots. He was very gracious and thanked me for the support. Couldn't have been nicer in an extremely tough situation.




This one is from 1998.




One of my favorite covers. From 1999.

There are others, but these are the only ones I could quickly locate. Good riddance, Chief.