Cleveland Indians/Guardians President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti made an appearance on the Starkville podcast this morning co-hosted by Jayson Stark and Doug Glanville to talk baseball and (of most interest to us) the process behind the name change.
Antonetti went into great detail on the entire process involved in the team’s recent name change announcement going back to making the decision to even change the name at all through to the challenges they faced in picking the new name and now making the transition towards it.
“The big decision we had to make was whether or not we were going to move away from ‘Indians‘ in the first place, that was the [decision] that probably elicited the most emotion,” Antonetti recalled on the show. “We first announced we were going to take some time to really consider whether or not it was appropriate for us to continue with the name and engage stakeholders across the country, get Native American perspectives, get our fans perspective, get corporate perspective, get civic perspectives, and engage our own teammates to just listen and hear what they have to say. Ultimately we made the decision and that was a really difficult, emotional decision for [team owner] Paul Dolan to make to move away from ‘Indians’ — it was hard at an emotional level.”
When pressed by Stark and Glanville on why the club decided to make the change when they did, Antonetti explained:
“If you reflect back to all the things that were going on in our society last year, it caused a lot of reflection for individuals, for organizations, and that included us. What we wanted to make sure we were doing is, as a civic institution, to unite and inspire our community and our city through the power of team. We tried to reflect, ‘Is our team name doing that? Are we really bringing people together and unifying groups and inspiring?’ What we decided and what we heard, after we engaged a number of groups — specifically Native Americans, is our team name was not doing it. In fact it was causing them harm, it wasn’t representing them in a way that they wanted to be represented. At that point we thought we had a responsibility and an obligation to change, and then that’s led us down the path of, ‘Okay, now that we have made the decision to change, what is our new name going to be?’.”
Fans suggested many names on the various social medias, a return to the historical name Spiders seemed to be the favourite, in tribute to Cleveland’s original Major League franchise in the 19th Century. Others hoped for Municipals, Americans, Rockers, Buckeyes, some even pushed for the nameless Cleveland Baseball Club, among a whole host of others.
“We had up to 1,198 names that were submitted and then we had to filter some out, [determine] which ones made the most sense, and then from those, which ones could we get legal clearance to pursue … We had an incredible team that primarily was composed of members of our business operations and legal teams that led us through to filter down those names.”
When Stark mentioned his love for the name Spiders, Antonetti began discussing difficulties the team had in getting legal clearance with some names, while being careful not to mention he was specifically referring to the Spiders.
“We wanted to get [a name] that our fans could rally behind but we also had to get one that was legally viable, and without going into the specifics, there were some that were more legally viable than others. Some names that may have emerged that might have been an individual’s favourites or fan favourites or favourites among our group just simply weren’t possible. But we’re actually really excited that we were able to get the Guardians name, and even getting that one required some complex negotiations.”
While Antonetti never mentioned any names that were among the finalists, he did throw out that he had suggested Cleveland Porcupines to the group, “We got legal clearance on it but somehow I didn’t get a lot of votes for that one!”
Of course, as is the case such a change (in this case, moving away from a name that had been in use for over 100 years!) there has been some difficulties in getting fans to accept their favourite ballclub will soon be known as the Guardians.
“If we had no history of any sports in the world, starting from scratch, and if I told you we were going to name our team after a colour of socks, you would say, ‘No! Why would you do that?!'”, Antonetti reasoned. “There’s nothing inspiring about Red Sox or White Sox but now it’s become a brand because people have built so many memories around that imagery, they’ve built emotions as a connection to that. We recognize, for us to create that attachment to our brand, it will be a process, and part of our responsibilities are to deliver some memories on the field as the Cleveland Guardians so people can relate to and form those new memories. We know it’s going to take time.”
The Indians announced they would be adopting the new name Cleveland Guardians two months ago, named for the large statues that decorate the bridge near their home ballpark. The change followed a long, drawn out process that first began with the demotion of their “Chief Wahoo” logo from Primary to Alternate status in 2014 (eventually leading to its total removal in 2019). In December 2020, the Indians announced a new name was coming before finally announcing the new name Guardians earlier this summer. The Cleveland Guardians will play their first game with their new identity on March 31, 2022 at home against the Kansas City Royals.