Entering the summer of 2020, the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins had a controversial name in common.
The team once known as the Redskins, though, now call themselves the Washington Football Team. Cleveland opened the truncated 2020 season still known as the Indians.
That name may not be for much longer, though. During their opening day victory over the Royals, the Cleveland Indians took the next step in potentially ditching their name.
The Cleveland Indians could be facing a name change
Years after owner Daniel Snyder said the team would never — or as he stressed, ‘NEVER’, in all caps — change the Redskins’ name, the franchise reversed course and retired both the name and the team’s Native American imagery.
Could the Cleveland Indians be next? Owner Paul Dolan reportedly met with players, front office staff, and longtime manager Terry Francona this week to discuss a possible name change.
The Miami Marlins were the last MLB team to change their name, although they only changed the location from “Florida” to Miami. That change happened when the team moved to a new stadium in 2012.
The Montreal Expos were the last MLB team to have a traditional name change when they relocated and became the Washington Nationals.
There is precedent for baseball teams changing their nickname for brand reasons. The Houston Astros began play in 1962 known as the Houston Colt .45s.
Legal issues and the city wanting its baseball team to reflect on Houston’s space program forced the Astros’ arrival in 1965.
The Indians wore different jerseys on opening day
Unlike the Washington Football Team, the Cleveland Indians opened their 2020 season with their controversial name.
The Indians found a way to move past the name, though. Instead of wearing the default white home jerseys that read “Indians,” the team wore their away jerseys with “Cleveland” on the front.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal, Indians star shortstop Francisco Lindor explained the team’s decision in a Zoom call with reporters.
“Shining the light on those minorities and people who are in need, it’s extremely important. Today, by wearing the Cleveland jersey, that’s what we’re doing out there, bringing the spotlight on those people, minorities that need the spotlight on them so their voices can be heard. Positive change can happen. We’re due for it.”
The jersey change may have paid off. Indians right-hander Shane Bieber struck out 14 Royals across six innings in a 2-0 victory.
Cleveland is one step closer to changing its name
The Cleveland Indians already took the first step in changing their image when they retired the Chief Wahoo logo in 2018.
Cleveland now has a chance to accelerate a name change by wearing gear featuring the “Indians” name as infrequently as possible. Players and the coaching staff wore T-shirts during batting practice that said “End Racism.”
It is not known if Cleveland could informally ditch the traditional white jersey and only wear uniforms that read “Cleveland” at Progressive Field.
If Cleveland moves on from the “Indians” name, we likely won’t see the new name in action until next spring. But for now, baseball fans should prepare to see the Cleveland Baseball Team compete for the playoffs, not the Indians.