There is no Cleveland Indians fan more Indians fan than me.
I’ve been at it loyally, yea, even fanatically, for 64 years.
I was there for the days of Vic Davalillo, Jack Kralick and Jack Brohamer, the days of 100-loss seasons, the days when I was one of literally 884 people present for a regular season game, in a stadium that sat 80,000, the days so deftly mocked in the movie Major League (a silly film whose ending made me cry, because it dawned on me that it might be the only time I ever saw my team win a pennant).
Thank goodness, recent decades produced teams good enough to occasionally snare an American League flag.
But that just meant I suffered (really suffered) through the exquisite pain of seeing those lovable squads fall just short in the World Series, thanks to Joe Brinkman’s absurd strike zone (’95), Jose Mesa’s nerves (’97) and Tyler Naquin’s clumsy fielding (’16).
I grew up wearing a Chief Wahoo ballcap. Any photo of the huge neon sign of the team’s garish mascot wielding a bat that used to hang outside old Cleveland Stadium can still insert a lump of nostalgia in my esophagus.
All that said, I could not be more relieved, more thrilled, that my team has finally – FINALLY! – decided to get rid of that absurd, cartoonish, insulting logo.
I detailed my history of fandom to address the arguments I now see on social media and comment boards that frame clinging to Wahoo as a tribute to tradition, nostalgia and “remembering Dad who took me to the ballgame.”
Hardly anyone has put in more time on the Tribe Trail of Tears than I, and here’s what I have to say about the tradition and nostalgia argument.
No. No. No.
And you know what else: No.
Nothing about the demise of Wahoo prevents me from summoning fond memories of walking up the ramp to our seats at the old Stadium holding my Dad’s hand (or my Mom’s; she was the really rabid fan), from recalling the arrow of delight that shot through me each time I first glimpsed, over the rim of the ascending ramp, that impeccable rectangle of infield green.
What the scrapping of the offensive icon will do is grant me, for the first time in my life, to do what fans of most other teams take for granted – the ability to wear your team’s colors and logo with pride, in public.
‘Cause I’ve known for a very long time that sporting that brightly colored visual insult risks giving real offense to people who’ve suffered far too much pain and insult at the hands of my nation. Their feelings, their hurts, their right to be respected, just simply, objectively matter far more than any fan’s claim to nostalgia. Wearing Wahoo in public (as opposed to on the living room couch, praying my way through another Game 7) would signal something about my values that I certainly hope isn’t true.
I’m not saying that other folks who wear Wahoo are racist louts. If I did, I’d be damning a lot of people I call friends. But I am saying that whatever reasons they have for wearing the logo can no longer outweigh, in this moment when so much about what makes this nation worth loving is under threat, the need to resist the temptations of soft racism.
Though I refer to the urgency of now, my thoughts on Wahoo are no late-blooming, tactical sensitivity pounded into me by the stern, hectoring armies of modern political correctness.
Even as a young man I knew Wahoo was off, way off, even as he functioned as the symbol as one of my deepest attachments to my hometown.
And now, even as I can vouch that being a loyal Indians fan – through it all – remains a key chunk of my identity, I have to say this: I’m OK with changing the team name, too.
My clingy hope would be that changing the name to, simply, the Tribe – which is what I usually call that plucky gang anyhow – would suffice, would be deemed acceptable.
That would preserve the generational and nostalgic ties, while cleaning up at least some of the stain of historic cluelessness.
But it ain’t my call – or any fan’s. It belongs to those of my fellow Americans who’ve put up with this cartoonish insult for so long with a stoicism and, often, wry humor that I’m pretty sure I couldn’t summon were I in their place.