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Terry Pluto: It's Time to Reimagine Chief Wahoo or Bench Him for Good


When the Indians took the field for their home opener yesterday, they donned caps featuring the controversial Chief Wahoo logo. It came days after team owner Paul Dolan told our commentatorTerry Pluto that the team has officially demoted the logo to secondary status, following years of criticism and protests. Pluto says it was the first time Dolan made an official statement.

"Every year I interview Paul Dolan at Spring Training," Pluto says. "Every year I ask him about Chief Wahoo. Every year he sort of says, ‘We’re sympathetic or aware that some people are bothered by it but we have no plans to drop it.'"

"This time, I asked him that and he said, ‘Well you know, the Block C is our primary logo.’

I said, ‘Really?’

He said, 'We’ve gone to the Block C, although we’re not dropping Chief Wahoo; we understand a lot people are connected to it. But if you look around the park, you’ll see far less of chief Wahoo and a lot more of the Block C.'"

"They’ve downgraded him. They’re saying what they’ve been doing the last few years."

The real story behind the Indians name

Pluto says the history of the logo and the Indians name itself goes back more than 100 years. First, they were the Spiders. Then the Naps. And the team says the name Indians was introduced in recognition of player LouisSockalexiswho played in 1897.

Louis Sockalexis
Louis Sockalexis

But Pluto says Sockalexis played just 94 games for the Indians, so that explanation doesn't really add up.

"I did a book called Our Tribe. In 1914 when the Indians were the Naps and they were losing all these games, there was a team called the Boston Braves who were in last place on the Fourth of July and turned around and won the pennant. They were the darlings of baseball.

In January, 1915, a guy named Charles Somers who owned the Indians called some sports writers together and they started brainstorming for a new name. But they wanted to start fresh. And they came up with the Indians. There’s mention of how baseball was so taken with the Boston Braves. My feeling, [is that] that had far more to do with the Indians becoming the Indians than Louis Sockalexis from 1897 to 1898."

The problem with Chief Wahoo and a proposal for change

"I have never had a problem with the Indians nickname," Pluto says. "Having been on Indians reservations -- which is what they’re called -- having been out West, a friend of mine is a missionary on the Wind River Indian Reservation, as it’s called. 

To me, the interesting issue is the logo. I could pull you up a thing I wrote from like 1996 saying what they need is to hire four Native American artists and have them do drawings that would look however they felt an Indians logo ought to look. So you get four or five of these babies, people vote and you finally pick one. 

I’ve mentioned his contest idea to Paul Dolan. This was was probably the first year in nine years I didn’t mention it to him. Because he always says, ‘That’s interesting,’ which means, 'Forget it; we’re not going to do it.'

This is the kind of thing that one of the great Indians owners/promoters Bill Veck would have done. He would have five press conferences on this. We’re going to have the logos, meet the artists and let’s vote and people could send in their own and go on and on with it.

Clearly, though, they are feeling the pressure and moving to his direction. I was actually surprised Paul Dolan said that but I don’t think it’s something that just slipped out. I think he was ready to say it.

They’re afraid to touch it totally. The Indians are very conservative if you think about it. They kind of like keeping things the same. And baseball is sort of a conservative sport too, I would be very surprised if Dolan totally dumped it. But I think you’re going to start seeing less and less of it."

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Terry Pluto: It's Time to Reimagine Chief Wahoo or Bench Him for Good

Amanda Rabinowitz
Amanda Rabinowitz has been a reporter, host and producer at WKSU since 2007. Her days begin before the sun comes up as the local anchor for NPR’s Morning Edition, which airs on WKSU each weekday from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. In addition to providing local news and weather, she interviews the Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto for a weekly commentary about Northeast Ohio’s sports scene.