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Let's talk about the Cleveland Guardians.
What's in a name, and why is *your* team named after socks?
Well, would you look at that.
After more than one hundred years of using the name and decades of pressure to change it, Cleveland’s Major League Baseball club announced on Friday that they would drop “Indians” at the end of the season and start 2022 as the Cleveland Guardians.
(This video makes me want to lift a car over my head. I love it.)
Though the choice of name was not really a surprise to anyone who’d been paying attention—it’s long been considered one of the primary options, and I even referenced it in a post here more than a year ago—there was a wide range of reactions on social media and elsewhere.
Some chose to lambast the name as “the most generic thing they could have chosen”, either unaware or willfully ignorant of an explicit local reference being made—that is, the WPA-era “Guardians of Traffic”, eight massive Art Deco statues flanking the Hope Memorial Bridge directly adjacent to the club’s home ballpark.
Others lamented the loss of a popular rival option, the “Cleveland Spiders”, a name that—while admittedly rather cool, and one that offered some intriguing logo options—references the worst team in Major League Baseball history, and likely presented copyright issues with the University of Richmond already using it for their athletics.
Some made jokes about the fact that the team actually kept two of the three syllables in their old name, retaining “—dians” while only swapping out “In-” for “Guar-”. This is a true fact that I see as a feature and not a bug, as it makes it much easier for me to adjust to saying the new name quickly after decades of saying the old one.
And, of course, a vocal contingent also chose to rehash the fight over changing the name at all, ignoring the fact that the team had signaled their intent to change last year and that aspect of this announcement was definitely not news.
These people took to their tweets, moaning I don’t see why they had to change it at all, I don’t think it’s offensive, and making the same hurr hurr what’s next? I find Dolphins offensive because one stole my sandwich at the beach! non-joke jokes. A tiny portion of these people might actually be (like me) lifelong Cleveland baseball fans, and for those people, I can at least recognize their lingering fondness for the name, even if I vehemently disagree with their stance.
The rest of them, though? They just seem to be fans of racism in general, as expertly noted by the always-incisive David Roth.
Nevertheless, the change has been made. And you know what? It’s fine. It’s good. I like it, I’m glad they made it, and as a Cleveland fan, I don’t really care what anyone who isn’t a Cleveland fan has to say about it.
Also—and let the record show this is the only time in history that I will ever give any benefit of the doubt to the Dolan ownership group, or any professional sports team owner, for that matter—it’s hard to come up with a name in 2021. Nothing is going to make everyone happy, and all the best names like “Bears” and “Lions” and “Giants” were called for over a century ago. Given that challenge, they did a pretty decent job, even if the logos and wordmarks could use a little more tweaking.
It could have been a lot worse, too. They could have rolled out some abomination like “Cleveland Rocks” and a guitar logo, something a fair amount of people seriously suggested and would have been cringe-inducing and awful in my opinion.
Guardians is fine—good, even!
With that said—as I measure my extremely large head for a new Guardians fitted hat—I’d like to take a moment to discuss all of the North American professional sports franchise names that are worse than “Cleveland Guardians”, and why.
There’s a lot of bad names out there, so I’ll break them down into categories.
And let me repeat myself so as to be explicitly clear: Yes, if I list a name here, I am saying that that name is worse than “Cleveland Guardians”.
TEAMS THAT ARE NAMES AFTER PIECES OF CLOTHING
Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox
I get that it was a big deal in the early 20th century to be able to buy matching socks for a whole team of players, but it’s not nearly as impressive now. Jerry Seinfeld once joked that sports fandom meant you were “rooting for laundry”, but this is far too literal an expression of that notion.
TEAMS THAT ARE JUST NAMED AFTER COLORS
Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Blues
Technically, neither of these teams were originally named after the color itself; the Reds were the Red Stockings, so they sorta belong in the first category, and the Blues are named after the musical style, but either way. This is literally as generic as you can get, and displays a lack of imagination that’s frankly disappointing from two of America’s most wildly creative culinary towns.
Notable exception: “Cleveland Browns” is cool and I do not have to explain myself.
Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals, New Orleans Pelicans
I’m not a big fan of birds in general, but I can at least understand where you’re going with something like “Falcons” or “Hawks” or “Eagles”. Those are birds that kill things. These are birds you’d feed bread to at the park. I’m not scared of that.
Corollary: Baltimore Ravens. The bird is kind of threatening in a vacuum, but Baltimore’s usage of it is an explicit literary reference to Edgar Allan Poe. Nerds.
(Also, I hate the Baltimore Ravens. Did I mention I’m from Cleveland?)
“Aww aren’t they cute and non-threatening” isn’t the vibe you should strive for as a team, although I will concede that—save for a handful of years—that is the exact vibe the Chicago Cubs have projected for generations.
Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Wild, Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s just clunky. What are you supposed to call someone who plays basketball for Orlando? A Magic? A Magician? A Magic player? The only saving grace here is that no one has attempted to refer to anyone on the Orlando Magic in years.
Exception: Miami Heat. There are some things Miami can pull off that the rest of us just can’t and shouldn’t try, like white leather pants.
Also, Columbus Crew is good. I’ll address that below.
YOU’RE MISPRONOUNCING IT
I’m not wrong.
DECIDE WHERE YOU’RE FROM ALREADY
Golden State Warriors, Carolina Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, New England Patriots
In general, I believe that sports teams—especially those in states with multiple teams in their sport—should be named after their city, but I can make an exception for ones where the state name just plays better with the nickname, like “Texas Rangers” or “Colorado Rockies”.
But extending it to a state nickname? Or two states? Or a six-state region?
No. Unacceptable. Pick a place.
THESE ARE INANIMATE OBJECTS
Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, Toronto Maple Leafs, San Antonio Spurs
Thought experiment: in battle, who would win: a net or a nugget?
The answer is neither. They would just sit there, because they are objects.
YOU’RE JUST NAMED AFTER THE GENERAL CONCEPT OF EXERCISE
I suppose I can understand how they arrived on this, as the franchise’s name stems back to their origins in Philadelphia over a century ago, when most ballplayers were hard-drinking, chain-smoking transients with cholera, and being “athletic” was actually a unique quality.
But there’s a reason most people just call them the “A’s”.
PAINFULLY ‘90s EXPANSION TEAM VIBES
Toronto Raptors, Anaheim Ducks, Vegas Golden Knights
Both the Raptors and Ducks (née Mighty Ducks) are overt references to popular movies from the early 1990s—Jurassic Park and The Mighty Ducks, respectively. Though they’ve distanced themselves from those origins over the ensuing decades, we still know where they came from, and it’s embarrassing. It almost makes me sad we didn’t end up with franchises called the Terminators or Groundhogs or Fathers of The Bride.
Also, the Golden Knights were named only a couple of years ago but they feel like a 1990s expansion team named after a movie.
Exception: Seattle Kraken is cool, even if it’s sort of a reference to a 2010 film with a 27% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Houston Texans, Los Angeles Angels, Washington Nationals, Washington Capitals, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Phillies, Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Tennessee Titans, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees
All of these are extremely boring. “Houston Texans” is possibly the most galling, as Houston is a very cool city with a lot of unique culture and references that could’ve been made and instead they went with the state demonym. Imagine rooting for the Cleveland Ohioans. Couldn’t be me.
YOU MOVED AND DIDN’T CHANGE YOUR NAME AND NOW IT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE
Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Utah Jazz, Calgary Flames, Memphis Grizzlies
All of these names made some kind of sense in their original cities—“New Orleans Jazz” isn’t good, but it’s at least logical—but they moved in the era before you had to leave a name behind when you left (you can thank Cleveland fans for changing that) and now they just feel weird.
Exception: Las Vegas Raiders is fine, because there always has been and always will be a presumption that the Raiders are going to move in five years. It’s part of their brand.
YOU’RE TRYING WAY TOO HARD TO BE EUROPEAN, LIKE A KID WHO JUST GOT BACK FROM STUDY ABROAD AND IS SAYING “CHEERS” ALL THE TIME NOW
Basically all of MLS and much of the NWSL
American soccer has yet to figure out the right balance between the original wave of ‘90s stuff like “New York/New Jersey MetroStars” and blatant Euro cosplay like “Sporting Kansas City” and “Real Salt Lake”. I have immense respect for the fans of the Columbus Crew who, just a year after successfully fighting to keep their team from moving to Austin, Texas, successfully rebuffed a move by clueless management to rebrand as “Columbus SC”.
Exception: Angel City FC is cool, too.
YOU OVERTHOUGHT THIS ONE
Columbus Blue Jackets, Arizona Diamondbacks
I understand how you got here, but I don’t understand how you stayed here. There shouldn’t be puns in team names1, and no matter how hard Columbus tries to memory-hole the era where their mascot was a bee in a Civil War-era Union Army outfit, we remember.
Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Blackhawks, Cleveland Indians
These are bad.
No matter what feeble justifications people try to make to defend these names, they are bad and needlessly hurtful and there’s no need to keep them in the year 2021. You may not find them offensive, but plenty of people do, and by keeping these relics around you’re telling those people that they’re not welcomed or valued in your sport.
Ultimately, this is the only part that matters, and that’s why I’m happy my team made the move they did on Friday. “Guardians” may not be the best name for a professional sports franchise ever, but it’s a whole hell of a lot better than “Indians”, and I’ll be proud to support them going forward.
(But it’s also a better name than everything I listed above.)
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
The AAA Louisville Bats are the exception to puns in team names. Their logo is a bat (animal) on a Bat (object) and that’s perfect.