There’s a company called Shelf Life Clothing which makes T-shirts mocking the Chief Wahoo logo, changing the caricature to a white person with blond hair and writing “Caucasians” in the Cleveland Indians script. These shirts have been around a long time — I wrote about them at my old Shysterball blog back in 2007 — but they’ve recently made the news again.
Back in June, the DJ for a Canadian group consisting of three Ojibwa Indians called A Tribe Called Red wore the shirt in some publicity photos and it led to a bit of a dustup in which people called him racist. Which is a special kind of unhinged — calling the guy wearing the shirt which critiques and satirizes racism racist — but I’ve learned to never be surprised when it comes to this stuff anymore. The dustup has died down, but the effect of it has been fun:
A hot fashion item this summer on Ontario First Nations’ reserves is a T-shirt with the lettering “Caucasians” and the grinning logo of Chief Wahoo, the much-derided mascot of the Cleveland Indians major league baseball team . . . T-shirt maker Brian Kirby of Shelf Life Clothing in Cleveland said the “Caucasians” shirt has been his most popular seller since he began making them in 2007, but interest “skyrocketed” after the Deejay NDN controversy, especially after the story hit Reddit and Facebook.
“We have had over 3,000 shares on posts about the tee in the last month, and have been working around the clock to keep up,” Kirby said.
That’s unexpected. Because I’ve been told by so many people that, in reality, no one cares about Chief Wahoo, most Indians feel “honored” by their images and iconography being appropriated by sports teams and that the politics of race and sports mascots is purely a function of liberal white guilt and pinkos like me wishing to push our agenda.
Hmm. Guess not.
On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”
Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”
Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.
The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.
When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.