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.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.