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Mark Shapiro: Chief Wahoo “was troubling to me personally”

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Mark Shapiro ran the Cleveland Indians for years. Now he runs the Blue Jays. Upon the Jays’ trip to Cleveland for the ALCS, the topic of the Indians name and mascot, Chief Wahoo, came up. Shapiro says that he was troubled by Wahoo when he worked for Cleveland:

“The logo — Chief Wahoo — is one that was troubling to me personally,” he added. “So when I was an official spokesman for the Cleveland Indians, I distanced myself from the fact that it personally bothered me. But we as an organization with strong support from ownership came up with the ‘Block C’ that you’re wearing on your credentials right now. We built equity in the ‘Block C.’ . . . We gave that alternative for people and I think that we established that as an important logo and now the primary logo for the Cleveland Indians. And so I’m proud of that.

We’ve written for some time about how the Indians seemed to be making efforts to distance themselves from Wahoo in certain respects. It’s most evident at their spring training facility, which sits in a state which has a much larger Native American population than does Ohio. Administratively speaking, Major League Baseball considers the Block C the “primary” logo of the Indians, not Chief Wahoo.

But that’s fairly meaningless, of course. Because for all that they have done with the Block C logo — and for as much as they want to claim that Wahoo is their “secondary” logo — they continue to sell millions of dollars of merchandise with that ugly, racist symbol emblazoned upon it. Their Block C-centric alternate jerseys are used less and less than they were when first introduced in 2008.  Block C appears on placards at official MLB functions and in graphics packages at various places on MLB websites and broadcasts, but Wahoo is on every jersey their players wear, including the Block C alternates, and it appears on their most used caps and helmets. It’ll be all over national TV during the ALCS and the World Series if the Indians advance.

The Indians have always wanted to have their cake and eat it too, both when Shapiro ran the club and now. They want credit for making symbolic nods toward distancing themselves from what even their top officials agree is a troublesome symbol, but they want to continue to make money, to boost their brand and to foster fan loyalty via its continued use.

I suppose Shapiro feels better having publicly said that he doesn’t care for Chief Wahoo, but neither he nor those associated with the club today get points for “minimizing” Chief Wahoo while continuing to employ him liberally in any number of ways. As I’ve argued many, many times on this website, there is no reasonable case to be made that Chief Wahoo is anything but an ugly, racist caricature. If it “troubles” Indians executives, they have one choice: get rid of it entirely. Anything less than that renders their concern meaningless and empty.

Rob Manfred walks back comment about 60-game season

Rob Manfred
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Yesterday, on The Dan Patrick Show, commissioner Rob Manfred stuck his foot in his mouth concerning negotiations with the MLB Players Association, saying, “We weren’t going to play more than 60 games.” The comment was taken poorly because MLB owners, represented by Manfred, and the MLBPA were engaged in protracted negotiations in May and June over the 2020 season. Ultimately they couldn’t come to terms, so Manfred had to set the season as prescribed by the March agreement. In saying, “We weren’t going to play more than 60 games,” Manfred appeared to be in violation of the March agreement, which said the league must use the “best efforts to play as many games as possible.” It also seemed to indicate the owners were negotiating in bad faith with the players.

Per Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY, Manfred walked back his comment on Thursday. Manfred said, “My point was that no matter what happened with the union, the way things unfolded with the second [coronavirus] spike, we would have ended up with only time for 60 games, anyway. As time went on, it became clearer and clearer that the course of the virus was going to dictate how many games we could play.” Manfred added, “As it turned out, the reality was there was only time to play 60 games. If we had started an 82-game season [beginning July 1], we would have had people in Arizona and Florida the time the second spike hit.”

As mentioned yesterday, it is important to view Manfred’s comments through the lens that he represents the owners. The owners wanted a shorter season with the playoffs beginning on time (they also wanted expanded playoffs) because, without fans, they will be making most of their money this year through playoff television revenue. Some thought the owners’ offers to the union represented stall tactics, designed to drag out negotiations as long as possible. Thus, the season begins later, reducing the possible number of regular season games that could be played. In other words, the owners used the virus to their advantage.

Manfred wants the benefit of the doubt with the way fans and the media interpreted his comment, but I’m not so sure he has earned it. This isn’t the first time Manfred has miscommunicated with regard to negotiations. He told the media last month that he had a deal with the union when, in fact, no such deal existed. The MLBPA had to put out a public statement refuting the claim. Before that, Manfred did a complete 180 on the 2020 season, saying on June 10 that there would “100%” be a season. Five days later, he said he was “not confident” there would be a 2020 season. Some have interpreted Manfred’s past comments as a way to galvanize or entice certain owners, who might not have been on the same page about resuming play. There’s a layer beneath the surface to which fans and, to a large extent, the media are not privy.

The likely scenario is that Manfred veered a bit off-script yesterday, realized he gave the union fodder for a grievance, and rushed out to play damage control.