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It’s time for Major League Baseball to take a stand on Chief Wahoo

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The Cleveland Indians are in the World Series. Come Tuesday they will be on baseball’s biggest stage — an international stage — for the first time in 19 years. In honor of this occasion, I’d like to know a couple of things:

  • Does Major League Baseball believe that Chief Wahoo is a racist caricature?
  • If not, why not?
  • If so, does Major League Baseball think it appropriate for a club to have a racist caricature as its logo?
  • If Wahoo is a racist caricature and if it’s inappropriate for a club to have a racist caricature as a logo what, if anything, does MLB plan to do about Chief Wahoo?

At the outset, I’ll say what should not come as a surprise to any of you: I believe that Chief Wahoo is a racist caricature. I’ve argued it ad nauseum over the years and really don’t wish to mount that argument once again. Mostly because I think the notion that Chief Wahoo is racist is indisputable. Also, because those who do not wish to see the Indians abandon that logo never actually argue that it isn’t racist. Indeed, I’ve not seen a single convincing argument in favor of Wahoo not being racist on his own merits. Oh sure, there are lots of deflections (A logo isn’t important! Tradition is tradition!; It’s just sports!; What about that other racist logo?! My quarter-Cherokee grandma says she’s fine with it!) but no one has once made even half a case that that red-faced, big-toothed, hook-nosed, feather-wearing abomination is not, in fact, a racially insensitive caricature. I don’t think such an argument could be made, actually.

So that’s not what I’m on about here. Rather, I’m interested in how this racist caricature can be eliminated from the sport I love and what has prevented it from happening to date. That’s a very different question, and it’s one that has little if anything to do with accusations of racism or good guys and bad guys. It has everything to do with institutions and inertia. And I think it’s time to drill down into that some.

Let us stipulate that the Cleveland Indians, as an organization, are not a bunch of racists. I don’t believe that for a second. They, like every other sports team, have a history and, for lots of reasons, the Indians history comes with Chief Wahoo packed in the baggage. While the Indians have made efforts over the years to diminish Wahoo, those efforts have not taken. The most likely reason for that is fear of fan backlash. Fans who, even if they themselves are not racists either, do what all sports fans do and root from a primarily emotional place, where real-world questions like “is what I’m wearing racially offensive?” are not permitted to intrude. It’s not just writers they want to stick to sports. They stick to sports themselves and, with a strong assist from cognitive dissonance, their conception of sports involves a Chief Wahoo cap and arm patch.

So, you’re running the Indians. Even when you win your division you don’t draw well, and thus the LAST thing you want to do is anger or alienate your most passionate fans. Of course you don’t get rid of that logo. Doing so would take some pretty considerable moral and ethical courage. Or, at the very least, moral and ethical courage in quantities that outweigh the short term P.R. and financial motives of a for-profit business, and that’s quite a bit. So let us stipulate two things, actually: (1) The Indians are not a bunch of racists; and (2) Even if they’re not, they’re not, on their own, going to get rid of Chief Wahoo. If they were going to, they would’ve done it by now.

Which is why I turn to Major League Baseball. If the Indians themselves are not going to do the right thing and eliminate Chief Wahoo, Major League Baseball should.

At this point I’ll say something which will probably surprise a lot of you: I’m not crazy. I may stand up on soapboxes and rant and rave about any little thing that crosses my mind, but I am, at heart, a realist. I know how large and sophisticated organizations work and I know that Major League Baseball is a large and sophisticated organization. It cannot snap its fingers and make whatever crazy, soapbox-standing bloggers want to have happen happen, even if wanted to (note: it does not want to). There are rules and norms and politics to even the most pedestrian of issues that cross Rob Manfred’s desk, and Chief Wahoo is not a pedestrian issue. It’s a controversial one that lends itself to passion and bad press and those are the hardest things an organization like MLB has to deal with. Indeed, it would prefer not to.

Part of that complication is that this is a club matter and clubs, under Major League Baseball’s business model, are mostly their own things and they can do what they please with most things. Certainly things like club identity, logos, colors, uniforms and the like. At most MLB gives final approval on new ideas in these areas, but it does not order clubs to change fonts or logos or mascots that have been in place for decades. “Hey, Orioles? You’re now the ‘Knights’ and your colors are purple and gold. Make it so” is not a memo Rob Manfred is going to write.

There is likely not even a mechanism in place for this. League-wide matters are dealt with via MLB’s constitution, to which all clubs agree, and that usually involves league wide ownership votes. This is not one of those things, though. Thirty club owners are not going to hold a vote about what mascot the Indians can slap on their cap. Large and complex organizations do not eagerly do things for which there is not a formal mechanism to accomplish said things. So, in addition to the historical inertia and the abhorrence of controversial issues and p.r. and the like, you have systemic reasons which make it easier for MLB to not act than to act.

But that does not mean it should not act. I believe it should, and I believe that the only way Major League Baseball will not, eventually, act to abolish Chief Wahoo is if it willfully ignores those questions I posed above. If it ignores, in fact, the very words it uttered just this week when the matter of the Indians name and logo was the subject of an Ontario court hearing:

“Major League Baseball appreciates the concerns of those that find the name and logo of the Cleveland Indians to be offensive.  We would welcome a thoughtful and inclusive dialogue to address these concerns outside the context of litigation.”

To truly be a part of that dialogue, Major League Baseball itself is obligated to state its convictions on the matter. If it is having trouble finding its convictions I will, once again, offer a little guide to help them along:

    • Does Major League Baseball believe that Chief Wahoo is a racist caricature? That’s a pretty simple question. A human being as educated as Rob Manfred and as educated as the hordes of Ivy Leaguers who work for him can plainly and quickly answer if it wished to.
    • If not, why not? Like I said, if they can make a convincing argument that Wahoo isn’t racist it’ll be the first time anyone has done so, but like I also said, these guys are smart, and I bet if anyone can they can. I’ll give them a fair hearing.
    • If MLB does think Wahoo is racist, does Major League Baseball think it appropriate for a club to have a racist caricature as its logo? Based on everything I know about Major League Baseball and its commitment to diversity, inclusion and open-mindedness, it cannot answer this question in the affirmative if it believes Wahoo to be racist.
    • Finally, if Wahoo is a racist caricature and if it’s inappropriate for a club to have a racist caricature as a logo what, if anything, does MLB plan to do about Chief Wahoo?

And there we are. There’s nothing formal in place to make the Indians change, but if Rob Manfred gets to that last question, he can certainly lean on the club. He can make a public statement about it and what is right. Or, he can take a different tack and show the Indians how much merch they’d sell if they got a new logo. It doesn’t matter much. The Commissioner is not omnipotent, but in a matter of conscience that affects only one club, some meetings and phone calls and his power of persuasion could make a big difference here. All the difference, really.

But first Major League Baseball and Commissioner Manfred have to themselves be inspired to act. They have to cease dodging the matter by making reference to the controversy and the feelings it engenders and actually take a position in that controversy. The Indians have shown that they will not act unilaterally, so MLB should, at long last, weigh in itself to force their hand.

Commissioner Manfred will, no doubt, be in Cleveland for the World Series. He will, no doubt, hold a press conference or two. Given the Indians return to the international stage, the usual protests about Chief Wahoo will be louder than they typically are and Commissioner Manfred will be asked about the matter. I believe that he, on behalf of the league, should answer the questions I have posed here and that other journalists will no doubt pose to him in person.

I hope he does. I hope that, rather than once again merely acknowledging a longstanding conversation about a baseball team sporting an abjectly racist logo on its cap in the 21st century, he, on behalf of Major League Baseball, enters the conversation. I hope he does what no one else seems willing or able to do: eliminates Chief Wahoo, now and forever.

Doing so would not be the easy course. It would certainly be easier to dodge these questions than to answer them openly and honestly and to then do what one’s answers to them obligate one to do. But it would be the right thing to do. I suspect Major League Baseball already knows this.

 

 

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Nationals 2, Padres 1: Michael Taylor had a night. He made an incredible throw home to save a run, then doubled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

Here’s the throw:

Here’s the walk-off double:

Jeremy Hellickson held the Padres to one run but had to leave with one out in the sixth due to a blister. The Nats’ bullpen took it from there, fanning five over the final 3 2/3 innings. Opposing starter Eric Lauer was also solid, yielding a run in his six innings of work. Bryce Harper hit his 14th dinger of the year.

Braves 3, Phillies 1: The Braves hold onto their first-place lead over the Phillies, winning this nail-biter. Brandon McCarthy and Vince Velasquez matched up for a fourth time this season. McCarthy has won all four starts. He gave up a run on on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts. He owns a 2.08 ERA against the Phillies this season and a 6.53 ERA against everyone else. Velasquez struck out nine, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on six hits and three walks. Ozzie Albies hit his 14th homer of the season and scored all three runs for the Braves. His power progression has been impressive, to say the least.

Indians 10, Cubs 1: Ugly loss for the Cubs. Starter Tyler Chatwood walked six and gave up four runs in 2 2/3 innings. Mike Montgomery, who relieved him, wasn’t any better, giving up six runs in 2 1/3 innings. Yonder Alonso racked up three hits and three RBI. Jose Ramirez hit a three-run home run. The top-third of the Indians’ lineup combined to go 5-for-11 with four walks and six runs scored. Trevor Bauer continued to deal, tossing six shutout frames with six strikeouts. His ERA stands at 2.35. Something, something, spin rate. The first-place Indians are back at .500 with a 23-23 record.

Blue Jays 5, Angels 3: The Blue Jays put up a five-spot in the first inning against Garrett Richards, proving to be all the offense they would need on the evening. The Angels helped them out with a wild pitch and a fielding error. Kendrys Morales capped off the frame with a two-run homer. J.A. Happ went seven innings, limiting the Angels to two runs on three hits and three walks with five strikeouts.

Reds 7, Pirates 2: Scooter Gennett put the Reds’ offense on his back, contributing an RBI double, a grand slam, and a sacrifice fly. You may recall Gennett hit four grand slams last year, becoming one of only a handful of players to accomplish the feat. He has five in the last calendar year. Matt Harvey limited the Pirates to just one run on three hits and two walks with five strikeouts over six innings. Jameson Taillon was on the hook for all six runs the Reds scored, going six innings with eight strikeouts.

Red Sox 4, Rays 2: It was mostly a bad night for the Rays, as starter Jake Faria and catcher Wilson Ramos both exited the game in the third inning with injuries. However, shortstop prospect Willy Adames crushed his first major league homer off of Chris Sale. Sale went 7 2/3 innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on four hits and two walks with nine strikeouts. He now holds a 2.17 ERA. Mookie Betts hit his major league-leading 16th homer of the season. Rafael Devers also went yard.

Marlins 5, Mets 1: Zack Wheeler pitched pretty well but the Mets just couldn’t swing the bats enough to support him. Wheeler struck out nine and gave up three runs (one earned) on seven hits with no walks over six innings. Caleb Smith was better, limiting the Mets to a lone run on three hits and two walks and eight strikeouts in 6 2/3 frames. Jose Bautista made his Mets debut, going 1-for-3 with a double.

Brewers 1, Diamondbacks 0: Another heart-breaker for the D-Backs. They have now lost six games in a row and 12 of their last 13. The Brewers’ lone run scored on a Domingo Santana sacrifice fly in the sixth inning. Jhoulys Chacin narrowly out-pitched Matt Koch and the Brewers’ bullpen took it from there. Matt Albers, Josh Hader, and Corey Knebel combined to hold the D-Backs scoreless for the final 12 outs. The first-place Brewers are 30-19. The Brewers might’ve scored more if not for Jarrod Dyson:

Rangers 6, Yankees 4: Jurickson Profar kicked things off for the Rangers with a three-run homer in the first inning. The Rangers scored two more in the second against Domingo German, who lasted 3 2/3 innings and was on the hook for all six runs in total. Cole Hamels held the Yankees to a pair of runs on four hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over seven innings. The two runs came on solo home runs from Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. Austin Romine added two more in the eighth with a two-run shot off of Jake Diekman.

White Sox 3, Orioles 2: May continues to go well for James Shields, who now owns a 3.27 ERA in five starts this month (but a 4.62 ERA overall). He gave up only two runs on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts over seven innings. Kevin Gausman blanked the Sox over 6 1/3 innings on nine hits and a walk while striking out 10. Mark Trumbo went 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and an RBI. Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier combined to fork over three runs to the White Sox in the bottom of the eighth inning, saddling Gausman with a no-decision.

Twins 6, Tigers 0: Lance Lynn finally put together a good start for the Twins. He shut out the Tigers across 6 2/3 innings, yielding only five hits and a walk while striking out four. The effort lowered his ERA to 6.34. The Twins scored three runs in the fifth and seventh innings, providing more than enough run support. Brian Dozier knocked in three of those runs with a pair of doubles. Ehire Adrianza reached base three times and picked up a pair of RBI in the effort as well.

Astros 11, Giants 2: The Astros singled and doubled the Giants to death, pounding out 12 total hits, none of which went for more than two bases, and drew five walks. Gerrit Cole gave up two runs on four hits and three walks with eight striekouts in six innings. His ERA ballooned all the way up to 1.86. Each pitcher that entered the game for the Giants gave up at least one run. It wasn’t all bad for the Giants — at least Brandon Crawford got to homer off of brother-in-law Gerrit Cole.

Royals 5, Cardinals 1: The Royals got homers from Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez plus seven strong innings from Jason Hammel. Hammel gave up nine hits, walked none, and struck out six in the effort. On a lot of other nights, Luke Weaver would’ve had a W, but settled for the L with seven innings of three-run ball. He struck out eight. Yairo Munoz and Marcell Ozuna each collected three hits. Gordon and Alcides Escobar had three hits each for the Royals.

Mariners 3, Athletics 2 (10 innings): Guillermo Heredia broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the 10th with an RBI double. Edwin Diaz worked a perfect bottom half with a pair of strikeouts to close it out. Both starters — Trevor Cahill for the A’s and Mike Leake for the Mariners — pitched into the seventh inning and gave up two runs.

Dodgers 5, Rockies 3: Chris Taylor hit a go-ahead two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth and Yasiel Puig tacked on an insurance run with a solo homer. Ian Desmond went yard for the Rockies.