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Getting rid of Chief Wahoo was primarily a commercial decision, not a moral one


This afternoon’s announcement that the Cleveland Indians, at the behest of Major League Baseball, will cease wearing Chief Wahoo on their uniforms and displaying him in the ballpark was certainly welcome news. We have long railed against one of Major League Baseball’s 30 clubs being represented by an unequivocally racist logo, and we are certainly happy to see Chief Wahoo being shown the door.

Having spoken to various MLB folks about Wahoo over the years, I have no doubt that people at the league office hate the logo and wish it had been eliminated long ago. Likewise, high-ranking team officials have long been on record saying they disliked Wahoo. The wish may not have been strong enough for the league or the club to actually take action before now — the league has largely kept its hands out of club matters, especially related to marketing and team identity over the years and the club has been too worried about upsetting its fan base — but there was clearly a sense in both New York and Cleveland that it was simply bad taste and bad form for Wahoo to persist for as long as he has.

What tipped the scales? Was it a final, dawning realization that enough was enough and that the racist logo could no longer stand? Nah, I don’t think so. Ultimately, the decision to get rid of Wahoo was a practical and financial one less than it was a moral or ethical one. The league and the club will deny it — they’ll come out and say it as just “the right thing to do” — but there is a decent bit of evidence to support a claim that this was primarily a business decision.

Some good evidence of this can be seen in the manner in which Wahoo is being (mostly) phased out. As today’s announcement said, the club will continue to wear the logo in 2018 rather than cease wearing it immediately. Likewise, the club will continue to sell Wahoo merchandise to fans. A lot of people I know have voiced displeasure with those facts in the past couple of hours, but they go a long way toward explaining what, in reality, motivated the club here.

Major League Baseball’s official statement on the matter does not address why the club won’t change their uniforms immediately, but I suspect they or the club will soon say that the decision to abandon Wahoo has come too close to the beginning of the season to change things and that they need a year in advance to get new caps and uniforms. In the past, clubs who have altered their uniforms have submitted uniform change plans the previous fall and have usually announced them before this point in the offseason, so perhaps there is loose precedent here, but I am not sure why, even if it was a hard and fast rule as opposed to mere convention, such a rule makes sense. Clubs roll out playoff and World Series merchandise on a moment’s notice. The 1970 Milwaukee Brewers weren’t even IN Milwaukee or CALLED the Brewers until seven days before Opening Day and they got their block-M caps and “Brewers” jerseys made in time.

I feel like a change for 2018 could be pulled off in Cleveland now if they wanted to, but they just don’t want to. Why? Because they want to research and develop and market some new caps to maximize the splash and marketing revenue that always accompanies a uniform change. Because they also want to maximize the sale of extant Wahoo-logo merchandise. I’ve heard talk about a backlash in which people who love Wahoo will flock to buy Wahoo merchandise as a point of protest, but most people want to wear what the team is wearing. If the team is not wearing Wahoo in 2018, a lot of caps and jerseys already sitting in MLB warehouses will go unsold. No on wants that, so they’ll give it a year.

The second detail — that the club will continue to sell Wahoo stuff to fans even after the club stops wearing them — is likewise a business decision. The immediate business justification will be couched in legal terms, like this:

There is truth to that. It may not require a lot of Wahoo merchandise being sold to maintain that “use in commerce” protection — certainly not so much that the club has to continue to stock a bunch of merch at its team stores or sell it in every Wal-Mart and Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Ohio like they surely will — but it will require some. The large-scale sales are probably unnecessary, however. They will continue, though, because even if the backlash factor mentioned above is not as big as some think it’ll be, there will always be some demand for the old Wahoo stuff. Just as there is a demand for brown Padres throwback merchandise, Trident-M caps in Seattle or blue-and-gold ball-in-glove caps the Brewers sell. The Indians and Major League Baseball would like to stop taking heat for wearing Chief Wahoo on the field, but they would like to continue to make money by selling Wahoo to fans as well.

Two final bits of evidence that this was more about business rather than anti-racist sentiment involve the timing of it all.

The Indians have had two really good years in a row. Their team revenue and season ticket sales are soaring, at least for them, and, after years near the bottom of MLB’s ranks in those categories, they’ve entered the middle-of-the pack. One of the big fears people with the Indians have had with respect to Wahoo is alienating fans. Well, when the tide is rising and things are going well, that fear is diminished — winning trumps everything — so now was the best time to strike, even if club officials were just as convinced of Wahoo’s ugliness three years ago as they are today.

Finally, there’s this:

I’ll file that under “totally plausible, even if no one will ever go on the record to admit it.”

The Indians and Major League Baseball are free to do whatever they’d like with Wahoo. They could’ve kept him, despite the rantings of people like me, if they so chose. There’d be no way to stop them. They could’ve punted it five more years. That they chose to stop it now, in however a limited way they are, is worth noting and worth praising, even if it’s qualified praise. A three-quarters measure is better than nothing, right?

But let us not credit the Indians or Major League Baseball with making a principled stand. If this was a principled stand against racism, they would’ve done it long ago, when it was clear to even them that Wahoo was awful. They likewise would’ve eschewed Wahoo immediately and in his entirety. They’d cease to have a financial stake in racist merchandise. If someone moved in and sold shirts with their abandoned logo, so be it, the club would say it doesn’t want that blood money. In reality, though, the club is OK with getting that money and it’ll go above and beyond what is legally necessary to continue to earn it via our old friend The Chief.

It’s a business decision that, in large part corresponds with good morals and good ethics. But it’s still a business decision. The manner in which this is being handled is the best evidence of that.


And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

Associated Press

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rays 6, Marlins 4: A pinch-hit, walkoff grand slam from Daniel Robertson completed a stunning last-inning comeback for the Rays, who trailed 4-1 from the second inning all the way until the ninth. The blast, in addition to being cool as hell, salvaged a win in the series for the Rays, denying the Marlins the sweep. Tampa Bay starter Chris Archer struck out 13 in six innings, but he allowed four runs — three earned — on eight hits.

Diamondbacks 6, Rockies 1: Zack Greinke was outstanding, striking out 13 and allowing only one run on two hits over eight innings of work. Backing him up was a two-run triple and a bases-loaded walk from Nick Ahmed, a two-run single from Jeff Mathis and an RBI double from Steven Souza, not necessarily in that order. Not in that order at all, in fact. I just listed them that way because that’s the order in which they interested me. Beware of unreliable narrators, dudes. It’s a classic trope, but one which still snookers the noobs.

Padres 10, Phillies 2; Phillies 5, Padres 0: In the first game Freddy Galvis had his second straight three-hit game against his old club in a row, Travis Jankowski and Wil Myers each had two RBI and the Padres rattled off 15 hits. In the second game Vince Velasquez took a no-hitter into the sixth and ended up allowing only two hits over seven shutout innings as the Phillies earn the split in the twin bill.

Fun Padres note: yesterday, for whatever reason, some random Padres fan went back and found a tweet I made two years ago about Padres general manager A.J. Preller. The tweet came in the wake of that scandal in which Preller was caught hiding players’ medical information from other clubs in the course of transactions.  In it I said that it may be difficult for other GMs to trust Preller in deals in the future and that because of that the Padres should fire him. For what it’s worth, I thought they should’ve fired him for dishonesty regardless, though they obviously did not.

Anyway, the person who found my tweet retweeted it and several other Padres fans responded back to me yesterday afternoon with mockery, noting that Preller subsequently received a contract extension and that the Padres have a great deal of top prospects in their system. Nowhere, however, did any of those people note that the Padres currently have the worst record in the National League and are working on their eighth straight losing season and their ninth in their last ten. And that it isn’t even close, as they have not won even 80 games in any of those losing seasons and aren’t likely to this year either. But yep, they sure got me with that tweet. I feel totally owned.

Pirates 9, Reds 2: It was 6-0 Buccos after two and 8-0 after four and by then the Pirates were thinking about their super short flight up to Cleveland and the Reds were thinking about catching up on whatever Sunday night prestige TV everyone is into at the moment. I don’t watch much of that and I lose track of that stuff, but “Better Call Saul” is coming back in a couple of weeks and that’s my jam. Anyway, Corey Dickerson homered for the fourth time in three days — he was 4-for-5 on the afternoon — and Starlin Marte went back-to-back with him during Pittsburgh’s four-run second frame. Gregory Polanco and Sean Rodriguez also went deep as the Pirates sweep the Reds for the first time in nearly five years which does not seem like it should be right at all but, yep, it is.

Royals 5, Twins 3: Here’s something Vegas was not taking prop bets on: Drew Butera hitting an inside-the-park homer. A tiebreaking, three-run inside-the-park home run, that is. Which, yes, was given a HUGE assist by an ill-advised attempt to make a diving catch by the center fielder and some backup by the right fielder that was apparently called in via regular U.S. Mail, but let’s not take this away from Butera:

The Royals took three in a row from the Twins and in doing so completed their first series sweep in just under a year, which does not seem like it should be right at all but, yep, it is.

Blue Jays 5, Orioles 4: The O’s led 4-1 heading into the bottom of the eighth but a pair of two-run homers — from Randal Grichuk and Yangervis Solarte — changed that pretty quickly. J.A. Happ‘s latest audition for would-be trade partners went well (5 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 9K). John Axford‘s did not (1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 1 BB), but hey, he vultured a win.

Red Sox 9, Tigers 1: Red Sox recaps feel the same every day. They won. They scored a lot of runs. They got a great pitching performance. Yawn. It’s, like, the banality of dominance or something. Sure, they lost on Saturday and only scored one run in a 1-0 win on Friday, but I didn’t recap those. Perception is everything. Anyway, Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a three-run homer and Chris Sale cruised through six, striking out nine Tigers and not allowing a run. Andrew Benintendi and Eduardo Nunez each knocked in a couple.

Rangers 5, Indians 0: It was the Rougned Odor show as the Rangers’ second baseman knocked in the first three runs of the game via a single, a sac fly and a homer. Ryan Rua‘s two-run homer accounted for the other two Texas runs as Yovani Gallardo tossed six shutout innings and the pen covered the rest. Also: first pitch temperature was 102 degrees and it went up to 108 as the game wore on. I’m firmly on the record thinking that the Rangers are ripping taxpayers off in getting them to build them a new ballpark when they have a pretty new one already, but boy howdy do they need that air conditioned one to get finished because this is simply ridiculous.

Dodgers 11, Brewers 2: Matt Kemp smacked two solo homers and had three hits and scored three runs in all and Chris Taylor drove in three as L.A. blows out Milwaukee to take two of three in the series. Manny Machado had a couple of hits and drove in his first run as a Dodger. He finished his first weekend in blue 5-for-13 with a double and a couple of walks. The Brewers played atrocious defense too. Maybe Ryan Braun isn’t a first baseman? Just a thought.

Cubs 7, Cardinals 2: Jose Quintana allowed two runs on six hits and, most significantly, did not allow a home run to Matt Carpenter, and that’s more than opposing pitchers from the last six games against the Cardinals could say. Really, the dude has been on fire. So on fire that the Cubs played a three-man infield against him in the first, moving Kris Bryant to the outfield out of respect for Carpenter’s 12-at-bat streak of hitting for extras bases. My dude laid down a bunt single. Respect:

That was it for the Cards, though. It was competitive for most of the game but Kyle Schwarber hit a tiebreaking homer with two out in the sixth inning and the Chicago broke it wide open with three runs in the eighth, helping them take three of five from the Cards.

Mariners 8, White Sox 2: Ryon Healy hit two three-run homers in this one — one in the first inning, one in the eighth — as the Mariners win in a romp. The other two runs came in the course of a five-run first inning via a bases-loaded walk drawn by Kyle Seager and a Denard Span sac fly. Healy is far from a complete player — he has 20 homers on the season but he hits for poor contact and seems to hate walks like de Havilland hates Fontaine — but it sure was a hell of an afternoon for the big lug.

Angels 14, Astros 5: Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Ian Kinsler and Kole Calhoun all went deep, with Calhoun driving in three as the Angels salvage the final game of a three-game set with Houston. Trout’s first inning single ended a streak of 16 plate appearances without a hit. Trout slumping is . . . weird and unsettling. Andrew Heaney allowed one run over six.

Athletics 6, Giants 5: Matt Chapman singled in Marcus Semien in the bottom of the 10th for a walkoff win. The win also gave Jeurys Familia his first win in his first game as an Oakland Athletic after he pitched two scoreless innings. This after only arriving in Oakland about an hour before the game began after catching a 7 a.m. flight from New York. Between that and no longer having to be a New York Met, things are looking pretty good for him these days.

Nationals 6, Braves 2: Anthony Rendon doubled in two in the first and Bryce Harper homered and drove in two as the Nats split two games with the Braves in a rain-shortened series. Saturday’s game was postponed and this one was delayed almost two hours at the outset and featured an hour and a half delay in the middle of it. Nothing like a steamy late July day in Washington. Besides, as Nats manager Dave Martinez noted after the game, they made the most of it:

“It’s part of it. We play outdoors. But the boys hung in there. They were all pretty loose in the clubhouse, honestly. Watching Shark Week. So, it was good.”

Live every week like it’s shark week.

Mets vs. Yankees — POSTPONED:

Another rainy day in New York City
Softly sweet, so silently it falls
As crosstown traffic crawls

Memories in my way in New York City
Tender, tough, too tragic to be true
And nothing i can do

City workers cheer
The taxis disappear
Another rainy day in New York City