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The View From Pluto: The Long Game of Changing the Cleveland Indians' Team Name

Progressive Field
Ken Lund
The Cleveland Indians likely won't be changing their name until 2022, according to Terry Pluto.

Now that the NFL’s Washington Redskins have dropped their nickname, the spotlight has moved to other pro sports teams to make changes amid a nationwide movement calling for racial justice.

But don't expect the Cleveland Indians to act as fast. Just last year, the team finally abandoned the Chief Wahoo logo. Last week, WKSU's sports commentator Terry Pluto suggested a new name might come next season. Now he says it likely won't be until 2022. 

Why 2022
Pluto said as far as the team is concerned, there's no immediate rush to make a change, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

"It doesn't matter what you do this year. There's no fans in the stands, and nobody is selling any merchandise. They're just trying to see if they can get a 60-game season in," he said. 

Pluto said in addition to securing trademarks, copyrights. graphics, and signage, keeping the name another year allows the team to bank on the nostalgia and sell Indians merchandise.

"And then you go into 2022 with whatever your new name is," he said.

"This is going to take quite a while," Pluto said. "The Indians wanted to make sure that they take some heat off themselves and heat off their sponsors. If you like the Indians, you get another year with it. If you like coming up with new names, you have plenty of time to brainstorm." 

Money talks
The Washington Redskins were receiving lots of pressure from corporate sponsors, including FedEx, to change their team name. Pluto said the Indians will likely include their corporate sponsors in discussions. 

"Even if you're kind of making a decision in a room with three other people, you want everyone to feel they're somehow included in it," he said. 

"At some point they were going to have to face this. So here we are, 27 years later. And they're facing it."

The Spiders of 1993
The Indians were actually exploring a change in 1993, when Rick Bay was president under owner Dick Jacobs. The team was getting ready to move to Jacobs Field the following year.

"He said, 'We were already getting pressure from the American Indian Movement and others to drop Chief Wahoo.' He said, 'Dick, we're going into a new ballpark. Why don't we just change it and start fresh?'" Pluto said much to Bay's surprise, Jacobs was interested. 

Bay's idea was to turn the Indians into the Spiders, what Cleveland's baseball team was called briefly in the late 1800s. "Bay ended up hiring a graphic artist to design a new logo. Everybody was sworn to secrecy. Only a few people knew about this."

Pluto said the idea was short-lived, as Bay got into a dispute with Jacobs and was fired.

"Then there was really no one left to advocate for a name change at that point," Pluto said. 

"[Bay] said Jacobs knew [a name change] would be hard on the fans, but at some point they were going to have to face this. So here we are 27 years later. And they're facing it."  

Change is coming
Pluto anticipates that the Indians will put out a statement in the next few months making the decision to change the name official, after issuing  a statement earlier this month that it would begin discussions.

"You don't put all that out and then say, 'Never mind, we're going to keep the Indians.' You're not going to do that," Pluto said. 

The key, Pluto said, is getting the new name right. Pluto said he was talking recently with a member of the front office. "He said, 'Think about making a decision that has to hold for 80 years. You want this to go through the rest of the century.'"

Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.
Sean Fitzgerald is an announcer/board operator at Ideastream Public Media.