[Ads-l] Cleveland Indians

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Oct 25 18:31:21 EDT 2016

I am resurrecting an old thread - first posted by George Thompson<http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2003-January/028481.html>.

At the time, he was responding to a "larger discussion here. . . about present day sports teams with insensitive or offensive nicknames and logos."

George Thompson's post provided some excerpts from what was then a new book entitled, "Sockalexis: The First Cleveland, Jefferson, N. C. & London: McFarland & Co., 2002.  That book was a biography of a man who is sometimes said to be the inspiration behind Cleveland's decision to change its name to the "Indians" in 1915.

Louis Sockalexis was believed to be the first Native American to sign a major league contract when he signed with the Cleveland Spiders in 1897.  He was a highly touted prospect who had excelled in college at Holy Cross and local amateur leagues in Maine and had garnered a certain amount of national publicity before signing with Cleveland.  He made a huge impression in his first few months in the league, but his fortunes faded due to drink, injury and illness - he was out of the league by 1900.

The fact of Sockalexis' connection to Cleveland made the story of why they chose the name believable, although many people believe that the story is only a later justification to make the name seem more palatable when it came under increasing criticism.

I do not have an answer about the team's specific motivation in 1915 - their history with Sockalexis may well have played a role, but I have found some interesting details that may color - one way or the other - one's perspective on the story.

As described in the book, Cleveland sportswriters started referring to the team as "Indians" in 1897, after they signed Sockalexis.

However, I discovered that the team had been referred to as "Tebeau's Indians" (after their manager, Olie "Patsy" Tebeau) as early as 1895 - two years before they signed Sockalexis.  At the time, Cleveland's star catcher (who caught for Cy Young of the Spiders) was nicknamed "Chief".  "Chief" Zimmer claimed that he received the nickname in Poughkeepsie in 1896 when the team were called the "Indians" because they were particularly fast runners.  Since he was the manager - they called him "Chief."  All of which may, or may not be a coincidence, and may or may not have influenced his later team to be called "Tebeau's Indians."

Also, curiously, the name "Tebeau's Indians" followed him to the St. Louis Cardinals and later to Louisville, when he managed those teams.

I put together some of the information on a blog post: Why Cleveland's Baseball Team are the "Indians"<http://esnpc.blogspot.com/2016/10/the-cleveland-spiders-and-tebeaus.html>.  http://esnpc.blogspot.com/2016/10/the-cleveland-spiders-and-tebeaus.html

After posting the piece, I thought - hmm - I wonder why the Braves are the Braves - and the story is very similar.  The Boston Beaneaters were renamed the 'Boston Braves' in 1911, because a new owner was a member of New York's Tammany Hall, which was named after an Indian statesman and leader, who at one time was widely known as "Saint Tamanend - the Patron Saint of America".  There are contemporary sources that verify the story.

That's all well and good, but it turns out that the Beaneaters had been regularly referred to as the "Boston Braves" or "Buck's Braves" from 1902 through 1904, when Al "Buck" Buckenberger was their manager.  The name seems to have followed "Buck" to Boston from his old team.  In the 1890s, the Pittsburgh Pirates had also been regularly known as "Buck's Braves" when he was their manager.  The Cincinnati Reds were also regularly called "Buck's Braves" when their manager was "Buck" Ewing.

It seems plausible that in both cases the name "Buck" was associated with Indians because male Indians were then called "Bucks," in the same way female Indians were called "Squaws."

Boston's Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, the oldest chartered military unit in North America, were also called the "Boston Braves" during the 1890s and first decade of the 1900s.

I plan on posting the Boston Braves piece later this week.

In any case, there may have been more going on in Cleveland and Boston when the teams received their new names, which may or may not be relevant to anyone's position on the propriety of the continued use of the names.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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