We have Marlins and Rays. Tigers. Phillies, Yankees, and Athletics. Mariners, Rangers, Brewers—Nationals, of all things. And there are teams for the more ornithologically-inclined, too: Orioles, Blue Jays, and Cardinals. Metropolitans. Giants. The Reds. Roll some of them around on your tongue, and, absent their regional affiliations, the team names start to feel silly. What's an Astro, anyway? Why stockings? And, don’t you know it translates to “The The Angels Angels?” They aren't even in Los Angeles. They’re in Anaheim.
Unfortunately, there are still Braves. But the Cleveland Indians are no more.
Last Friday, Cleveland’s major league ball club announced that they would change their name from the Indians to the Guardians, unveiling a new logo and a slick campaign video voiced by the likes of America’s sweetheart Tom Hanks and soundtracked by The Black Keys. Not only is it the team’s fifth name, but it’s been a move a few years in the making, as they first dropped the racist Chief Wahoo logo from their uniforms back in 2018. Then, this past December, in the wake of The Washington Football Team removing their offensive name, Cleveland announced that they would no longer call themselves the Indians. They would now seek out a new identity in light of ongoing issues in the US around inequality and police brutality, particularly after the murder of George Floyd sparked countless protests across the country.
“We are committed to making a positive impact in our community and embrace our responsibility to advance social justice and equality,” the team wrote at the time. “Our organization fully recognizes our team name is among the most visible ways in which we connect with the community.”
Now, after narrowing down a list of nearly 1,200 potential names, Cleveland looks to the future.“We are excited to usher in the next era of the deep history of baseball in Cleveland,” said team owner Paul Dolan in a press release. “Cleveland has and always will be the most important part of our identity. Therefore, we wanted a name that strongly represents the pride, resiliency, and loyalty of Clevelanders."
Together, we are all… pic.twitter.com/R5FnT4kv1I
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) July 23, 2021
I’m a sucker for a historical tie-in, and while Guardians likely wouldn’t have made it to the finals, the team identity pulls inspiration from the city’s Hope Memorial Bridge. Named after Bob Hope’s father, Harry, a stonemason that worked on it, sculptor Henry Hering and architect Frank Walker designed the Art Deco truss bridge that connects Lorian Avenue to Carnegie. Dubbed the "Guardians of Traffic," the four pairs of highly detailed statues are meant to symbolize industrial progress and laud the marvels of modern transportation. Though they also remind me of the yellow sphinxes in The Neverending Story that shoot laserbeams at whoever passes through them (don’t say I didn’t warn you, Non-Clevelander’s). Each statue cradles a vehicle—a stagecoach, covered wagon, a period-specific automobile from when they completed the bridge in 1932, etc.
From the few visual assets made available, the team replaced the block C for one more diamond-shaped, and it harkens back to a design motif on the statue. There’s also a new team logo in the form of a baseball wearing winged Gs, another nod to the Guardians on the bridge with their feathered helmets (and an homage to Greek messenger god Hermes). Road jerseys will still read Cleveland and will use the same typography as in their new C. Guardians will get utilized for home uniforms. Additionally, the team colors of red, white, and blue will remain, offering fans a sense of continuity.
“This brand relaunch has been years in the making—the Cleveland club has been chipping away at its visual identity for years now, leaving behind a very spare series of assets,” says Todd Radom, graphic designer, sports branding expert, and author of Winning Ugly: A Visual History of the Most Bizarre Baseball Uniforms Ever Worn.
The timing also feels suspect, and not just because it happened on a Friday afternoon.
“Dropping the new name and look in the middle of the opening ceremonies for the Olympics, in late July, with no merchandise to sell? It seems reactive, almost as though the whole thing was about to leak. That is all to say that the core visual assets we see now are likely not all of the eventual assets. A launch like this traditionally takes place after the conclusion of the regular season, right before the holidays, a prime retail opportunity,” mentions Radom.
Radom admits that he likes the name, that it has an aspirational and optimistic note, and is teeming with local relevance. And while he stops himself short of passing judgment—as we’re still just getting a sneak peek and he hasn't seen the full creative brief— he does offer some insights into the new look.
“I’m a bit surprised that they didn’t lean more into the heroic art deco architecture that inspired the name, streamlined and horizontal, as opposed to the angular perspective that we are seeing,” he says. “How is a baseball wedged between those winged G’s? We need to suspend reality, I suppose, in favor of artistic license. But I wonder how this reduces down into a tiny icon. An abbreviated version may be in the works.”
“The arched “Cleveland” lettering presents some technical issues,” he adds. “I’d love to know more about the letterforms and how they expand into a full alphabet, which is really important in this world. The jagged home and road script lettering seem to be having a moment. It reminds me of the Milwaukee Brewers’ alternate uniform lettering, the Milwaukee Bucks’ “Cream City” letterforms of a few years back, Marquette, and the Phoenix Suns’ “Valley” look. I’m thinking about l
ongevity here, wanting to ensure that the graphics will not get viewed as trendy or dated within a few years.”
Radom also admits that even keeping the team’s color palette could wind up being a missed opportunity. Instead of the team carving out something bold and proprietary, they might have played it too safe here.
Still, that sense of timelessness and connection to the past is critical, and it's worth noting that even the slightest of changes can draw the ire of the fanbase. Just the act of wearing a baseball hat or jersey is incredibly personal and speaks volumes about your own aesthetic choices and thoughts on design. Sure, we might be rooting for laundry, but that's our laundry, dammit. It's why renaming a team or changing the logo never goes well—never. So long as there’s a ball club in Washington DC called the Nationals, the Expos and their throwback hats will never die.
It’s still early days for the Guardians and their new, winged look, and as the 2021 season draws to a close, we’ll likely see much more of Cleveland’s new digs. While some might have longed for a Cleveland Spiders, or even just pulling a generic Washington-style “Cleveland Baseball Team” name (Washington says they will announce the name early in 2022), what we do know is this; the Indians are no more, and good riddance.