The Major League Baseball team now known as the Cleveland Guardians has a long and storied history in the league, though they have gone by several different names over the decades. Recently, the team announced that they would change their name from the Cleveland Indians to the Cleveland Guardians, connecting the team more closely to the city itself.
Brief background on the MLB team now known as the Cleveland Guardians
The franchise now called the Cleveland Guardians was founded in 1900 as the Cleveland Lake Shores. After a couple of name changes, they settled on the Cleveland Indians name in 1915. Under that moniker, the team enjoyed success in the 1920s and 1950s, though they did not win a World Series title. The Indians name remained until 2021, when growing controversy over Native American names and symbols in sports led the team to change to the Guardians.
Thesis: The Guardians have a storied history and the new name connects the team to Cleveland.
Though the Indians/Guardians have yet to win a World Series championship since 1948, they remain one of the iconic franchises in Major League Baseball. Cy Young, who still holds multiple all-time pitching records, spent the most successful years of his career with Cleveland. More recently, the team has featured superstar players like Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and current Guardians star José Ramírez.
The new Guardians name pays homage to the “Guardians of Traffic” sculptures on the Hope Memorial Bridge near the team’s downtown stadium. These large art deco statues representing transportation and industry watch over the city and inspired the team’s rebranding. The name change allows the team to maintain its connection to Cleveland’s history while moving forward into a new era.
Overall, while the Cleveland MLB franchise has assumed numerous identities, the team continues to enjoy a strong tradition and dedicated fanbase. The Guardians build on that rich history while symbolizing the city they call home.
How many people are in a baseball team, including players and guardians, varies depending on the level of play. In the context of youth leagues and school teams, it is commonplace for a baseball team to comprise a multitude of players, typically ranging from nine to fifteen individuals, in addition to one or more caretakers or mentors. As individuals advance to higher tiers, such as collegiate or professional baseball, the size of the team may diminish, yet the significance of guardians continues to remain steadfast.
Origins and Early History
The franchise that became the Cleveland Indians was founded in 1894 as the Grand Rapids Rustlers, a minor league club in the Western League. After the 1898 season, the team relocated to Cleveland and was renamed the Cleveland Lake Shores. The Western League itself was renamed the American League in 1900. In 1901, the American League broke away from the minor league status to declare itself a major league.
The Cleveland team was almost contracted by the American League after disappointing performances, but the owners changed the team’s name to the Cleveland Bluebirds in hopes of improving its fortunes. The ploy didn’t work, as the Bluebirds were almost equally unsuccessful. Before the 1915 season, the owners settled on a new nickname - the Cleveland Naps, in honor of star player Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie.
Becoming the Indians
In 1914, 35-year-old Lajoie was released from the team, and the Naps needed a new identity. The owners chose to rename the team the Indians at the start of the 1915 season. While the exact origins of the Indians name are unknown, it was likely influenced by the popularity of the 1914 Boston Braves team known as the “Miracle Braves” who surged from last place to win the World Series. The nickname may have been meant to instill a similar fighting spirit in the club.
For the remainder of the 1910s, the Indians struggled near the bottom of the American League standings. It wasn’t until 1920 that the team finished with a winning record and made their first World Series appearance, losing to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Over the next few decades, the Indians experienced periodic ups and downs, winning the World Series in 1948 but otherwise remaining a predominantly mediocre team.
The team finally decided to move away from the Indians name after the 2021 season due to increasing controversy over its portrayal of Native Americans. The franchise has yet to announce its official new nickname.
Controversy Leading to Name Change
The Cleveland baseball team was known as the Cleveland Indians from 1915 to 2021. However, the name and logo depicting a Native American became increasingly controversial over the years.
There was growing criticism that using Native American names and imagery for sports teams was disrespectful and promoted harmful stereotypes. Many considered the logo, which featured a cartoonish and red-faced Native American, to be racist.
In 2020, amid nationwide racial justice protests, the team announced it would review the name. After meeting with Native American groups and conducting surveys, the team decided a name change was necessary.
In July 2021, the team announced it would change its name to the Cleveland Guardians, starting in the 2022 season. Guardians was chosen as a reference to the large Art Deco statues on the Hope Memorial Bridge near the team’s stadium.
The name change ended months of speculation and debate. While some fans were upset about abandoning the old name, many supported the change as a positive step toward inclusivity. The Guardians name and logos aim to better represent the city and honor its history.
Overall, the name change reflected growing awareness of Native American perspectives on sports mascots. After more than 100 years as the Indians, the team is entering a new era focused on unity rather than division.
Meaning and Significance of the Guardians Name
The Cleveland Guardians name refers to the well-known Art Deco statues that stand on the Hope Memorial Bridge leading to downtown Cleveland. Known as the Guardians of Traffic, these monumental sculptures have become iconic symbols of the city.
The name Guardians reflects the close relationship between the baseball team and the identity of Cleveland. Just as the Guardians of Traffic stand as protectors at the gateway to the city, the Cleveland Guardians baseball team represents a sense of pride and protection for the city.
History of the Guardians of Traffic
The Guardians of Traffic are monumental sculptures created by sculptor Henry Hering and architectural sculptor Frank Walker in the Art Deco style. The sculptures were installed on the Hope Memorial Bridge in 1932.
Each of the four pylons at the corners of the bridge contains a 17-foot tall winged figure representing modes of transportation - cars, trains, ships, and aeroplanes. The figures appear to be in motion, moving forward as guardians watching over the city.
Meaning for the Baseball Team
By taking on the Guardians name, the baseball team establishes a powerful connection to Cleveland’s identity. Just as the Art Deco sculptures stand as iconic protectors of the city, the baseball team aims to represent Cleveland’s resilience and pride.
The meaning of the name reminds the community that sports teams can be symbols that bring people together. The Guardians want to be viewed not just as a sports franchise but as pioneers helping to safeguard the spirit of Cleveland.
The Guardians of Traffic are beloved civic monuments representing Cleveland’s heritage. By sharing the Guardians name, the baseball team aspires to become a monument in its own right - one that unites community spirit and fuels civic pride.
Notable Team Moments and Players
World Series wins in 1920 and 1948
The Cleveland Indians have won the World Series championship twice in their long history, in 1920 and 1948.
In 1920, the Indians defeated the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers) in 7 games to capture their first World Series title. The team was led by player-manager Tris Speaker and pitching ace Stan Coveleski, who won three games in the series. This was the first World Series appearance for the Indians franchise.
The Indians had to wait 28 years until their next championship in 1948. This team was led by player-manager Lou Boudreau and featured pitching great Bob Feller. They defeated the Boston Braves in six games in the World Series, with pitcher Gene Bearden winning two critical games. The 1948 championship team is best remembered for winning a one-game playoff against the Boston Red Sox to reach the World Series.
Great players like Lajoie, Feller, Doby
The Indians have featured some of baseball’s all-time greatest players on their roster.
Nap Lajoie played for the Indians (then called the Naps) from 1902-1914 and was one of the best hitters in the game’s history. He won multiple batting titles with a career .339 average and 3,242 hits. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.
Bob Feller pitched for the Indians from 1936-1956 and set numerous strikeout records, including 348 strikeouts in 1946. His fastball was considered one of the fastest in history. Feller missed nearly four seasons due to World War II military service but still finished with 266 wins and 2,581 strikeouts. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962.
Larry Doby broke the American League’s color barrier in 1947 when he made his debut with the Indians, becoming the AL’s first black player. A seven-time All-Star, Doby played with the Indians until 1955. He hit over .300 four times and led the AL in home runs twice while with Cleveland.
Current stars like Ramírez, Bieber, Kwan
Today’s Indians feature some of the game’s best young talents.
José Ramírez has developed into one of baseball’s top all-around players, excelling both at the plate and defensively at third base. He’s a four-time All-Star who has finished in the top three in AL MVP voting three times. Ramírez has hit over .300 in four seasons with the Indians.
Pitcher Shane Bieber emerged as the Indians ace in recent years, winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2020 after leading the league in ERA, wins and strikeouts. He’s been one of the AL’s most dominant starters when healthy.
Rookie Steven Kwan was one of baseball’s biggest surprises in 2022, finishing fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting. He displayed stellar defense, speed, plate discipline and contact skills while batting .298. Kwan looks to be the Indians center fielder of the future.
The Indians have boasted many great teams and players throughout their 120-year history, with champions and legends playing in Cleveland. The current squad features impressive young talents aiming to lead the franchise back to World Series glory.
V. Fan Traditions and Ballpark Atmosphere
Tom Hamilton’s iconic “It’s a long drive… Gone!” HR call
One of the most iconic traditions for Cleveland Indians fans is radio announcer Tom Hamilton’s signature home run call. When an Indians player hits a home run, Hamilton excitingly exclaims “It’s a long drive… Gone!” drawing out the suspense before the big reveal. His emphatic voice rising in excitement is a thrilling moment for every fan listening. Hamilton has been the radio voice of the Indians since 1990 and his HR calls are etched in the memories of generations of fans. His dramatic home run calls perfectly capture the emotion when one of the Tribe’s sluggers crushes one out of the park.
The experience of a game at Progressive Field
Going to a Cleveland Indians game at Progressive Field is an immersive baseball experience. The downtown ballpark opened in 1994, ushering in a new era after decades at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Progressive Field features statue tributes to Indians legends like Bob Feller and Larry Doby. Fans roam around the concession stands on the main concourse, which provide an incredible selection of Cleveland-style food like Polish boys, Bertman mustard and Sweet Moses ice cream. The standing room Drink Rails above the bullpens are a popular spot to watch the game while enjoying local craft beers. When the Indians take the field, fans cheer loudly with every hit, and the drum beats steadily from the bleachers. The crowd buzzes with excitement for every pitch, as 40,000 fans beam with Cleveland pride at every game. The atmosphere is electric, with the sights, sounds and smells of the ballpark creating lifelong memories.
The Cleveland baseball franchise has undergone numerous transformations throughout its 120-year history, but has always remained an important source of civic pride. From early beginnings as the Lake Shores and Bluebirds to the more enduring Indians name, the team strove to represent the spirit of Cleveland. While the Indians moniker was controversial, the new Guardians identity connects the team to the city’s beloved public artworks. Just as Cleveland rallied around past stars like Feller, Doby and Lajoie, today’s fans embrace new young talents like Ramírez, Bieber and Kwan. Despite ups and downs on the field, the team continues cherished traditions like Tom Hamilton’s dramatic home run calls and the electric atmosphere at Progressive Field. As the franchise moves into a new era as the Guardians, the exceptional history is never forgotten. The team’s new name ushers in a modern identity while still honoring the passion of generations of Clevelanders. Though the name is new, the Guardians remain devoted to showcasing their city’s character and bringing fans together. The team stands as a proud civic monument, guarding the spirit of Cleveland for years to come.