This Day in Baseball History: January 17th, 1915

In honor of whom?

On January 17, 1915:

The Cleveland Naps changed their name to the Cleveland Indians.

Previously known as such things as the Spiders, Blues, and Broncos, the Cleveland team changed its name to the Naps when future Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie arrived in 1903. Following the disastrous 1914 season, the team sold Lajoie back to Philadelphia, and therefore, they needed a new name. Owner Charles Somers called on the journalists of the city to come up with a new nickname. On January 17, 1915, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Cleveland Leader both announced the writers selected “Indians” to be the new name of the team, and it stuck, even though it may have been meant to be temporary.

Why did they choose “Indians”? Well, that’s up for some debate. The main story seems to be that the writers selected the name in honor of Louis Sockalexis, who was the first Native American to play in the majors and played in Cleveland from 1897-1899. Supposedly during Sockalexis’ time in Cleveland, they were informally called the Indians.

The other theory is that the writers chose the name in reference to the Boston Braves, who had just completed a worst-to-first march that started with them in last on July 4th and ended with a World Series sweep and were consequently called the “Miracle Braves”. After just suffering a franchise-high 102 losses, the writers looked to encourage the 1915 team that had just lost Najoie.

Which is right? I’m not entirely sure. Neither paper has the story in archives, so I have to go off of secondary sources. The second story seems more plausible, however, even though the official Indians site says it’s the first. I’m not sure that era would have given too many honors to Native Americans, especially to one that played 94 games in 3 seasons (although he played fairly well). I’ll try to work some email magic and see if I can’t get a more definite answer.

Regardless of which reasoning is correct, the Indians name is under some scrutiny. Recent controversies stem over the use of Native American names for sports teams. Thinking about it, that might be the reason that the Indians site has that story. They get to keep their name because they are actually “honoring” Sockalexis and not just trying to encourage their team. I hate to think of it that way, but it’s plausible.


2 Responses to “This Day in Baseball History: January 17th, 1915”

  1. The Common Man Says:

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with the name, just that abomination of a mascot. And don’t get me started on the Redskins.

  2. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    What about the Redskins?

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