Are Past Cleveland Baseball Players Former Indians or Former Guardians? Reporters, the Franchise and Baseball Hall of Fame Weigh In

The only right answer - PHOTO BY VINCE GRZEGOREK
Photo by Vince Grzegorek
The only right answer

How should we refer to past Cleveland MLB players?

It is a question that, while posed frequently enough, doesn't actually require an answer. It's easy enough, after all, to avoid having to call them anything specific with regard to the franchise name. Kenny Lofton is simply the legendary centerfielder. Bob Feller the former Cleveland pitcher. Ryan Garko the onetime DH. Jim Thome the franchise leader in homeruns. Etc.

But it's a question that some will have to produce an answer for.

Scene inquired with venerable local sports reporter Tom Withers, who by reason of working for the Associated Press and abiding by all its style standards, seemed like a good place to start.

"I haven’t checked with editors," he said, "but inclination would be to call them former Indians players as that was the team’s name while they were here."

Simple enough, but this isn't a team renamed because of relocation or the whims of a new owner where the reference doesn't carry meaning beyond a simple choice. The Indians moniker was jettisoned, not long after the red-face Sambo Chief Wahoo mascot, because it was a racist name that dehumanized Native Americans.

The Washington Football Team is the only professional analog here, and if it doesn't make sense to use the Redskins name in any way, doesn't the same hold true for the Indians?

The Athletic's Zack Meisel, who is also the chair of the local Baseball Writers Assocation of America chapter, has and will continue opting to avoid the question all together.

"To avoid any confusion or angry emails, I've tried to simply use Cleveland where it makes sense," he said.

While that approach is all well and good for reporters and those writing about the team, the franchise itself and the institutions that catalog the history of the game are in a slightly different boat, especially when talking about players predating the switch to the Indians name in 1915.

"The example I can't shake is Nap Lajoie," Meisel said. "He played for the Cleveland Naps, literally named after him. They switched to Indians when he left. So, it would seem really strange to refer to him as a former Indian, or Guardian."

The Baseball Hall of Fame, for one, has to pick something, both for early franchise players and those from the most recent name era who are honored in the museum.

"The Hall of Fame will make a number of adjustments to accommodate Cleveland’s name change," Jon Shestakofsky, the Hall's VP of Communications told Scene.

These will include:

- Within the Museum, our website and publications, we will talk about players within their historical context, so references to players appearing with Cleveland before the name change will still be referred to as Indians, while post-name change references will reflect the Guardians.

- The “Your Team Today” exhibit within the Museum includes lockers representing recent artifacts acquired by the Hall of Fame that tell the stories of each of the 30 major league teams. The team graphic on the Cleveland locker will be updated this winter to reflect the change.

- When the Guardians begin play in 2022, the Museum and Library will document the name change with artifacts and ephemera reflective of the name change.

- In keeping with past name changes, we will continue to list the Indians as the primary teams for Hall of Famers who played the majority of their careers prior to the name change, but will add the Guardians to our list of primary Hall of Famer teams when a player whose career took place primarily in the era of the Guardians reaches the Hall of Fame.

As for the franchise itself, Curtis Danburg told Scene that this is how they will treat the subject, including an answer to Meisel's Lajoie conundrum:

Safest play is obviously Cleveland (AL) for historical reference to cover all names since 1901.

Also, if you’re providing historical organization overview use Guardians.
Example: Nap Lajoie has the most hits in Guardians franchise history (Lajoie never played for Indians).

If a former player was entirely a member of the Indians - Refer to them as a former Indians player.

In the future, if a former player played entirely as a member of the Guardians – Refer to them as a former Guardians player.

In the future, if a former player played on both Indians/Guardians – refer to them as former Indians/Guardians player.

Scene hopes this has been helpful. 
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