Remember that 1995 World Series? David Justice’s home run? Tom Glavine’s unyielding presence on the mound? The Braves most shining moment when Marquis Grissom gloved the last fly ball, overcoming the Cleveland Guardians?
OK, adjust the horizonal hold on your memory ever so slightly. Some will recall the Cleveland team bearing another nickname at the time, not that it really matters. The glory of the moment hereabouts, the everlasting significance of Atlanta’s first professional championship in any of the Big Three sports, remains unchanged.
On Friday, Cleveland the franchise made good on its vow to drop the other name it brought to Atlanta back then – “Indians.” The announcement came complete with an over-the-top video narrated by Tom Hanks that made Cleveland the city sound like the most courageous, most enlightened address since Renaissance-period Florence.
Get over yourself, Cleveland. All you did was change the letterhead on your baseball team. You’re still in the Rust Belt and still nine back of the White Sox.
At the start of that ’95 World Series between Braves and Indians, a handful of protesters gathered outside the now long-leveled Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to decry the appropriation of Native American names and images for the amusement of the masses. They called it a World Series of Racism. The fans streamed by them with scarcely a notice, ready to tomahawk chop on command. The games went on. They always do.
Here it is 26 years later, and one of the two teams targeted by the protest eventually has gotten around to dropping the offensive nickname. Granted, the name Cleveland replaced it with – Guardians – seems like a shotgun marriage between baseball and Marvel Comics. But at least it doesn’t caricaturize a race of people. Who’s going to get mad at Guardians, school crossing guards?
As for the Braves, they seem only slightly closer to winning another World Series then they are to a name change. From the Braves’ corporate tribal council came a defiant statement to season ticket holders just last year: “We will always be the Atlanta Braves.”
But gird yourself, all those who hold the memory of Chief Noc-A-Homa dear, the day will come. There will not always be the Atlanta Braves.
As one team after another bends to the very rational idea that team nicknames have no need to be even microscopically controversial, a certain inevitability gains speed. The dominoes do fall.
As it has come to the Washington Football Team and the Cleveland Guardians, so will change come to Seminoles in Tallahassee, Blackhawks in Chicago, Chiefs in Kansas City and Braves in Atlanta.
When Larry Dolan bought the Cleveland baseball team in late 1999, not only did he have no problems with the Indians nickname, Dolan said he was untroubled by the team’s cartoonish, patently offensive image of Chief Wahoo that accompanied the name. But the glacier of change on this topic eventually caught up with him. First the Chief went away, and, in 2022, so will the Indians. And that glacier still grinds away.
If it helps, try practicing an outlook of casual indifference to nicknames in general that will aid in the unescapable transition to come.
Try to keep in mind that it’s the game, not the name. The players and the competition and the drama of the moment define our most cherished sporting memories, not the pen name the team uses in authoring them.
Freddie Freeman would still be just as easy to cheer for in Atlanta under any other nickname (although I can’t help worrying that he’ll soon be working as a Padre or a Red Stocking or some other already established, non-ethnic brand).
If you must fixate on a symbol, look to the “A” on the cap, the representation of the city that comes together behind its baseball team. Everything else is a corporate logo, some variation of that frightening, creepy Burger King.
As for those who hang on to the notion that the Braves nickname is an important part of their personal history, well, no it isn’t. It’s someone else’s history. We just borrowed it and trivialized it.
Personally, the Braves handle doesn’t move me much either way. I’m certainly not going to take to the ramparts to defend it. If we can just realize that there is so much else to spend our anger on than an anachronistic nickname, this will all go a lot easier.
More than a quarter of a century ago as the Braves and Indians played in the face of light resistance, it was impossible to foresee even one of those teams changing a name that had been in place since the early 1900s.
So, 26 years from now, will Atlanta’s baseball team still be called the Braves? Not a chance. So, begin preparing yourself.