Chief Wahoo was, until 2018, a logo of the Cleveland Indians, a Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise based in Cleveland, Ohio. As part of the larger Native American mascot controversy, it drew criticism from many people including Native Americans, social scientists, and religious and educational groups, but remains popular among many fans of the Cleveland Indians baseball team. On January 29, 2018, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and Indians' owner Paul Dolan announced that Chief Wahoo would no longer appear on uniforms or stadium signs following the end of the 2018 season. In March 2018, Chief Wahoo was barred from future Hall of Fame plaques, starting with the induction of former Indian Jim Thome. Merchandise featuring the logo will still be available at the Indians' ballpark and retail stores in Ohio, but will no longer be sold on the league's website. The team's primary logo is now a block "C".
The Chief Wahoo logo was last worn by the Indians in a loss to the Houston Astros on October 8, 2018 in the 2018 American League Division Series. News outlets noted the irony of the logo's final appearance being on Indigenous Peoples' Day/Columbus Day.
In 1932, the front page of the Plain Dealer featured a cartoon by Fred George Reinert that used a caricatured Native American character with a definite resemblance to the later Chief Wahoo as a stand-in for the Cleveland Indians winning an important victory. The character came to be called "The Little Indian," eventually becoming a fixture in the paper's coverage of the team, including a small front-page visual box where his head would peek out to announce the outcome of the latest game. Journalist George Condon would write in 1972, "When the baseball club decided to adopt an Indian caricature as its official symbol, it hired an artist to draw a little guy who came very close to Reinert's creation; a blood brother, unquestionably."
In 1947, Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck hired the J.F. Novak Company, designers of patches worn by the Cleveland police and fire departments, to create a new logo for his team. Seventeen-year-old draftsman Walter Goldbach, an employee of the Novak Company, was asked to perform the job. Tasked with creating a mascot that "would convey a spirit of pure joy and unbridled enthusiasm", he created a smiling face with yellow skin and a prominent nose. Goldbach has said that he had difficulty "figuring out how to make an Indian look like a cartoon", and that he was probably influenced by the cartoon style that was popular at the time.
The phrase "Chief Wahoo" had already been used for years before its use as a reference to the Indian's mascot. There was a popular newspaper comic strip called “Big Chief Wahoo” that ran from 1936 to 1947.
Native American player, Louis Sockalexis, was an outfielder for the Indian's predecessors the Cleveland Spiders. He is one of the first Native Americans to play Major League Baseball. Questionable origin myth indicates that the names Indians and Chief Wahoo were meant to honor him. The Penobscot, Louis Sockalexis' tribe, petitioned the Cleveland Indians to discontinue the use of Chief Wahoo.
Also Native American baseball player, Allie Reynolds, pitched for the Indians for five years, beginning in 1942, mostly as a starter. He was later traded to the New York Yankees. On October 6, 1950, the Plain Dealer, under the title of “Chief Wahoo Whizzing,” stated “Allie (Chief Wahoo) Reynolds, the copper-skinned Creek” lost to Philadelphia, but “in the clutches, though, the Chief was a standup gent—tougher than Sitting Bull.” In subsequent articles, he is called “Chief Wahoo,” “old Wahoo,” and just plain “Wahoo.” In 1952, for the first time “Chief Wahoo” was given as the name for the Indians’ physical mascot, when a person in a Wahoo costume shows up for a kids’ party at Public Hall given by “Cleveland’s dentists.”
Sportswriters would eventually take to calling the unnamed character "Chief Wahoo". Goldbach has said that the logo's moniker is inaccurate. Quoting a child he met while talking at a school, Goldbach explained in a 2008 interview, "He's not a chief, he's a brave. He only has one feather. Chiefs have full headdresses."
In 1951, the mascot was redesigned with a smaller nose and red skin instead of yellow skin. This red skin logo also appeared in 1948 and 1949. This logo has remained in use ever since, with only minor changes to the design. In the 1950s, the logo had black outlines and red skin; today the logo has blue lines and red skin. After its introduction, the face of the 1951 logo was incorporated into other, full-body depictions of the character.
Ohio sportswriter Terry Pluto has described comics of Chief Wahoo that would run on the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in the 1950s, with the character's depiction signifying the outcome of yesterday's game. Wins were illustrated by Chief Wahoo holding a lantern in one hand and extending the index finger on his other. Losses were illustrated by a "battered" Chief Wahoo, complete with black eye, missing teeth, and crumpled feathers.
By 1973, when Cleveland businessman Nick Mileti bought the baseball team, the team had introduced additional depictions of Chief Wahoo, some of which showed the character at bat. Mileti hired a designer named Leonard Benner to modify an existing at-bat design for use as a logo. Several changes were made: Wahoo's nose was made smaller, his body thinner, and he was now drawn as a right-handed batter instead of left-handed. Overall, however, the design of Chief Wahoo remained largely similar to the previous version. These modifications, however, heralded other changes to the team's use of Indian-themed imagery, such as the removal of a teepee from the outfield area. The 1973 logo is no longer used by the team.
When the Cleveland Indians installed a new computer-programmed scoreboard in 1977, newspaper articles described how it could display animated depictions of Chief Wahoo yelling "Charge!" By the 1978 season home runs were celebrated with fireworks and a scoreboard animation of Chief Wahoo dancing. The complete package of commissioned animations included an arrow skewering two players to signify a double-play.
During his tenure as President of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, Peter Bavasi asked players how the team's uniforms should look. Bavasi has described Joe Carter and Pat Tabler suggesting that Chief Wahoo be added to the hats, with Tabler predicting that it would "sell like crazy". Bavasi recalls expressing concern that it would offend Native American groups, but that player Bert Blyleven reassured him, "Nah, it shouldn't. Really looks like [manager] Phil Seghi." Blyleven made a similar remark to Sports Illustrated, and the magazine described the resemblance as "uncanny". Tabler's prediction was ultimately borne out, with hat sales increasing significantly after the reintroduction of Chief Wahoo. The revised hat design has been described as a change "in keeping with Major League Baseball's trend toward 'old-style' simulacra."
Around the time Bavasi added Chief Wahoo to the team's hats in 1986, he also banned "derogatory" banners at the stadium. The elimination of references to Cleveland on the uniforms, including replacing the old style hats with Chief Wahoo, led to speculation that the team might be moved to another city ("Cleveland" was omitted on road jerseys from 1972-77 and 1983-88; from 1978-82, the city name was on the road grays, but the team often wore navy jerseys with the team name instead of the city name for many road games).
Move to Jacobs Field
In 1994, the Indians moved from the Cleveland Municipal Stadium to Jacobs Field (later renamed Progressive Field). The team considered replacing the logo in 1993, but it was ultimately retained. Several years later, the Associated Press reported that the Chief Wahoo debate had not hurt the team's souvenir sales, which at the time were better than those of any other team in the league.
From 1962 through 1994, a 28-foot (8.5 m)-tall, neon-lit sign of Chief Wahoo at bat stood above Gate D of Cleveland Municipal Stadium. When the stadium was demolished, the neon sign was donated to the Western Reserve Historical Society. Working with the original blueprints, and the help of $50,000 in donations, the historical society refurbished the sign and it is displayed today in the group's museum. Anonymous donors have since provided funds to support maintenance work that allows the sign to remain lit.
According to a senior vice president and historian at the Western Reserve Historical Society, the acquisition of a 28-foot (8.5 m)-tall neon Chief Wahoo sign was debated for several reasons. Among them was the belief that it was "hugely negative for a portion of the population". Ultimately, the historical society decided that "history is history. This sign is a point in a major American issue, which is racial caricature. Some people have a problem with it, some people don't. It's important because it not only represents the rich history of baseball in Cleveland, it gets into a really deep issue in American history." The sign is displayed with written materials that show several points of view; these include "The Legacy of Racism Continues", "Chief Wahoo: Brief History of a Civic Icon", and "Enthusiasm! That's Chief Wahoo!"
Battle flag over USS Cleveland
For many years, USS Cleveland flew a battle flag featuring the Chief Wahoo logo. The time and circumstances under which the flag were first flown are not known, but the flag was retired in 2006 and presented to former Cleveland pitcher and World War II US Navy veteran Bob Feller. The flag had previously flown over center field at Cleveland Stadium.
Use during spring training
In 2009, the Cleveland Indians moved their spring training operations from Winter Haven, Florida to Goodyear, Arizona. During the years the team trained in Florida, Chief Wahoo was displayed on a municipal water tower there. The Chief Wahoo mural had been touched up at least once in 1993, but because of the team's impending move the town did not bother to repaint the logo when it eventually faded. Due of the expense of repainting the water tower, the logo remained there for several years after the team last trained in Florida. It was not until 2012 that Chief Wahoo was finally replaced with a logo for Polk State College.
Chief Wahoo creator Walter Goldbach and his wife spent 15 winters living in Winter Haven, Florida. During the spring training season, he would work with the team when they conducted tours. Goldbach later retired from his career as an artist, and medical issues prevented him from drawing in the last few years of his life. He died in December 2017, at the age of 88.
Merchandise and promotional tie-ins
One early piece of Chief Wahoo merchandise depicts a squatting Native American figure holding a stone tool in one hand a scalp in the other. Produced in 1949 by Rempel Manufacturing, Inc., of Akron, Ohio, the rubber Indian figure (marketed as "Big Chief Erie") was based on an original sketch by Cleveland Plain Dealer cartoonist Fred G. Reinert.
On the 100th anniversary of the Cleveland Indians, the team gave away blankets that depicted the various incarnations of Chief Wahoo. In 2011, the team gave away free T-shirts with a picture of a heart, a peace sign, and Chief Wahoo. The West Side Leader of Akron, Ohio declared this design "a lot better than the previous freebie shirt, which featured representations of three racing hot dogs".
In 2005, the team partnered with a candy maker to produce a Chief Wahoo chocolate bar. The name "Wahoo Women" has been used for a ladies night out promotion, and in 2013 the team ran a "Wahoo Wednesdays" promotion with Domino's Pizza.
When Major League Baseball released a line of hats fashioned to resemble team mascots, a writer for Yahoo! Sports observed that the league had "wisely passed over fashioning Chief Wahoo into a polyester conversation piece". Although Chief Wahoo was the logo for the Cleveland Indians, the official team mascot is a character named Slider. Major League Baseball does in fact sell a hat shaped to resemble Slider, who himself wears a Chief Wahoo hat.
A 1999 editorial reported annual revenue of $1.5 million from sales of licensed merchandise, and $15 million from sales at official team shops. An interview subject in a 2006 documentary on Chief Wahoo estimated that the logo brings in over $20 million per year.
Depiction on Cleveland uniforms
Although the club had adopted the name "Indians" starting with the 1915 season, there was no acknowledgment of this nickname on their uniforms until 1928. In the years between the team's 1901 formation and the 1927 season, uniforms contained variations on a stylized "C" or the word "Cleveland" (excepting the 1921 season, when the front of the club's uniform shirts read "Worlds [sic] Champions"). According to baseball historians, the 1928 season saw modified club uniforms whose left breast bore a patch depicting the profile of a headdress-wearing American Indian. In 1929, a smaller version of that same patch migrated to the home uniform sleeve, where similar incarnations of the early design remained through 1938. The online gallery of historical Cleveland uniforms does not accurately depict the evolution of the pre-Wahoo logo, a cartoon depiction of a man in a warbonnet, drawn in profile. Sportswriter Patrick Hruby, writing for ESPN, described an early photograph featuring these uniforms as "a far cry from Chief Wahoo and other grinning caricatures".
For 1939 the club wore the Baseball Centennial patch on the sleeve. Various other patches were worn for the next few years, none of them featuring Native American caricatures. In 1946, the last year before Chief Wahoo's introduction, both the home and road shirts featured a City of Cleveland Sesquicentennial patch.
In 1947, home and road uniforms began featuring the first incarnation of Chief Wahoo. The new Chief Wahoo logo, a caricature drawn from a three-quarter perspective, supplanted the earlier profile drawings. A redesigned Chief Wahoo caricature appeared on the uniform shirt sleeve starting in 1951. Uniform designs have varied in the years since, but the 1951 Chief Wahoo design has been used in most years since then. Exceptions include the 1972 uniform, which featured no Chief Wahoo logo, and the 1973 through 1978 uniforms, which featured a modified logo in which Chief Wahoo is depicted at bat. Chief Wahoo was featured on Cleveland hats from 1951 through 1958, and returned to Cleveland's hats in 1986.[dead link] The 1986 change followed an increase in the size of the logo on uniforms sleeves in 1983. As of 2013, Chief Wahoo was featured on every variation of the team's uniforms.
On January 29, 2018, the Cleveland Indians announced they will remove the Chief Wahoo logo from the team's on-the-field baseball caps and jerseys starting in the 2019 season. On March 21, 2019, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York released statement announcing that Chief Wahoo will no longer be featured on future Hall of Fame plaques, starting with newly inducted Jim Thome as an Indian. The Chief Wahoo logo was last worn by the Indians in an 11–3 loss to the Houston Astros on October 8, 2018 in the 2018 American League Division Series. Coincidentally, the game fell on Indigenous Peoples' Day.
In recent years, the Indians have also introduced alternative logos: A block-letter "C," a script-letter "I," and the word "Indians" written in script. In 2014, the organization officially changed the primary logo away from Chief Wahoo to the recently introduced Block-C. Previously, Cleveland Indians spokesman Bob DiBiasio had described the block-C logo as alternative to Chief Wahoo: "We have added a logo, the block C, recently in addition to the Wahoo logo and the script 'Indians'. Fans of the team have alternative ways to express their support." In 2002, DiBiasio described an Indians hat with the letter "I" in similar terms, as official merchandise that provides an alternative without Chief Wahoo. Owner Larry Dolan had said the alternative logos are "another marketing tool" and "it's not true" that they are a means of phasing out Chief Wahoo. The Encyclopedia of Sports Management and Marketing has described the new hats and team mascot Slider as "an effort to distance the franchise from the controversy".
Notable uses of alternate logos
The use of these alternative logos has at times proved newsworthy. In 1994, when President Bill Clinton threw the first pitch at Jacobs Field, he wore a hat with the letter-C logo worn from 1978-85 instead of Chief Wahoo. A White House aide described the decision as one taken "in recognition of the sensitivities" involved, and it spurred public debate on the issue of Native American names and images in sports. One critic accused Clinton of "an apparent attempt to appease his 'politically correct' constituency".
When Cleveland played Baltimore in the 2007 "Civil Rights Game" in Memphis, logos were removed from uniforms for both teams during that games. This caused some sportswriters to assert that the office of the Major League Baseball commissioner understood, "on some level, that Chief Wahoo is the wrong message". The controversy was heightened by Memphis' location on the Trail of Tears. The president of the Faraway Cherokees in Memphis said, "My family was on the Trail of Tears. We feel offended that they would bring a team here called the Indians. It's racist. We aren't gone."
In 2013, the Chief Wahoo logo was also absent from merchandise sold at All-Star Game FanFest activities in New York City. The use of alternate logos on official merchandise led sportswriters to speculate that Major League Baseball was uncomfortable or cautious about using the Chief Wahoo logo. Major League Baseball's use of an alternate logo on its website has led to similar speculation.
Use during spring training
In 2009, when the Cleveland Indians moved their spring training operations to Goodyear, Arizona, the Chief Wahoo logo was not used on the outside of the local stadium where they practiced. The Chief Wahoo logo had been prominently displayed at the team's previous spring training facilities in Winter Haven, Florida. Explaining that Wahoo's absence from the city-owned Goodyear Ballpark had not been the team's decision, then-Cleveland-team-president Paul Dolan said, "It's not our ballpark. I would expect some sensitivity was involved, but ultimately it's the city's ballpark." A city spokesperson said that they were following Cleveland's marketing lead after the team used the script "I" logo on the player development complex in addition to the ballpark. Dolan said there was also "some sensitivity involved" with player development complex. The logo is also absent from team property and employee clothing in Arizona.
Cleveland sportswriter Paul Hoynes has written that the Chief Wahoo logo was not used in Goodyear "because of the heavy population of Native Americans in Arizona." According to the 2010 census, the Arizona population is 4.6% Native American or Alaska Native, compared to 0.4% in Florida and 0.2% in Ohio. Sportswriter Craig Calcaterra has described the issue more bluntly, saying that "in the southwest there is a much larger Indian population than there is back in Ohio and that not putting up a big racist, comically-exaggerated red-faced logo of an Indian is simply a matter of common courtesy." In 2013, Chief Wahoo was still used on the Cleveland Indians' spring training web page, where the logo is framed within the name of their host city, but has since been replaced.
"Stars and stripes" logo variant
In 2008, Major League Baseball introduced special caps with each team's cap logo woven into the "Stars and Stripes" that were worn during major American holidays. The Indians cap with Chief Wahoo emblazoned in stars and stripes was criticized by some sportswriters. In 2009 MLB redesigned the Indians "Stars and Stripes" cap with a "C" logo replacing Chief Wahoo.
Similar events played out several years later. In 2013, manufacturer New Era Cap Company released an image of a hat featuring a flag-themed Chief Wahoo to be worn by the team on the Fourth of July. According to a source at Major League Baseball, the image was mistakenly released because of a misunderstanding that all teams would be using their main logo. After news reports criticized the "short-sightedness of covering a Native American logo with stars and stripes", New Era removed the Chief Wahoo design and released an image of a flag-themed block-C logo hat that would be worn instead. Some sportswriters have speculated that the Chief Wahoo design may actually have been intended for use. Local alternative-news magazine The Cleveland Scene called it "the most offensive Cleveland Indians hat ever".
Folk art and fan art
Chief Wahoo has also appeared in numerous works of folk art and fan art. A 2002 decision by the US Department of Labor Employees' Compensation Appeals Board described the actions of a former letter carrier who claimed to have produced over 3,000 pieces of Chief Wahoo yard art, although she later said that claim was an exaggeration. The former letter carrier also produced Chief Wahoo clocks. In 2006, a likeness of Chief Wahoo took third place in a local sand sculpture competition, finishing behind sand sculpture versions of King Neptune and a man in a swimming pool.
In Meadville, Pennsylvania, the adult children of a 74-year-old Cleveland Indians fan hired a chainsaw artist named Brian Sprague to carve a 7-foot (2.1 m)-tall maple tree stump into a full-body statue of Chief Wahoo. In 2007, a Toledo, Ohio newspaper reported that an Oregon man intended to have a tree trunk carved into a depiction of Chief Wahoo at bat.
Elements of Chief Wahoo were incorporated into a collage that appeared in the Tribe Tract & Testimonial, a fanzine that is now collected at the Cleveland Public Library. In 2013, a Cleveland artist designed a T-shirt that combined Chief Wahoo's feather with imagery from the Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Cavaliers.
In 1987, Cleveland players Joe Carter and Cory Snyder were scheduled to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated posed in front of a stained-glass rendition of Chief Wahoo. However, the stained-glass logo was not ultimately used on the cover. The unused concept was described in a Los Angeles Times article that does not clearly state whether the stained-glass logo was an amateur or professional work. Fan artists have incorporated Chief Wahoo's likeness into stained glass pieces.
In 2011, artist Cyprien Gaillard installed Neon Indian, a 12-metre (39 ft), neon-outline Chief Wahoo replica atop the abandoned Haus der Statistik building in Berlin's Mitte district. The Wall Street Journal has said the project "combines a symbol of the American Rust Belt with a souvenir of Communist town planning", and is "meant to reflect on the broader subject of urban decline."
In another work, titled Indian Palace, Gaillard silkscreened the logo onto a salvaged window from East Berlin's demolished Palast der Republik. The work appeared in an exhibition whose curator described the piece in terms of power, hierarchies, and values: "The window panes have arrived as 'spoils' in Frankfurt. The term 'spoil' originally referred to the hide of an animal or the enemy's armor and was later extended to apply to old fragments of architecture. The Native American grinning through the shimmering glass brings to mind the constant change in power relations, hierarchies and values." In an article on Gaillard's work, Indian Country Today Media Network said that it is up to the viewer to decide "whether it is a clever re-imagining of a controversial symbol or merely a callous and harmful repetition."
As part of the Native American mascot controversy, Chief Wahoo has drawn particular criticism. However, the use of "Indians" as the name of a team is also part of the controversy that has led over 115 professional organizations representing civil rights, educational, athletic, and scientific experts to publish resolutions or policies that state that any use of Native American names or symbols by non-native sports teams is a harmful form of ethnic stereotyping that promotes misunderstanding and prejudice and contribute to other problems faced by Native Americans.
Opponents have been protesting and taking other actions against the name and logo since the 1970s. The team owners and management have defended their use as having no intent to offend, but rather to honor Native Americans, upholding many fans' beliefs and continued support. However, the use of Chief Wahoo was de-emphasized in favor of alternate logos. The logo was subsequently retired after the Indians' 2018 season, and "is no longer appropriate for on-field use", according to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. However, as to maintain their trademark on the logo, along with the words 'Tribe' and 'Wahoo', and prevent their dilution, the team continues to sell limited merchandise with Chief Wahoo, only in its physical team store.
- Native American name controversy
- Chief Noc-A-Homa
- List of sports team names and mascots derived from Indigenous peoples
- List of ethnic sports team and mascot names (all ethnicities)
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