The History of the Names of Cleveland Baseball Teams

This is part one of a series that will be coming out in the next week. It will cover the history of the Cleveland Indians name and logo, then the arguments for and against the same. This article will cover all the changes in the names of Cleveland baseball teams starting in 1871. While the subject can be considered a serious one, much of the discussion will be tongue-in-cheek, so don't take things too seriously.

Recent misplaced anger over the name of the Washington Redskins has brought up the idea of offensive sports teams and of course, the Indians and Chief Wahoo have been yet again been put under the microscope of popular opinion. Because of this, it seems as good of a time as any to discuss the history behind not only the Indians and the Chief, but all the incarnations of Cleveland Baseball.

  • 1871: The first professional Cleveland baseball team was the Forest Citys of the National Association. Of course, shortly after that all the trees had been cut down within the city of Cleveland so they had to disband after 1872.
  • 1879: The National League expanded to Cleveland with the Blues. The team was actually not named after the color of their jerseys as is often theorized, but the emotional state of the city over one hundred years in the future. 
  • 1887: The Blues disbanded in 1884, but the baseball couldn't stay out of Cleveland long as the Blues came back just three years later. This time they were in the American Association, but wouldn't be around to stay.
  • 1889: The Blues weren't around too long at all as the team had a name and league change to become the Cleveland Spiders of the National League after just two seasons. The Spiders, of course, were named after the first ever human-spider, Ed McKean, who gained super powers after being bitten by a tarantula with the vapors during Spring Training.
  • 1890: Some of the young players for the Spiders cried about not getting enough playing time so they left and joined the short lived Players League as the Cleveland Infants. The team only existed for a single season.
  • 1897: With the advent of MLB's first openly Native American baseball player, the Cleveland Spiders became unofficially, but almost exclusively known as the Indians. They were also referred to as Tebeau's Tribe (after manager Patsy Tebeau) and the Warriors as well.
  • 1899: All the greatest Spiders were sold to the St. Louis Perfectos (who became the Cardinals), including Hall of Famers Cy Young and Jesse Burkett. Louis "Chief" Sockalexis, the first American Indian professional baseball player, remained in Cleveland for his final season. This lead to the worst season by any baseball team in the history of the United States and the disbanding of the team at the end of the season.

After the Spiders were imploded, Cleveland took a year off to recover before starting over in 1901. In an act of selective memory, the new American League team decided not to include the Spiders and Blues in their team history, despite the fact that the Spiders didn't change cities, they were just disbanded. The new team was even named after the old team as the played the first year as the Cleveland Blues.

  • 1902: Continuing in the tradition of spelling errors in their team names, the Blues changed their moniker to the Bronchos for the 1902 season.
  • 1903: Napoleon Lajoie became Cleveland's first big signing as they made a big splash by stealing the best player in the league. To celebrate, they named the team after their new second baseman and manager and became known as the Naps until 1915.
  • 1915: Lajoie went back to Philadelphia to end his career where it started and Cleveland baseball was out of a name again. Rather than name the team the Cleveland Grannies (after Jack Graney), a poll in the Plain Dealer chose to name the team the Indians in honor of the first Native American to play professional baseball, Louis Sockalexis. 

The name has stayed since then, an amazing feat of consistency after running through seven names over the first 38 years. Almost constantly since then, the people who get offended by everything have been saying how offensive the name is and the people who worship history, despite not knowing it, continue to argue the other side.

Burning River Baseball will continue to delve deeper into this argument on both sides over the coming days so stay tuned for a brief history of logos and the presentation of arguments. This is a little out of our normal discussion of statistics and contracts, so stay tuned, things could get interesting.