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to the Cleveland Indians organization, its mascot, Chief Wahoo, was not created
to offend American Indians, but to honor them. The team says both the team name
and Chief Wahoo pay homage to an early baseball player, Louis Sockalexis, one of
the first American Indians to play professional baseball.
Born in 1871 on a Maine reservation, Sockalexis rose to become a college
baseball superstar at Holy Cross and Notre Dame.
Then called the Cleveland Spiders, the professional National League organization
signed Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian, in 1897. His first season, Sockalexis
batted .338 with eight triples and 16 stolen bases.
Racism wasn’t a stranger to the baseball stadiums. Spectators would shout racial
slurs and emulate war dances at him when he was up at bat.
Later that year, his promising career was cut short by an ankle injury, which
occurred when a drunk Sockalexis jumped from a second-story window at a party.
The injury forced him to an occasional appearance onCleveland’s lineup for the
next two seasons. His baseball career was over by age 27.
The injury prompted press reports to cite another American Indian stereotype —
alcohol abuse — as the reason his career ended.
In 1915, two years after Sockalexis died at age 42, theCleveland team — no
longer called the Spiders but the Naps — changed its name to the Cleveland
The ballclub maintains that the name change was to honor Sockalexis, though
critics doubt the motive.
In 1948, the Indians’ owner at the time, Bill Veeck, commissioned a 17-year-old
named Walter Goldbach to design a mascot. The result: an orange-faced Indian
with a large nose and big teeth later dubbed Chief Wahoo.
The image underwent several revisions in the next several decades in an attempt
to quell complaints from American Indians that the caricature was racist.
In 1973, then-owner Nick Mileti asked for another revision to give Chief Wahoo a
more politically correct look. That logo lasted for almost 10 years before more
revisions eventually paved the way to the current Chief Wahoo.