The Woke and Bob Feller In Cleveland
By Joe Guzzardi
Last week, the perpetually offended scored another big win. The venerable Cleveland Indians announced that next year their nickname will be the “Guardians,” a reference to two large landmark stone edifices near Progressive Field. For the woke, the triumph isn’t quite on the scale of tumbling down or defacing statues of America’s founding fathers, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, but the symbolism is identical.
Indians’ management claims that polling found that the Indians name generated deep dissatisfaction among its fan base. Maybe, but skeptics would like to see who was polled, and how the questions were phrased. In all probability, those questioned were progressive whites who are affronted with almost everything about America’s past. Leading the anti-Indians charge was MLB’s meddlesome and super-woke commissioner, Rob Manfred. In a saccharine-sweet social media video complete with melodramatic music, Hollywood pitchman Tom Hanks introduced the Guardians.
On the Indians official website, the chief executives’ biographies appear. Paul Dolan, owner, chairman and chief executive officer has a University of Notre Dame J.D. degree. The second in command, Chris Antonetti, president of baseball operations, is a Georgetown University business administration magna cum laude graduate with a master’s degree in sports management from the University of Massachusetts.
Third in the Indians hierarchy, Brian Barren, is a Princeton University alum whose thesis analyzed MLB’s integration. After more than a year of brainstorming, in consultation with other high-powered Clevelanders, and checking in with focus groups, the extraordinarily well-educated Indians management could do no better than rebranding the team the “Guardians.” Only a herculean effort could produce a dumber name.
Some Indians fans hoped that management would reach back into the team’s deep, often unhappy past, and revive the “Spiders.” In 1899, the Spiders logged the worst record in baseball history, 20-134, a dismal performance that included losing 40 of 41 consecutive games. Other names the Indians could have selected, each better than the Guardians, include the old Cleveland-based Negro League teams: the Stars, the Elites or the Hornets.
The Indians have produced some of baseball’s greatest players, including Hall of Fame members Satchel Paige, Larry Doby, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Tris Speaker and Bob Feller. One wonders what their take on the Guardians would be – an educated guess is that they would strongly oppose eliminating the Indians, and political correctness in general.
Take Feller, a no-non-sense guy. Feller, an unadulterated patriot, would have been unlikely to immediately enlist in the Navy for World War II if he knew that 44 months later, he’d return to a woke America.
On December 7, 1942, Feller, in his spanking brand-new Buick Century with all the available extras – a heater and a radio – was driving toward Chicago to sign his new contract. At 24, Feller had notched 107 wins, and big money awaited him. Then, over the radio, Feller heard the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Feller drove on, and on December 9 enlisted in the Navy at a Chicago recruiting office, the first professional athlete to sign up for World War II combat.
When Feller looked back at his war experiences as gun captain, he said that he was constantly surrounded by scares and tragedies. The worst, Feller recalled, didn’t occur in battle, but rather when the USS Alabama was caught in week-long Typhoon Cobra whose 180 mph winds sunk three U.S. destroyers. The choppy waves made refueling impossible. More than 800 American sailors drowned or were eaten by sharks after their ships capsized in the storm. During his service, Feller earned six campaign ribbons and eight battle stars. Ironically, because he was attending to his cancer-stricken, dying father, Feller had a military deferment.
Not only did Feller pass up the big money that his 1943 contract offered him, but he sacrificed nearly four years of his pitching career. About players who served in the two World Wars and Korea, fans speculate what they might have achieved had they not lost key baseball years fighting to protect their country. Ralph Winnie, a Seattle baseball statistician, calculated that Feller would have won 107 more games which would have brought his career total up from 266 to 373, notched 1,070 additional strikeouts up to 3,651, pitched five no-hitters instead of three, and 19 one-hitters instead of 12.
Feller and the other Indians greats are fading from memory, and wokeness is accelerating their disappearance. The Indians have thrilled or disappointed Cleveland fans for 115 years, but Indians – deemed “racist” to the woke – had to go. Dolan said that an “epiphany” motivated his decision to rebrand the Indians as the Guardians. But Dolan is listening to the wrong people. Feller was often asked what his greatest win was. Instead of answering that moment came when he threw an Opening Day no hitter, Feller unhesitatingly replied, “World War II.” Defending America, her history and her greatness was Feller’s proudest accomplishment. If they would only heed history’s lessons, therein lies a valuable lesson for the Indians’ management and the wokesters. Tearing things down is easy; building, tough.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and an Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.