The Cleveland Indians' season is over — and so is mascot Chief Wahoo's 71-year run
By JACOB BOGAGE | The Washington Post | Published: October 9, 2018
Chief Wahoo, the mascot of the Cleveland Indians, expired late Monday after his namesake baseball team was eliminated from the American League Division Series, swept in three games by the defending World Series champion Houston Astros.
Officially, Wahoo was 71 years old, though accounts vary on his exact age. Some baseball historians say the chief could have been as young as 66 or as old as 119. His demise had been inevitable since January, when Indians owner Paul Dolan and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred agreed the team would not use the Chief Wahoo Indian head logo after the 2018 season. The team turned instead to the "Block C," which had been the "primary mark" of the Indians since 2016.
The Wahoo logo "is no longer appropriate for on-field use," Manfred said in January.
Jim Thome, Cleveland's most recent inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame, asked that his plaque in Cooperstown, New York, not include the chief.
Wahoo was both beloved and reviled through his life, as either the familiar and affable face of a middling baseball team, or a racist caricature of an already marginalized Native American population.
Some critics, including the newspaper that helped create him, had called for the team to purge him years earlier. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's editorial board in 2014 called for a "clean break" from Wahoo.
One Indians fan for years donned intricate face paint and a fake Native American feather headdress to cheer on Cleveland as "Mr. Chief Wahoo." Players until recent years wore Wahoo's controversial face on ball caps and batting helmets. This season the team wore Wahoo only on its jersey sleeves.
He was also the frequent object of protests outside the Indians' home field. In 1998, a group of protesters was arrested for burning a three-foot-tall effigy of Wahoo outside the stadium before Cleveland's home opener. Protests continued annually on Opening Day; those will likely end with his demise.
One Indians fan in 2017 derided the demonstrators in front of the stadium, saying, "They need a hobby, like stringing beads."
By most accounts, Chief Wahoo was born nameless on May 3, 1942. An image of a young Indian carrying a dagger and ax appeared on the front page of the Plain Dealer after the ball club swept the Washington Senators in a two-game series.
After subsequent games, the cartoon — dubbed "the little Indian" by creator Fred George Reinert — continued to run, gaining popularity as a fun and easy way to keep up with the team's results. The comic ran for 30 years, according to Belt magazine.
Wahoo's official origin, though, came in 1947 when Indians owner Bill Veeck hired draftsman Walter Goldbach, just 17 at the time, to draw his team a new logo. Goldbach produced a cartoon Indian strikingly similar to the one Reinert published in the Plain Dealer and the one that lived for another several generations. It had yellow-orange skin, a toothy grin, a hanging nose and wide eyes with a single feather protruding from a headband.
Former Plain Dealer columnist George Condon called Reinert's cartoon and Goldbach's logo "blood brothers," according to Belt.
"Chief Wahoo" was already a common moniker for American Indians after the popular comic "Big Chief Wahoo." That name first appeared in print in relation to the baseball team on Oct. 6, 1950, lauding the performance of right-handed pitcher Allie Reynolds, a member of the Creek nation, whom Cleveland traded to the Yankees in 1946.
The Plain Dealer once called Reynolds "tougher than Sitting Bull."
A year later, the team redesigned the logo so Wahoo's face had red skin to match the team's color scheme.
Other experts date Wahoo's creation to 1899, the final year in the career of outfielder Louis Sockalexis, a "full-blooded Native American" who played for the Cleveland Spiders. Newspaper renderings of Sockalexis featured wide eyes and an oversized nose. One drawing included feathers sticking out from his hair.
Team representatives in recent years defended Wahoo as part of Cleveland's baseball heritage, but backed away from using him as the club bid to host the 2019 All-Star Game.
"While we recognize many of our fans have a long-standing attachment to Chief Wahoo, I'm ultimately in agreement with Commissioner Manfred's desire to remove the logo from our uniforms in 2019," Dolan, the franchise owner, said announcing the decision in January.
The team will continue to sell Wahoo merchandise to retain ownership of the trademark, according to the Associated Press.
"They should be commended for taking this step, [but] they took a baby step," Philip J. Yenyo, executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, told The Post in January. "They're still not going far enough. I don't understand waiting until 2019 to get rid of it. [And] the nickname has to go, too. If they don't get rid of the 'Indians' name, our culture and our spirituality are still going to be mocked by fans. They're still going to be dressed up in red face and wearing feathers."