As of last night, the word went out that the Cleveland Baseball team will change their name and logo going forward. In 2020 this has been something of a hot button issue finally. with the Washington football team doing the same earlier this year. Once their top sponsors and merchandise distributors said they would cut ties if no actions were taken. I want to use this moment to take a deep dive into the history of both franchises. In my opinion, what should have been an incentive to change the names years ago is a silver lining for the front offices and owners who have gas lit the public into believing that their franchises have little to no ties to racism or bigotry at all.
Washington Football Team
Not much to say here, around 1937 the team changed its name to the Redskins, but it was not until 1961 that the owner reluctantly integrated his team with players of colour. Including Native Americans. So how can you expect us to believe that the name change was done out of admiration vs contempt. Also, it was not until Walmart said they would stop selling their merch and Fedex said they would strip their branding and support. Among many other scandals with the Football team’s front office that they conceded to a name change in June of 2020.
Since the change the ownership has since said they will not update their name from the Washington football team due to popularity. It is almost a sick joke to the people that fought so hard for this name change to happen but were told that there was nothing wrong with it or that it would be too hard to rebrand the franchise and all of its holdings.
In 1914 then owner Charles Somers put forward the idea to change the teams name from the Cleveland Naps. Following the departure of their First super star Napoleon Lajoie. After much discussion they locked in on the team name “Indians” in what they would call homage to the Cleveland Spiders who played in the city from 1898 -1899 and were given that nickname by fans due to having Native American player Louis Sockalexis,, who some say may have been the first Native American player to play in major league baseball. Although there are many conflicting reports. In the present day they will try to sell you on this idea but news publications from that day make no references to Sockalexis for the name change but rather say many derogatory statements about him and others of the same bloodline.
Fast forward to 1948 just months after Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier. Cleveland became the second team to integrate a black player on their team, Larry Doby. Also, they became the first team to add a second in Negro League super star Satchel Paige. Making him the oldest rookie in MLB history at 46. At the time many thought this may have been done in a public stunt as Cleveland was able to draw around 70-78k fans at home following these changes. Not to mention that the team went on to Win the World Series that year. Becoming the first team to win with a black player on its roster, The last such in the team’s history. Almost 10 years before Jackie Robinson was able to win with the Dodgers.
In 2014 ,Major league baseball Commissioner Bud Selig says he has never heard of any negative complaints about the logo , almost ignoring the court case that happened Right before he took the position in 1998. That had a group of Native American Protesters protest the name and logo of the team during the 1997 world series. Team Officials even went as far to say that their protest had nothing to do with the issues of the logo & team name and complained that they damaged a tree in the area the protest took place and had them arrested.
Regardless of all that is mentioned above, people that grew up sports fans of these teams are committed to these teams beyond their racist past because they love the sport and or the players that the team employees. The market to make a ton of money off these re brands have always been there. In moments that will follow this announcement, do not allow racist baseball historians to dilute this moment in history by saying we are removing black history from baseball with this name change. Because that is simply not true.
Many people have fought for this change and I am glad it is finally happening.
With the Blue Jays Playing the COVID-19 shortened season at their AAA facilities in Buffalo, and the team exploring the idea of a major renovation with a target budget of around 250-400 Million dollars. It makes sense that the conversation has now shifted to think about the idea of creating a smaller baseball specific stadium with all the workings of a state-of-the-art MLB facility. The current idea that is proposed is to rebuild the new stadium on the site of the old one. While turning the extra space into commercial and residential real estate. According to media sources , The team plans to partner with Brookfield Asset management, which according to their website is an “ alternative asset manager with over $575 billion in assets. “
Although their plan is to complete this project with private funding. That could change quickly. With real interest being focused on the firms and the contractors that would win the tenders for supplies, equipment and workers. Do they leverage people locally vs province wide vs Nationwide? Does the Construction and subsequent demolition get completed on time? What effect will all this construction have on traffic in the downtown core as a whole? Will there be a bid for stadium rights, or will it be done by private invite only again? Also, with Toronto in the midst of an affordable housing crisis while a record number of condos and rental units remain empty. Is it really a good idea to create more luxury and high price real estate in the City? With the stadium name rights market back in prime spot. Will they sell the naming rights to the new stadium or name it after Ted Rogers again. As a 20-year naming rights deal could help pay for the construction almost in full. Before getting too deep into those questions, lets take a trip through the history of the Jays home stadiums for context.
The “Mistake by the Lake”
The site of the Blue Jays First stadium, the CNE grounds was originally used in 1879. By the time the Jays moved in by 1977, the stadium had burnt down and had been rebuilt 3 times. Costing about 15 million paid by the City and the province for the latest upgrade to make the stadium up to MLB standards. Housing 54k for baseball. Granted most of those seats were only offered for playoff games and teams with larger draws. Due to them being around 850 feet from home plate. The stadium had tons of problems protecting both the players and fans from the elements. So much so that during the Blue Jays Home opener on April 4th, 1977, they had to borrow Zambonis’ from the Toronto Maple Leafs to clear the field of snow.
Due to the position of the stadium, with it being so close to Lake Ontario. Coupled with the amount of food waste left after games, it made the grounds a prime site for seagulls. Fast forward to 1983 where Yankees player David Wright was arrested for killing a seagull by mistake when he threw a ball to a ball boy and it hit a Seagull in the head. The nail in the coffin for Exhibition stadium was a year earlier during the 70th Grey cup. Fans were forced to watch the game from the concourse and to make matters worse the washrooms started to overflow. The game was watched on TV by over 7 million Canadians. A Canadian broadcast record at the time. Leading to the people of Toronto to take to the streets the following day. Demanding a dome be built to avoid situations like this. In 1983 Premier Davis set up a committee with the purpose of putting a dome of the site of the Exhibition Stadium. In 1984, 7 acres of land at the foot of the CN tower was donated for a dome to be built and in 1986 the ground was broken on the “SkyDome”. Exhibition Stadium was destroyed in 1999, only a decade after the opening of SkyDome.
The construction of the SkyDome took about 2.5 years from 1986-1989 completed by Dominion Bridge Company out of Quebec And Ellis Don out of London. To the price tag of $570 million Canadian. Which present day is equal to about 1 billion dollars! This time the construction was paid for by a combination of private and public funding. Both the City of Toronto and the province contributed 30 million each. As well as 5 million a piece from the Labatt’s,Molson, and Carling O’Keefe breweries and the Blue Jays. Lastly 26 other private Canadian companies by invite only bought into the project at the same price tag. For their contribution they received a SkyBox with 4 parking spaces on a ten-year contract. As well as a 99-year exclusion option on stadium advertising.
From the start of this project many questions were raised. No public tender was held for supplies or equipment. Also, the 26 contracts handed out to companies like CIBC and TSN were not put up for bid. Leaving money on the table. At the time of its creation it was the first stadium with a retractable motorized roof and a 300 plus room hotel. With 70 rooms that overlooked the playing field. When the Dome first opened a couple was caught on the jumbotron fornicating during the baseball game. Days later a man was caught masturbating during a game in full view of the fans. As he thought the windows were one-way windows. Last such instance happened in 1996. Also, SkyDome was also the last stadium built for both Baseball and Football. As well as hosting regular season games for every major sport outside of the NHL.
By 1998, Labatt who at the time owned 49% of the stadium filed for bankruptcy and in 1999 the Sportsco International Lp bought the Stadium out of Bankruptcy Protection for 80 million. The Hotel attachment was sold to Renaissance for 31 million. 5 years later, Blue Jays Parent company, Rogers communications acquired the Dome for about 25 million. Roughly 4% of the construction costs. 3 Months Later the Name of the dome was Changed to the Rogers Center. In addition to the name Change. Rogers heavily invested in the upgrade of the Dome. As well as a new Field Turf. The building was home to both the Toronto Blue Jays and Argos but in 2016. The Argos relocated to Bmo Fields. With the hope that the Rogers Center would install a natural grass playing field. As of 2020, the Blue Jays are 1 of 2 teams to have never played a home game on natural grass.
Like the plan to build the SkyDome on the CNE grounds in 1984. This idea of tearing down the Rogers Center to rebuild it on the same site will be short lived. If they do come to terms with building one a new site. They would be able to build and demolish the old stadium simultaneously. With the possibility they could even play in the Rogers Center or in the ballpark in Buffalo. Until the new building is ready. Depending on where COVID-19 is this spring and if there is a AAA baseball season.
I know this is a long shot, but Durham would be the best spot if not only for a temporary place to play. Out of the President’s Choice Ajax Pan Am Ballpark. But to Move the Blue Jays home permanently to Durham. Either on the same grounds as mentioned above or in an area in and around the new Pickering Casino that was just built. Granted either choice would cause a major increase in local traffic. Something many Ajax and Pickering residents may be against. With upgrades just finished at both Ajax and Pickering GO train stations I think it can be achieved logistically from a fan standpoint. When the SkyDome First opened, The TTC allowed game tickets to be treated as a metro pass for that day. Something similar could be done in this situation as well.
But it cannot go without saying that 2 stadiums that were funded by local Torontonians and Ontarians. Have failed to last more than 25 years. When during their inception they were touted as state of the art in their design and execution. Buildings like Old Yankee Stadium and Fenway park can stay functioning well into 70 plus years of use. Although those stadiums are more of the exception than the rule. With the idea of another billion dollars being thrown into a construction project. I would hope that this time, wherever the Stadium is built , that it lasts for at least 40-50 years before it becomes so behind the times it hinders the franchises ability to sign players and to throw concerts in their own building.
As a grown man I sometimes feel weird being so invested in the success of my favorite professional sports teams. Especially the ones that are not based out of Toronto or even Canada for that matter. As I have no real connection to them as most of my favorite players from my childhood have since been traded away or retired.
Falling in love with sports at an early age for me was easy, as my dad is a lover of most sports an avid cricket player and played pretty much every year of my life, well into his 60’s. As for my mom, she is as competitive as ever. Give her a chance for her to beat you or prove you wrong in something and she was all in.
By the time I was 6 years old, just starting to play baseball. After watching my older brother play for as long as I could remember. I fell in love with the game. Outside of watching the Blue Jays’ games as a family. I was also able to catch Atlanta Braves games on tv and I quickly fell in love with the team. Being born in 93’, by the time I was 6 I had already heard all the stories of the 93’ and 92’ Playoff runs 10000 times. That same year, the fall of 99’, with buzz of the end of the world about or Y2K. As a six-year-old all I was focused on was seeing the Braves win a world series. As a kid I didn’t get to watch many games to completion. First thing in the morning, it was always a beeline to the front door or living room to find that day’s copy of the sports sections to check the standings to see if the Braves had won. The 99’ season should have been an eerie foreshadowing of what it would be like to be not only a Braves fan but a fan of Atlanta sports teams. As the Braves lost handily to the Yankees in 4 games with game 3 being the only close game.
Starting up a Rally
The word fanatic perfectly describes what most sports fans are but won’t admit too. In both senses of the word. Instead they save fanaticfor that Bills Mafia super fan that loves getting put through tables before Bills games to hype up other fans. Or the fan that will not wash their team jersey for good luck during a playoff run.
Having lived away from home for post-secondary school, both on and off campus. I got a pretty good first-hand experience of a wide array of sports fans from all walks of life. A Lot of things were different, but a few remained the same. Regardless of the sport being played. Or the gender of the fan, you could always find fanatics. I am not sure how it is for most. But for me, I have seen more than my fair share of fights that started with a sports argument. Whether it was, player A is better than player B. Or team A is better than Team B. Or how could you like team A more than team B? For one reason or another the arguments begin and end in disaster.
Hitting Too Close To Home
Does having sports so heavily involved in your life make you immature in a sense? That’s the question I asked myself as I lay sleepless after the Braves loss in game 7 this weekend. After being up 3-1 and in control at many different points of the last 3 games. Sadly, this is a spot I have been in many times before. Especially over the last 5-10 years or so. It did not make this time any easier. In fact, it made it worse. At no time until the Braves lost game 7, did I think it was possible for them to mark themselves on that side of the baseball history books.
Growing up loving the game of baseball, it was easy to fall in love with some of the unwritten rules and curses that baseball purists over the years have coined. A starting point of my journey as a sports fan that led me to this heartbreak. The curse of the Bambino was something that haunted Redsox Fans for what felt like a lifetime leading up to the 2004 American League Championship series. If you are not familiar with what I am talking about. In 1918 The Red Sox’s sold Babe Ruth (one of the Greatest players of all time) to the New York Yankees and for the following 86 years they never won a world series. Leading some sports fans to call the team cursed. Well in 2004, the unthinkable happened and the team became the first in history to come back from a 3-0 deficit to beat those same Yankees and sweep the Cardinals in the world series thus ending the curse. In jest this would mean nothing, but my older brother Ryan is a Redsox fan. Up until that point as an 11-year-old, I was as annoying as I could be. Letting him know at every chance his team sucked and we got to bear witness to it. You would think the events that transpired would humble me moving forward. Unfortunately, they would not.
The next series of events are oddly related to the first. With my brother being such a big Redsoxs fan, in an attempt to annoy him at every turn. I started to support the Chicago Whitesox. In turn meant my support for the Chicago Cubs was little to none. These facts only matter, to set the stage for the second and one of the more recent 3-1 breakdowns that has led me to this point. In 1945, during game 4 of the world series, local Tavern owner William Sianis was asked to leave the game because his pet Billy Goat was bothering spectators. Upon leaving he proclaimed, “Them Cubs,they ain’t gonna win no more” and for the next 71 years the Cubs failed to make the world series. Until in 2016, with the Cleveland Baseball team up 3 games to 1. The Cubs battled back to win the world series. At this point, as a self-proclaimed baseball purist at 22 years old and being slightly superstitious. I began to believe that maybe I was the curse or something I did prior to watching. Or in a way I showed my support. Something other sports fans can relate too.
This last one is the most painful to date. Really stung but even still. I had been a fan of Kevin Durant from the moment he was at Texas. The moment he got drafted by the Seattle Supersonics I was locked into that franchise. The following year when they picked up and moved to Oklahoma City, I was right there behind them. The Sonics/Thunder had been bad, really bad but I still stood strong in my support. Now years later, on the brink of the finals for the second time in five years. I took it as a positive step in the right direction. Poised to be able to lock Kevin Durant in long term in the 2016 offseason and be ready to be a top contender in the league over what I thought would be the next 4-5 years up until this point.
Heading into the 2016 NBA playoffs with the OKC Thunder up on the 73-9 Golden State Warriors 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals. Similarly, to the Braves in 2020. The thought of them blowing this series did not even cross my mind. But it happened and KD left. At this point, I don’t think I had ever been as heartbroken as a fan. Maybe as a kid when I found out Vince Carter sold out the Raptors in a late game play, in an attempt to force a trade. But at this point it was so long ago and I had moved past that in a sense.
Like I mentioned earlier, besides the Jays the Braves were my next favorite sports team. I have followed them ever since that 1999 world series run. The last time the Braves had won a playoff series before this year was 2001. Something as a fan I didn’t even notice. I knew we made the playoffs most years. For the first 12 years of my life the Braves won their Division every year as well. It was when someone mentioned that we had not won a series in almost 20 years, prior to beating the Reds in the first round. That I noticed the Braves were the textbook definition of a treadmill team. So much so that I didn’t even realize that they had been so far from postseason success for so long because of how dominant they were in the regular season, winning trades and developing players. Once we took down the Reds, then the Marlins, then got up 3-1 on the Dodgers, none of that mattered again. It seems like I would be able to celebrate like it was 1999. Just like the situation with the Thunder, this Braves team is well ahead of schedule. In terms of when most experts thought they would be able to compete. On one hand the future has and seemingly will always be bright for the Atlanta Braves. On the other hand, I have been here so many times before that it is very hard to lock in and stay positive on that type of mindset.
I don’t think I will ever be able to, nor want to cut sports completely out of my life. What I do want to try and do is change the way I consume it, as well as the way I let the outcome affect me. Being an avid sports bettor and Fantasy sports head. and a fanatic of one certain team or player can really be detrimental to your objective decision making in both activities. With almost all my other attachments, even the Toronto Bluejays or Toronto Raptors, none is harder to break than my attachment to the Braves. I am not sure if it is because they never really saw the low points that the Toronto teams did, as such I was able to lean on the Braves in the other teams’ down years. Or that being from Toronto, I have never met that many Braves fans. Kind of having it as my own in a world filled with other fanatics felt special. Even with all that said, I am going to try and take a step back from supporting any team that is outside of Toronto. For the simple fact that even if they do win, I cannot participate in the championship parade. After going to the Raptors Championship parade in 2019. It is an excitement I will forever chase.