The Solution to Cleveland Baseball’s Name Dilemma

Cleveland Municipals co-founders Will Weible and Jamie Lansdowne weigh the options and explain how the Cleveland Indians can get it right.

Cleveland’s baseball team has finally decided to drop the “Indians” name. Now it is the club's task to choose a new, replacement name suitable for one of baseball’s oldest and most storied franchises. While many replacement options have been suggested, only one will preserve and carry forward the team’s legacy: The Cleveland Municipals. Naming the team the Municipals gives us, the people of Cleveland, the opportunity to tell a real story about ourselves and our shared history — a story that holds within it our proud sports traditions, a profile of our city over the last 125 years, and a recognition of what all Clevelanders share.

“Oh give me a break,” some of you are thinking. “They want to name it after the stadium?” Not quite. The old cathedral was a starting point, but it’s only part of the equation. What the Munis are really all about is representing the character of Cleveland sports and the city as a whole.

What is one of the most commonly agreed upon characteristics of Cleveland sports? It’s that the people of Cleveland are defiantly loyal to their sports teams. Perhaps more than any other city in the country, Cleveland lives through its teams. As the Sixth City declined in population and prosperity in the second half of the 20th century, our sports teams increasingly became our ticket to the world stage. They helped us retain our place in the national conversation, they provided civic pride to Cleveland expats living elsewhere — they grounded our identities in something shared and profound.

For too long the team’s name came at the expense of the identities of our fellow citizens. “Indians” is being dropped because it is hurtful to members of our society, and now the organization has an opportunity to choose a replacement that moves us into the future by truly representing the city and all of its people. Webster defines “municipal” as something “related to a city or town.” Something that is municipal belongs to the citizens themselves, much like we feel the teams are our own, not the private holdings of owners. “Municipals” makes clear that this team belongs to and represents every single Clevelander. And while it would be a new name it’s an old and familiar term in our town, honoring not just our core civic characteristic, but the storied past that is the bedrock of that pride. So yes, let’s talk about the stadium.

Postcard by Wilbur Evans.

Municipal Stadium was completed in 1931, a behemoth on the lake shore in the shape of a “C.” The Indians played part of their schedule there from 1932 to 1946 while League Park was still in use, utilizing it mostly for Sunday games, night games, and marquee match-ups before moving there full time in 1947.

The Cleveland Buckeyes — the city’s most successful Negro League franchise — opened the 1945 Negro League World Series at Municipal against the Homestead Grays, who the Buckeyes would go on to sweep. In 1948 the Indians hosted a World Series of their own at Municipal, a victory over the Boston Braves, our last. The stadium still holds the top-three records for All-Star Game attendance, and three of the top records for World Series attendance. It’s also one of only two stadiums to host the All-Star Game four times. It’s an icon of baseball history.

The Cleveland Browns took up residence between the beams in 1946 and dominated the gridiron with eight championships in 13 championship appearances by 1964, seven of which were played at Municipal. Over the next three decades the Browns would see a lot of success at the stadium and, of course, some heartbreaking defeats.

We must acknowledge that times were often tough for Cleveland fans at Municipal Stadium. But aren’t those tough times the very things that make Cleveland fans who they are? You name a Cleveland sports tragedy and every Clevelander has a personal story about it, whether they were alive for it or not. Sure, no one wants those things to happen, but who can deny that little piece of your heart that’s proud you endured those nightmares and still came out a devoted fan on the other side? Probably all the more devoted, if we’re being honest. Psychiatrists will one day study the Cleveland Effect, but for now let’s move on.

The Beatles played Municipal Stadium during their final U.S. tour in 1966.

The stadium wasn’t just used for sports, it was also home to major cultural events throughout the 20th century. The Great Lakes Exposition of 1936–37 set up shop on 135 acres of lakefront property in and around Municipal Stadium and showcased the progress and innovation achieved in the Great Lakes region. In the 1960s, the Cleveland National Air Show moved next door to Burke Lakefront Airport, continuing Cleveland’s tradition as a pioneer in aviation dating back to the Cleveland National Air Races of the 1930s. And who can forget the World Series of Rock, a series of day-long concerts held at Municipal Stadium from 1974–1980 featuring Rock and Roll’s biggest names. In a final act, the stadium hosted the September 1995 concert celebrating the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a who’s who lineup that played for over seven hours.

These events showcased the type of city Cleveland is: a center of innovation, a cultural hub of the Midwest, and of course the home of Rock and Roll. The “Municipals” name, like the stadium itself, holds within it these elements of our city’s legacy.

Postcard from the 1936–1937 Great Lakes Exposition.

The stadium is gone now, replaced by two new ones named for corporations, and the city, as always, continues to evolve with the world. Even before the pandemic emptied the public places where people gather, it felt like human interaction and a healthy sense of community were at an all-time low. For our part, we’re desperate for a return to the routine of heading down to the stadium after work or on a lazy Sunday to share a baseball game with 35,000 fellow Clevelanders who all agree on one thing: We want our baseball team to win games. We think it’s safe to say many are looking for the return of that sense of community in our lives, a municipal spirit that connects us and lifts us up.

The Municipals name isn’t just a reference to an old pile of bricks our teams once called home, or a parking lot that in previous years was the last port of hope before a sea of anguish on Sundays, or greyish-brown mustard you slather on a dollar dog to help it go down — it’s a reference to what makes Cleveland great and the core characteristic its people share: an unassailable, ever-growing love for our teams, our town, and our collective memory.

Cleveland hosts the Boston Braves during the 1948 World Series.

The organization has a big choice ahead of them. As Terry Pluto reported in July, the organization “want[s] the name to be one that lasts for the rest of this century. They don’t want to have buyer’s remorse in a few years.” This is a tall task, so let’s dispense with the knee-jerk choices that won’t age well.

Spiders

While it’s a common suggestion, “Spiders” would be wrong for many reasons. When you actually think about “Spiders” for more than five seconds you realize it doesn’t have anything to do with our present, and associating it with our past is a hell of stretch. The Spiders were a blip on the radar at a time when teams changed names and cities more often than stadiums change naming rights now. Here are some facts that aren’t often mentioned when this name comes up: They were in the National League, they have no direct lineage to the current franchise, they boast the worst record of all time as their chief accomplishment (20–134), and to top it all off, people didn’t even like the name back then. (The name is attributed to a team executive remarking on his weak-looking players, saying, “They look skinny and spindly, just like spiders. Might as well call them Spiders and be done with it.”¹ Not exactly inspiring). They were depleted in their 12th season and became so bad they started playing all their games on the road due to poor attendance before ultimately folding. Brutal. Why should an established franchise looking at another 100 years embrace the legacy of futility of a minor, unrelated team from the 19th century?

The “Spiders” name is lazy and lacks creative thinking. It doesn’t mean anything to Cleveland, and nobody alive today ever experienced the Spiders, thank God. What is it to us? It’s a piece of trivia in the baseball almanac. Employed today, the “Spiders” brand would be bogged down in the pop-culture baggage of the Spider-Man mega-franchise. It’s been taken. We’re renaming a charter member of the American League, not a minor-league sideshow.

Guardians

People keep saying because the last five letters in “Guardians” are the same as the last five in “Indians,” it will make for an easy transition. Are we really concerned the people of Cleveland can’t learn a new name without the help of “d-i-a-n-s?” There’s no doubt that the Guardians of Traffic statues on the Lorain-Carnegie bridge are great pieces of public art, but do they really represent the city and its people? When the country finds out the team named itself after four statues on a vehicle bridge representing different kinds of traffic they will rightfully think, “Damn, that town’s got nothing, huh?” On top of that, it’s not even unique. The XFL has a team called the New York Guardians, and if you think that sounds like a perfect name for a team in the XFL, you’re correct. Not to mention it’s the new name for members of the Space Force, whatever that is.

The Blues or Blue Sox

White Sox, Red Sox, St. Louis Blues — come on. Like the Spiders, this is such a small part of Cleveland baseball history most people aren’t even aware it happened. (The “Blues” name only lasted for two seasons). What connection do today’s fans have to these names? Becoming the third part of a Red Sox, White Sox, Blue Sox triangle would consign us to the novelty bin, and becoming the Blues in a state that already has the Reds would be pathetically unimaginative. We’re an historic franchise, we should be carving our own path instead of imitating other franchises, one of which is a division rival.

The Rocks or Rockers

As expected, some have been putting this forward as a possibility. We love the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and our music legacy, but just once we’d like to see Cleveland release its death-grip on ham-fisted guitar logos. We can embrace this part of our culture without using it as a crutch.

We should ask ourselves, “When Clevelanders 100 years in the future are looking back at this moment, are they going to say we chose a name that thoughtfully represents our town and its people, or will they lament that we chose a name any city could use?” A small-market team like us has enough trouble getting respect. If we throw away our claim on our classic-baseball legacy by choosing a superficial name that could be used anywhere, then we have nothing. The name of Cleveland’s baseball team should sound like Cleveland came up with it.

Munis hat by Ebbets Field Flannels.

“Municipals” and “Munis” sound like Cleveland. It’s a classic-style name befitting a classic ball club — something we could have already been named for the last 120 years. Setting aside for a moment what it represents, this naming convention also fits with our town’s personality. For example, our football team is called the Browns, they don’t even have a logo, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. It may seem strange to outsiders but its uniqueness is appreciated by locals — probably even more so because outsiders don’t quite get it — and it’s entirely ours because it’s rooted in a culture we all share. When it comes to the baseball team, why are we so desperate to pick a surface-level name anybody could use? It’s ok to be creative here — this is an opportunity for an historic franchise to exercise some self-determination and self-reflection.

This is important because baseball, more so than the other major sports, is a game of reflection. The national consciousness around baseball centers on nostalgia, both for the game itself and our own experiences with it, its memories and folklore passed down over generations. Imagine yourself sitting at a game with your grandkid, or a friend from out of town, or somebody new to the game. “Why are they called the Municipals?” they ask. “Well,” you tell them, “There was an old stadium in town called Municipal Stadium, which housed some of the biggest sports and cultural events of the 20th century. It’s where most fans living today first saw our teams play. It’s where our baseball and football teams won their last championships. It was the site of many triumphs and painful failures, all of which weave the fabric of this town. It was a place of pilgrimage, where on a warm summer evening people from all over the city drifted in to pass a few blissful hours watching a game with the breeze coming in off the lake. But most of all ‘Municipals’ means these things belong to all of us, as Clevelanders.”

A game during the final season of baseball at Municipal Stadium, 1993.

This decision will reverberate for generations, and we’re here to tell you it’s possible for the new name to actually reflect all of us, our stories, and the memories we all hold dear. A new name doesn’t have to erase these things, it can be built on them.

We’re two local guys with a lifetime of passion for our town and our teams who want to see the organization choose a name with staying power. Like many of you, Cleveland baseball fandom is woven through generations of our family histories. One of our dads was at Frank Robinson’s barrier-breaking managerial debut in ’75, the other was at Len Barker’s perfect game in ‘81 — now we hold those memories by extension, having learned their beats over a few innings as the peanut shells buried our shoes, ready to pass them onto the next generation. We all have stories like this from the Indians era.

We understand what it’s like to have the Cleveland Indians entwined with your life. It’s more than just a sports team you happen to follow — it’s part of your family memories, your yearly routines, the foundation of some of your best relationships. So we understand it can be difficult to face the prospect of the name changing, feeling as if those personal memories are being altered.

But it’s important to recognize that these memories are tied to what we love about Cleveland baseball, not the name itself. It’s an old team in an old sport, but it has room to grow with each generation. America’s Pastime is constantly evolving to reflect the American people, and our team is part of that tradition. That’s what we all really love about it, and that’s what “Municipals” is really getting at — it creates an opportunity for Clevelanders to reflect on where we’ve been, where we’re going, and the common thread that’s carrying us through to the future.

If you feel the same way, we ask you to help us. Make your voice heard. Sound off about it. The Dolans may own the team, but this is a time when the fans and the people of Cleveland should control their own destiny. We can have some community ownership of this decision instead of waiting to see what the front office has decided for us. Owners come and go, but the people of Cleveland will always be there for their city.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Munis movement, or interested in getting involved, head to www.clemunicipals.com, follow us on social media @clemunicipals, and spread the word.

Go Munis!

¹ Jonathan Fraser Light, The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2016), 205.

A New Era of Cleveland Baseball