As Cleveland’s baseball club ponders the future of its namesake and mascot, we offer an option that connects our city’s proud past, vibrant present and bright future.
The ownership and senior leaders of the Cleveland Indians are evaluating a change from the franchise’s historic mascot. The storied Indians have already retired Chief Wahoo. While Tribe, the popular nickname, remains in common usage, there seems to be interest in adopting a new team name. Rather than enter the debate over whether a change should be made in the first place, we are recommending a new name and emblem. We are lifelong Cleveland fans and will gladly continue to root for the Indians or whatever future mascot is selected.
With that civic spirit in mind, we humbly offer “Cleveland Commodores” as the new moniker for our hometown baseball team.
Cleveland, happily situated at the convergence of Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River, is symbiotically connected to the water. Ever since its founding in 1796, Cleveland and its residents have relied on the Great Lakes for their livelihood, identity and recreation. Fishing, manufacturing, commercial shipping and related businesses have helped generations of Northeast Ohioans make a living, build homes and nurture the development of diverse cultural institutions embraced by the entire nation, from the Cleveland Orchestra to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Even before Cleveland’s emergence as a major U.S. city in the early 20th century, Lake Erie played a pivotal role in the formation of our state and nation. On its waters, U.S. Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry first built and then led a fleet through fierce combat against the British. As his close friend, Capt. James Lawrence, lay dying in an earlier naval battle, he implored Perry, “Don’t give up the ship.” Three months later, when the smoke cleared at the Battle of Lake Erie, it was the British who were forced to abandon ship — and Commodore Perry has been known as “the Hero of Lake Erie” ever since.
All of Cleveland can take pride in the U.S. victory in that great battle during the War of 1812. More than 200 years later, Commodore Perry’s leadership is still recognized around the world. Cleveland baseball fans already honor him by hoisting an award-winning Great Lakes Brewing Co. Commodore Perry IPA at the ballpark and elsewhere around town.
The last 50 years have proven challenging for our river and lakefront. By the 1960s, decades of damage and neglect turned a natural resource into a national embarrassment. Fortunately, the combined effort of many has reshaped our river, lakefront and towpath into what it is today: a regional recreational marvel. The Cleveland Metroparks’ revitalization of Edgewater and Wendy Park and robust public-private partnerships with The Foundry and other organizations have revived The Flats and transformed the Cuyahoga River and surrounding parkland into a community treasure.
Our maritime history is tightly bound not only to Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River, but also to both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard. Cleveland is home to several naval leaders, including Adm. Isaac Kidd, the Pacific Fleet commanding officer who perished at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and contemporary leaders such as four recently retired flag officers — Vice Adm. Bruce Grooms and Rear Adms. Julius Caesar, Janet Donovan and Dwight Shepherd — a diverse cadre of leaders who served our nation with distinction.
The Cleveland-headquartered U.S. Coast Guard’s Ninth District oversees operations across the Great Lakes, a region spanning eight states. In the past five years, the district made history by appointing three outstanding women to lead this vast enterprise: Rear Adms. Donna Cottrell, Joanna Nunan and June Ryan.
Perhaps most compelling of all cases for the Cleveland Commodores is the story of one of the greatest right-handed pitchers in Major League Baseball history, Bob Feller, who served honorably in World War II as a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy on the battleship U.S.S. Alabama. As the only chief petty officer enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Feller was known to remark that the proudest achievement of his life was “serving in the U.S. Navy and helping our country win victory in World War II.” Today, Feller’s legendary story is known by every chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy.
Consider the possibilities the name Cleveland Commodores would offer our team and city:
- The mascot would align with those of two popular organizational farm teams, the Class AAA Columbus Clippers and Class A Lake County Captains, both of which already sport a nautical theme.
- Progressive Field could be known as “The Ship,” which evokes Commodore Perry’s “Don’t Give Up the Ship” battle flag and famous victory message, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”
- A cannon shot could be fired for every home run and other runs scored (which we suggest would upgrade the Super Mario Brothers “coin” chime that is currently used).
- John Adams’ legendary drum could maintain a central role, since drums were used on vessels in our nation’s early years to synchronize rowers when sail power wasn’t available.
- There would be endless promotional opportunities for Cleveland fans. Just think how our city would advertise its pride when the Commodores take on the Pittsburgh Pirates in interleague or, dare we say, World Series play.
We have seen some other intriguing options for a new mascot. The Spiders are a nice throwback to a previous era when young people pored over the latest stories about Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man. But Spider-Man lives in New York City, the home of a long-standing baseball nemesis that we’ll leave unnamed. And the most common reaction to spiders is “eww,” followed by “smash it!”
Another name — the Guardians, referencing the sculptures on the nearby Hope Memorial Bridge — is an interesting offering. But while the bridge is iconic to Clevelanders, it doesn’t hold any of the emotional connection of our lakefront, riverfront or naval associations.
Let’s unite as East Siders and West Siders — baseball fans, all — behind a new name for our team that represents a tradition and future in which we can all take pride: the Cleveland Commodores.
Cmdr. Mike Dovilla and Lt. Matt Previts are U.S. Navy Reserve officers currently recalled to active duty assignments.