World Series: The skeletons in the Cubs and Indians’ respective closets
The Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908 and the Cleveland Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948, meaning this year’s Major League Baseball championship saga lends itself particularly well to feel-good narratives and misty-eyed tropes about drought-suffering fans finally getting a taste of the good stuff.
If only it were so simple.
Each side in this year’s series also illuminates the darker side of modern sports fandom, in which following one’s favorite teams increasingly requires moral reckoning and rationalization.
It’s highly possible that, at the end of Game 1 of the 2016 World Series, Aroldis Chapman the Cubs’ lawnmower of a closer will take the mound to seal an opening victory for Chicago. He’ll face batters playing for a team whose nickname and logo a Native American cartoon named Chief Wahoo, who sports an oversized nose and a bright red face have long drawn the ire of protest groups, indigenous and otherwise.
Should Chapman retire the Cleveland batters in the Chief Wahoo caps, many guilt-ridden Chicago fans will donate money to charities that work to curb domestic violence and help its victims. This is because the Cubs acquired Chapman, who is among the game’s best closing pitchers, from the New York Yankees in July shortly after he’d served a 30-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy. He allegedly choked his girlfriend then fired off several shots from a handgun inside his garage following an argument last October.
When the Cubs dealt for Chapman this summer, it boosted their 100-plus year quest for another World Series title the guy once threw a fastball at 106-freaking-miles-per-hour, after all. But his history discomforted many Chicago fans, so some of them began donating to domestic violence charities whenever he recorded a save for the Cubs.
The guys on the team seem like pretty good guys, Caitlin Swieca, the Cubs fan who started the karma-correcting custom, told NBC Chicago in August. To bring Chapman in, who has more of a checkered past, was not easy to root for. I guess I was having a tough time reconciling those two things in my mind.
So I’ve decided I’m going to donate $10 to a Chicago domestic violence org every time Chapman gets a save.
Caitlin Swieca (@CaitlinSwieca) July 28, 2016
SB Nation baseball writer Grant Brisbee in July called the Chapman deal a “cynical move to acquire a player with a domestic violence suspension because he throws baseballs harder than everyone else,” writing that it shows “the Cubs are OK with trading a piece of their soul” to bolster their Series hopes.
It’s a free market and the Cubs, like any team, are welcome to pay anyone they want whatever they want to help them win games. Increasingly, however, moves like the deal for Chapman garner criticism, outrage and blowback for teams that support players with tarnished pasts away from the glittering lights of the diamond, field or arena. In May of last year, covering the final career fight of boxer Floyd Mayweather, who boasts an undefeated record but a trail of domestic violence incidents, Michael Powell of The New York Timesdescribed the shift as a “curious hinge point in our culture.”
But if increased attention toward the way our athletic idols treat women is a relatively new phenomenon, the Cleveland Indians and their grinning Chief Wahoo represent a more long-standing controversy.
The athletic teams of Stanford University, for example, used to be called the Indians as well. But that nickname was dropped in 1972, after meetings between Native American students and university president Richard Lyman. Last year, Adidas announced a nationwide program to provide financial support and design consultation to high schools that elect to change nicknames and mascots deemed offensive to indigenous people.
Chief Wahoo a cartoon caricature with red skin, a sheepish grin an oversized nose is criticized by many as being particularly offensive. That logo has even inspired fashion-minded protests in the form of shirts labeled “Caucasians” in script like that the Indians franchise uses but featuring a cartoon of a white man in a Lacoste polo shirt with money on his mind.
“It is racist that is all there is to it,” Douglas Cardinal, an indigenous Canadian activist who has protested Chief Wahoo, told The New York Times of the Cleveland caricature this week. “I had been thinking about the problems we have as a community with the issue of suicide, and I think there is a direct correlation between these kinds of depictions of our people as inferior and as caricatures to be mocked. It is wrong and it must stop.”
The Cleveland franchise has offered some response by introducing a block “C” as the team’s “primary” logo before this season. Yet, when Cleveland won the American League Championship Series last week to earn its World Series berth, the Indians did so in dark blue caps with Chief Wahoo’s grinning, red-faced visage front and center.
Chief Wahoo will again take center stage this Tuesday when the World Series begins, adorning the uniforms of Cleveland batters who will seek to overcome the flame-throwing arm and intimidating pitcher’s mound presence of Aroldis Chapman, who is wont to glare down offensive players before hurling fastballs that test the capability of radar guns mere inches from their faces.
Pitcher vs. batter in the World Series. Is there a more pure mano a mano duel in all of team sports? Perhaps not.
It all makes for great sports drama on one level but on another, Chapman of the Cubs vs. the Chief Wahoos of Cleveland can be enough to make an observer wistful for the simpler times of 1948 or 1908.
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