This year’s World Series presents more feel-good storylines than any we’ve seen in decades. Two of the oldest and most jinxed franchises in baseball history meet with a plethora of superstars on each side.
On Tuesday night the Chicago Cubs, who haven’t won a world championship since 1908, opened the best-of-seven in Cleveland against the Indians, who haven’t won The Series since 1948.
The Cubs are young, skilled and ebullient. Just to pick a couple of names: Kris Bryant, 24 years old, batting .333 for the postseason after bashing 39 home runs in the regular season; Javier Baez, 23, playing all the infield and outfield positions with acrobatic flair, batting .342 for the postseason after slugging .423 in the regular.
You could go on and on about this ubertalented roster. But let’s summarize it by noting that the Cubs hit 199 home runs and averaged 4.7 runs per game, that they have four starting pitchers with 15 or more wins and a closing relief pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, who throws almost every pitch in excess of 100 mph.
But talking relief, that’s when the Cleveland Indians take over. They have a possible Cy Young Award-winning starter in Corey Kluber, but the bigger story is The Greatest Bullpen Ever.
Cleveland’s six-pack of Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Dan Otero, Bryan Shaw, Jeff Manship and Zach McAllister have combined during the regular- and postseason for a 22-14 won-lost, 43 saves, 389 strikeouts in 360 innings and an ERA of 2.50.
And yes, the Indians can knock the ball around the yard – and out of it. Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli each hit 34 home runs. And this is a team that also plays small-ball: 134 stolen bases.
And yet, the Indians’ owner has tainted this wonderful occasion by marketing nasty racism, symbolized by a logo from a bygone, best-forgotten era: Chief Wahoo, with broadly grinning tomato-red face, oversized nose, a big feather atop the head.
When the Indians journeyed to Toronto during the American League Championship Series, they were met by protest and a legal challenge from Douglas Cardinal, an indigenous activist. He tried to stop the visiting team from wearing uniforms with “Indians” scripted across the jerseys and Chief Wahoo posted on the caps.
Canadian courts refused to grant the injunction he sought, but his message was broadly received and amplified.
“I had been thinking about the problems we have as a community with the issue of suicide,” Cardinal told The New York Times. “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.”
Major League Baseball issued a statement saying it “appreciates the concerns” of those offended, and it “welcomes a thoughtful and inclusive dialogue to address those concerns outside the context of litigation.”
And, it went without saying, outside the context of the World Series.
Protests against Chief Wahoo date to the 1970s. That was about the time the Atlanta Braves were pressured to end the career of Chief Noc-a-Homa, who would emerge, tomahawk in hand, from a teepee to dance whenever Hank Aaron or his teammates homered.
In 1972 Stanford University decided to stop calling its sports teams “Indians.”
Meanwhile, many Native Americans in Ohio objected to a caricatured stereotype. They considered Chief Wahoo to be as offensive to them as Black Sambo was to African-Americans.
Last spring, Indians owner Paul Dolan realized it was time to move on. He said his team would change its primary logo to a block “C.”
But fans continued to demand Chief Wahoo on T-shirts and caps when they visited the team’s stores. The block C was not as much of a revenue-churner, so the franchise resumed pushing the traditional but controversial logo on its attire.
As soon as the Indians dispatched the Blue Jays in the ALCS, the World Series caps emerged with Wahoo on the front. It’s an in-your-face gesture that’s utterly unnecessary. There are plenty of millions of dollars to earn during this World Series, without resorting to racist caricatures.
This is the perfect time to celebrate baseball, which was once our national pastime and could be again. After all, the NFL is in retreat, television ratings declining, commissioner Roger Goodell widely despised, the product suddenly in disrepute, plagued by a rash of concussions, penalties and turnovers.
And distressing ambiguity. Nobody knows what’s a catch. Or what’s a celebration. Baseball is so clear-cut, so much easier to understand. And so much safer for our kids to play.
In 12 NFL games Sunday afternoon there were 39 turnovers. The nightcap had none of those, but could have used one or two – anything.
It was a lifeless 6-6 tie between two of the league’s most popular teams, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. They could not score except by kicking a field goal. And when the game was on the line, both teams failed at that – even at PAT range.
By contrast, MLB throughout this postseason has been producing graceful and often extraordinary athleticism, almost error-free and injury-free. Too bad this splendid show on the field must share the spotlight with an ugly sideshow off it. Thank you, Mr. Dolan.