Guardians fans sound off on name change and lockout


Shreyas Banerjee/The Observer

The Cleveland Guardians played their first home games with their new name against the San Francisco Giants.

Gaurav Hardikar, Staff Writer

On April 15, Cleveland’s rebranded MLB team welcomed fans to Progressive Field for its first home game of the 2022 season. 

The Cleveland Guardians, previously known as the Cleveland Indians, changed its name on Nov. 19, 2021 after many criticized the appropriation of indigenous American cultures in sports leagues across the US. Team names such as the Indians and the NFL’s Washington Redskins came under fire for their offensive nicknames for indigenous Americans. Washington has since similarly renamed their team to the Commanders following a brief stint as the Washington Football Team. Likewise, fan celebrations such as the “tomahawk chop,” a tradition for fans of the MLB’s Atlanta Braves, the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and the Florida State University Seminoles football team, were called out for misrepresenting indigenous American culture.

After months of deliberation, the organization went over 1,200 possible names for Cleveland’s team, ultimately choosing the Guardians in reference to the eight 43-foot tall Guardians of Traffic statues that surround the Hope Memorial Bridge by Progressive Field. The name was favored over options like the Spiders, the name of a Cleveland baseball team in the 1890s.

As for how this decision sat with the fans, those at Progressive Field on Friday were fairly divided. Though one fan said he hated the new name, another said, “I’m okay with it, it’s not a horrible thing. I liked the Indians, I liked the Tribe, but Guardians is fine. It’s the team that matters.” A third fan chimed in and added, “Nobody was thinking of [the name] in the offensive way, everybody was just rooting for the team, but it’s just so political. At some point, where do you draw the line where it’s too political?”

These fans, when asked what they would’ve named the team if they had to switch from the Indians, generally favored the Spiders. Additionally, one fan suggested naming the team after a reference to the history of rock and roll in Cleveland.

Though there were differing opinions regarding the name change, everyone seemed equally annoyed by the 99-day MLB lockout. 

The MLB team owners and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) meet once every five years to revise and renew their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which outlines the terms and conditions under which the players agree to play for the owners. These conditions include rules of the game, player salaries, the yearly playoff format and many other aspects of the game. 

When the most recent CBA expired in December 2021, the MLBPA wished to revise several aspects of the work contract prior to re-signing to make aspects of the league fairer for players. However, the owners did not budge and eventually “locked” the players out of the league. The lockout was detrimental to the players, as they were unable to interact with their teammates, consult team doctors or explore free agency. 

With the 2022 season potentially at risk of cancellation, fans were understandably upset. One fan said, “I think that’s ridiculous… for how much [the players] get paid. I think it’s atrocious for the fans … with what we pay to come see these guys play and everything. It’s all about money. That’s all it’s ever about.”

Several weeks later, the stalemate ended and the two parties finally met for negotiations. While player salaries were indeed a key discussion point for the lockout, other related issues were more nuanced.

First, players wanted to address the issue with teams intentionally losing games, colloquially known as “tanking.” In the MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL, the standard order to draft new players depends on each team’s performance in the previous season. For example, the worst team would have the first pick in each round of the next draft whereas the team that wins the championship would pick last. For a long time, especially in the NFL, teams exploited this rule by tanking in one season for the best chance at landing the best player in the upcoming draft in hopes that taking such a big gamble on one player would dramatically transform the franchise for the better. Players were especially opposed to tanking because it meant teams could get away with paying their players less to build a worse roster. 

To combat this approach, the NBA and NHL implemented a lottery system for the highest draft picks, with the MLB following suit in the new CBA. In the MLB’s new six-team draft lottery, the six worst-performing teams of the previous year will be assigned the top six draft picks at random. This would theoretically incentivize teams to avoid tanking, as their shot at the highest draft pick is no longer guaranteed. Players and fans seemed to be in agreement here, as those interviewed expressed frustrations with how teams sacrifice a year’s worth of fan entertainment just to take a chance on a player.

As a part of the new CBA, owners also wanted to expand the postseason from 10 teams to 14 teams so that they could earn a $100 million per year bonus from ESPN. Naturally, players argued that more playoff teams and games would mean more physical exhaustion, a higher risk of injury and a tougher road to a championship. Ultimately, the two parties met in the middle in a move that decreased the ESPN reward to $85 million per year, with the new postseason format including 12 teams. Once again, the fans sided with the players, with one saying, “Owners are all about money; that’s all they want. Anything in their pockets, that’s all they care about. They don’t care about the players, they don’t care about the fans—they just care about the money in their pockets.”

One fan suggested possibly reducing the length of each postseason series, saying “[The players] practically play every single day already. I think it’s too many games… does it have to be best out of seven for the World Series? Football is one and done … What about three? A three-game playoff [series], instead of a five or a seven-game playoff [series].”

The owners and players also haggled over service time manipulation. In baseball, spending a certain number of days in one season in the major leagues earns a player one year of major league service. With enough years of service, players are eligible for bigger contracts. For teams that cannot afford their rising stars when they reach a certain number of years of service, the workaround is simple: keep these players in the majors for just under the minimum number of days to qualify for a year of service and send them back to the minor leagues for the remainder of the season. With this tactic, teams can use star players when needed and put off paying them by denying them a year of service on their records. 

While owners held fast on this matter, they agreed to implement a bonus system for players who felt taken advantage of, provided they are in the running to be the top ranked player of the season. Though the bonuses range from $500,000 to $2.5 million, they are worth pennies in comparison to the big-time contracts players could be eligible for. Recognizing the disadvantage, one fan commented, “In all of those negotiations, the millionaires—the players—gave up way more than the billionaires—the owners—did. All of this is just stupid. They capitalize on the fact that us mere mortals over here need an escape from our miserable lives so we go to sports.”

Players also demanded an increase in the minimum salary. Despite generating more revenue than the NBA and NHL, the MLB under the previous CBA had the lowest minimum salary of the four major North American sports. Owners pacified the players by increasing the minimum salary from $570,500 to $700,000, with yearly increases up to $780,000 across the new five-year CBA. 

While fans supported the increase, they were still annoyed by the sheer disparity in pay between professional athletes and the average American. Feeling conflicted, one fan remarked, “I’m sorry, but you’re making $570,000 and you’re complaining about it? Pick a different sport. [However,] I cried about my raise this year, I understand why the players are crying. [The salary] should be so much higher. We’re already paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars, what’s a couple more at this point? The difference in what the owners make to what the players make, the gap is so huge.”

Many have criticized baseball in recent years, calling it a dying sport too deeply rooted in tradition to keep up with the times. In an effort to modernize the sport, the new CBA addresses needs for a better enforced salary cap and a way to speed up and intensify the game to satisfy the newer generation’s ever-shrinking attention span.

Until 2017, the MLB had fallen behind its contemporaries in other sports by refusing to implement a salary cap, which is a set monetary limit that each team’s owner is allowed to spend on the entire roster’s salary in a given season. Without a salary cap, big-market teams easily lure star players away from their poor small-market teams by promising big contracts that the previous teams couldn’t afford. 

Fortunately, the MLB eventually caught on to how this practice didn’t give every team a fair shot at a championship, and the Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) was implemented. Per the new CBA, this soft salary cap was raised from $210 million to $230 million while introducing harsher monetary penalties for owners, depending how far above the cap they choose to spend. This decision sat well with fans, as one mentioned how the Guardians would be able to better hold onto their players now, saying “[the increased cap] is better than giving all of our players to the Yankees.”

The negotiations also led to the implementation of the pitch clock and banning the shift in 2023, effectively speeding up the game despite yielding more hits, with both catering to the fans’ growing need for a faster game.

The pitch clock, much like the shot clock in the NBA or the play clock in the NFL, would dictate how much time a pitcher has to throw the next pitch. At the same time, the shift is a tactical method driven by statistics in which the infielders all drastically shift to position themselves in the direction a hitter is almost guaranteed to place the ball. While a fresh and savvy approach to fielding, the shift severely brought down the likeliness of hits—a driving factor in fan entertainment—across the league. 

The interviewed fans unanimously supported both pending changes to the game. One remarked, “Our generation, the people in their young 20s, they don’t care about baseball as much anymore because it’s not exciting like football and basketball. At the end of the day, sports are entertainment. You pay to fill your seats. If it goes on forever and ever—like baseball games can go for like five hours—nobody wants to sit here and watch that. And then the score at the end of the game will be 1-0 and that’s also not exciting.” 

Although MLB’s trend of catering to the younger crowd while leaving the traditional nature of the game behind continues, even older fans seem to be in support, saying, “I hate the shift. It annoys me so much,” and “Even my friends, they’re like ‘really, do you want us to go to a game? They’re so long.’ I like the pitch clock—all the other sports have clocks.”

MLB chiefly represents a union between the American League (AL) and the National League (NL), with champions of each facing off in the World Series every year. However, the NL’s commitment to the tradition of the game had made interleague play between AL and NL teams lopsided in favor of the AL. This is due in part to the AL’s use of a Designated Hitter (DH) in the lineup to hit for a fielder—almost always a pitcher—that isn’t a good hitter. The NL refused to immediately use the DH and forced their pitchers to hit as per usual, leading to decades of an uneven playing field. 

However, the NL has finally come around and accepted the DH, much to the delight of fans. As one fan commented, “I think it’s about time… It makes the game more interesting, the bats are swinging, it’s more exciting when people are hitting [more often].”

Though the game is finally beginning to change, hopes remain low for Guardians fans, who haven’t seen a playoff series win in six years. Expectations, according to one fan, are “Not good, but I’m hoping to see a lot of young talent come up and play and… show what they have… and then we build upon that.”

Despite the low confidence in the team, Guardians fans remain faithful, with one couple saying “We’re just glad to be here. We’ve gone to every home opener since they’ve opened up here [at Progressive Field].” One fan even pointed out the need for a new phrase, exclaiming, “We can’t even say ‘windians’ anymore! Go troop of Guardians!”

The Guardians head to the Bronx on Friday for a 3-game weekend series against the New York Yankees.