As name changes go, this makes way more sense than blowing up Dundas.
On Friday, the Cleveland Indians unveiled their new identity. At the end of this MLB season, the scrappy ball club will be known as the Cleveland Guardians. The team made the announcement with a slick marketing video, narrated by rent-a-poet Tom Hanks:
“We are a city on the rise, forging into the future from our ironed out past. We are a city of fire and water, of trees and towers, built through generations of blue collars and the brightest scholars, and all of those who have worked harder …”
Since Mr. Hanks was born in California, this “we” business was odd. Was Cleveland-born Halle Berry not available? But I honestly got goosebumps from his love letter. And I was born in nearby Akron, so I know a lot of the imagery and verse and guitar-shredding, courtesy of the Black Keys, was heavily romanticized. I have relatives in Ohio and the lines they’d scribble for Hanks would be: “We are a city of anti-vaxxers, forging into the future on lies and conspiracies. Death to Dr. Fauci.”
But let’s stay on point. A tip of my Jays cap to the new Cleveland Guardians. The team, which spent months interviewing more than 40,000 fans and community leaders, had a long list of 1,200 possible new names. Then they belted it out of the park with a word that, like the problematic “Indians,” has three syllables. It is an homage to the Guardians of Traffic statues on the Hope Memorial Bridge near the club’s Progressive Field. And a cosmic connotation, thanks to Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Cleveland should license Groot or Rocket Raccoon as future mascots.
Successfully renaming a franchise that has existed since 1915 requires a lot of curve balls to catch the strike zone and the club absolutely nailed it out of the stretch. The Cleveland Guardians is the coolest name for a baseball team I’ve ever heard. Mariners? Red Sox? Mets? Cubs? Rays? Please. Every other team now sounds ridiculously quaint. “Guardians” conjures unity, resilience, focus, safety, threat, victory. That G-word transcends baseball. If you had to get your ducts cleaned, would you go with company ABC123 or the Vent Guardians? I can tell you right now, a new fast-food joint called Guardians of the Chicken is going to get most of my future sandwich dollars.
But as I marvelled at the genius of this baseball rebrand on Friday, my mind started to drift. The Cleveland Indians, like the former Washington Redskins and other teams, are ditching names that are obviously problematic amid the racial reckoning we are living through. Fine. Good. I have hazy memories of pounding drums and Braves fans doing the tomahawk chop and, even as a kid, recall saying, “Dad, this seems a little racist-y.”
And this is where we get to the final stop of my Friday mind drift.
I get why the Indians or Redskins are eager to start over. But what about sports franchises that are not grappling with troubling monikers and, by contrast, have merely broken the hearts of their fans for a half-century?
That’s right. Today, inspired by the reimagined Cleveland Guardians, I am calling upon the Toronto Maple Leafs to change their name. Enough already. Every pro franchise in this city has won a championship in my lifetime — except the Leafs. Our sticks-and-skates squad has tried everything to not be a laughingstock and, come every spring, hockey fans in every other city are doubling over and gasping with giggle fits.
Comedian and Bruins fan Bill Burr now talks about the Leafs the way Joan Crawford talked about Bette Davis. No matter what changes are made to the team — players, coaches, management, front office, a religious zeal for advanced metrics — the results are the same. The Leafs suffer a catastrophic collapse when it matters most.
Then the blue-and-white zombies chant, “Next year!”
Right. Psst. There is no next year. Or the year after that. For whatever reason — and I’m now partial to paranormal curse theories — this team is doomed. So why not try a total rebrand? What do we have to lose? MLSE has tried everything else. Maybe a name change will stymie the universe gremlins and give these bumbling nincompoops a shot at finally winning it all. Maybe a new name will be a new lease on hope.
“Toronto Maple Leafs” is not racist in any way, though I have no doubt someone, somewhere, believes deciduous trees are a symbol of privilege and white supremacy. But “Toronto Maple Leafs” is also most definitely associated with chronic failure, more than any other brand in the world. The Toronto New Cokes would be preferable.
If the Leafs were a birthday clown, they’d be blowing up balloons in the shape of scary monsters and punching kids in the face for no reason at all.
I have pushed my daughters to love the Jays. I have kept them away from the Leafs, because the Leafs are an inevitable cardiac arrest for the soul. The Leafs keep promising promise and then deliver whoops.
They keep fanning on their goalmouth destiny.
So why are we hanging on to the past? At this point, anything would be better than “Maple Leafs.” The Toronto Turbochargers. The Toronto Mercenaries. The Toronto Ice Bots. The Toronto Dandelions. The Toronto Toilet Paper Rolls …
Much like Cleveland or Washington, but for very different reasons, the Toronto Maple Leafs need a new name and fresh start. They need a mulligan, a do-over.
It’s time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to be euthanized.
And for Leaf fans to embrace resurrection.