MLB waiting until 2019 to force Indians to dump Chief Wahoo is another misstep

WASHINGTON — I’m starting to think Rob Manfred has no idea what he’s doing.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I’ve always suspected it to be true, but was willing to give the MLB commissioner the benefit of the doubt. But this offseason, he’s approved the sale of one of his teams to an ownership group clearly financially incapable of operating it without a massive fire sale, which included jettisoning the league MVP. He’s obsessed about cutting a few minutes out of games’ run times instead of focusing on making the fun parts of the sport more accessible to the younger generation. And now, he’s taken the easiest public relations slam dunk — finally dumping the archaic, offensive Chief Wahoo mascot — and clanged the ball off the back rim.

On Monday, MLB told The New York Times that the Cleveland Indians will stop using the caricature, saying the team has agreed with the league that “the logo is no longer appropriate for on-field use in Major League Baseball.” In fact, it’s so inappropriate that the team will stop using it … next year. Evidently it’s just fine for 2018, when it will still be worn on the field and merchandise featuring it still sold in the Cleveland area.

The cognitive dissonance here shatters any veneer of this move being made because it’s, you know, the right thing to do. Getting rid of the logo was always going to be a business decision, but even as that, this one was thoroughly bungled. And both MLB and the Indians are going to pay the price for it this season.

Those of us in Washington, D.C., already know what this will look like. You know those guys, the ones who dress up in face paint and feathers? They’re going to be out in force this year. The anti-protest signs you saw at NFL games this fall? There will be plenty more of those in the stands at the ironically named Progressive Field this season, but for standing up against political correctness.

Oh, and the Indians are probably going to be a playoff team again, so get ready for this drama to play out on a national stage in October.

All of this was avoidable. The best decision clearly would have been to dump the logo a long time ago, like when Manfred took over from Bud Selig’s tenure three years ago. The next best option would have been to dump it this offseason. It’s not like you need a year to phase it out — this is not solar power replacing the coal industry. The Atlanta Braves introduced, saw the backlash to, and killed their awful 2013 Spring Training hat design all in a matter of six weeks.

Let’s take the morality out of this and look at it purely from a business standpoint. This is not difficult. If you really had to wait until the end of the season to do this, why not just announce it then, letting the offseason and news from other sports wash away the backlash while the stadium sits empty all winter?

I understand that, due to trademark law, in order to keep other people from profiting off the logo, the team needs to keep the ability to sell merchandise featuring it in some regard. But the Indians are reportedly planning to sell merchandise all around northern Ohio this year, including at the ballpark itself. Seriously? How, exactly, does that help the situation?

As for the road forward out of this mess, the team and league need not look beyond their own sport or even their own team name for a model. When the minor league Spokane Indians were looking for a better way forward with their logo set 12 years ago, they did something novel — they actually listened to the Native population. Their jerseys now include a logo printed in the Native Salish language of the Spokane Tribe.

Perhaps, Commissioner Manfred could take a page out of Spokane’s book, not just in terms of the idea itself, but by getting out of his echo chamber in New York and actually listening to what baseball fans want. It’s hard to imagine the results could be any worse than what he’s come up with so far.

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