CHIEF WAHOO is a caricature of a Native American that was used from 1947 to 2018 in many facets of the CLEVELAND INDIANS’ uniform.
Although the team was renamed the Indians in 1915, and Native American imagery had been used in news coverage of the Indians since approximately 1932, Indians owner Bill Veeck commissioned J.F. Novak Co. in Cleveland in 1947 to come up with a new mascot. The task fell to Walter Goldbach (10 August 1929-13 December 2017), a senior at Rhodes High School. Goldbach’s original design featured orange skin and a hooked nose.
The caricature was unnamed, but started to be referred to by 1950 as Chief Wahoo. The following year, Chief Wahoo was redesigned to the mascot most people know today. He was given a different nose and his skin tone was changed from orange to red. Chief Wahoo could be found on caps, jerseys and signs throughout CLEVELAND MUNICIPAL STADIUM and Jacobs/Progressive Field. A 28-foot-high neon Chief Wahoo in a batting stance used to stand on top of Gate D of Cleveland Stadium. The sign is now on display at the Cleveland History Center of the WESTERN RESERVE HISTORICAL SOCIETY.
Chief Wahoo appeared on the Indians hat inside a wishbone C from 1951 to 1958, and then disappeared from hats until 1986, when it was reintroduced. In the 1960s, when the Indians wore sleeveless uniforms, Chief Wahoo could be found on the chest, but for most of its existence, it could be found on shoulder patches of uniforms.
Chief Wahoo has been called a racist caricature, and Native American activists have protested it at Cleveland Stadium and Jacobs/PROGRESSIVE FIELD, particularly during high-profile events like Opening Day and the postseason. Indians owner DICK JACOBS said that for as long as he owned the team, Chief Wahoo would be part of the logo (he sold the team to Larry Dolan following the 1999 season).
When the Indians relocated their spring training site from Florida to Goodyear, Arizona, in 2009, Chief Wahoo was no longer displayed as prominently. In 2014, the PLAIN DEALER wrote an editorial saying it was time for Chief Wahoo to go, and two years later, Indians owner Paul Dolan said the Chief was now a secondary logo, with the block C as the primary logo. However, during the Indians’ 2016 postseason, the team wore Chief Wahoo caps.
In 2017, new Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred voiced his opposition to Wahoo. At the beginning of 2018, the Indians announced they would be removing Chief Wahoo from uniforms and caps following the season. On February 13, 2018, BERTMAN FOODS, CO. officially announced that it would be changing the branding and labels on its Bertman Original Ball Park Mustard for the first time since the product was created in 1925. Part of this announcement noted that the new labels would replace the ‘Chief Wahoo’ logo with the Cleveland Indians ‘script’ logo because of the change at the Cleveland Indians organization.