Wagers on “Cleveland Guardians” as the new name of Cleveland’s MLB baseball team paid out at +1000 odds at their highest, but just before the announcement, the MLB odds were at their lowest and paid out at +450.
In a way, the Cleveland Guardians pulled off its first upset victory with its new name coming in at underdog odds.
Cleveland Name Change Options
For years, the Cleveland Indians came under scrutiny from media and fans for having a team name and mascot deemed racially and culturally insensitive and perpetuated stereotypes. The Toronto Blue Jays franchise even began refusing to call them by their name, instead referring simply to the city or a generic name.
So in July 2020, when the team publicly floated the idea of changing their name, fans erupted with Cleveland Indians’ new name ideas and the online sportsbook quickly posted odds.
- Spiders +300
- Naps +400
- Guardians +500
- Buckeyes +600
- Dobys +700
- Wild Things +800
- Blue Sox +900
- Rocks +1000
- Cuyahogas +1500
- Crows +2000
- Unions +2500
- Fellers +3300
- Great Lakers +4000
In December 2020, after owner Paul Dolan made official the Cleveland team name change following the 2021 season, broader markets opened, more options appeared on the board and lines started to move.
Cleveland Guardians Odds Moves
One of the additions to the betting board took its inspiration from football. After Washington drew praise for changing its name to the generic “Washington Football Team” betting markets threw a good deal of support behind the idea. That support came in the face of President and CEO Paul Dolan’s declaration Cleveland wouldn’t be using a generic placeholder name.
For a brief time even, odds as low as -200 could be found for the “Cleveland Baseball Team” putting it as a decent-sized favorite, but the generic name’s position as chalk didn’t last long. As the months progressed and the organization sought public input, the sportsbook took action and the lines firmed up.
Eventually, “Baseball Team” would drop back into second place on the odds board behind the choice growing in popularity and acceptance, the Spiders. Indeed, the Cleveland Spiders slowly and steadily fell in price on the odds board from its open of +300 down to as low as +200.
Ironically, the Cleveland Guardians received virtually no support from the public or betting markets, and odds for the Guardians could be found as high as +1000 while the name search committee continued its work.
Cleveland Guardians’ Name Also-Rans
Most of the long-shot odds for Cleveland team name options remained just that, long-shots which never caught on or captured the public’s imagination.
Some names — like the Bullfrogs, Castles, Cinders, Fellers, Great Lakers, Hazards or Unions — just fell off the board. Maybe, in this case, for the best. Other short-odds options bottomed out as the year went on.
The proposed Cleveland Dobys was an homage to former All-Star Larry Doby, the American League’s first black player who played for the team from 1947 to 1955. Dobby was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998, but his team-name odds shot up to as high as +3000 signaling he wouldn’t be so honored.
The same went for two of the regional name favorites: Cuyahogas and Buckeyes.
The Cleveland Cuyahogas never caught on, maybe because of the awkward anglicized spelling or the need to explain to everyone outside Ohio that it’s a river. The Cuyahogas doubled in price to +3000.
The Cleveland Buckeyes also saw lack of support move its price from +600 to +1200. Maybe because it was too closely named to the popular university in neighboring Columbus, despite it also being the state tree.
Shunned too was the amusing name idea Cleveland Rocks, named after the 1979 Ian Hunter hit single and Drew Carrey theme song. The Cleveland Rocks sank from +1000 to +1200 odds. The tongue-in-cheek Cleveland Wild Things — a reference to Charlie Sheen’s character’s nickname in the movie Major League — also slipped on the odds board.
Cleveland Guardians Pull off Upset
Maybe the second-biggest disappointment to betting markets was the Cleveland Crows. Having opened at +2000, the betting public took a shine to the blackbirds and bet them down to as low as +1000 — at one point tied with the Cleveland Guardians.
The biggest upsets on the team-name betting board reflected the convoluted history of Cleveland’s professional baseball-team names.
No one was surprised by the choice of Cleveland Guardians more than those who backed the long-time favorite on the betting board — the Cleveland Spiders. One of the city’s earliest professional baseball franchises, the Spiders were so-named for their “skinny and spindly” players. The Spiders played for 12 years before disbanding, peaking in 1895 by winning that era’s equivalent of the World Series.
Broad support among local fans for the name Cleveland Spiders could be found for years before the team entertained the idea of a name change. So it was no surprise it topped the leaderboard. But it suffered the biggest upset having opened at +300 odds which shortened to +200 leading up to the announcement.
Cleveland Team Name Contenders Mirror History
Around the time the Spiders were one of the more powerful teams in baseball, another organization called the Rustlers formed in Michigan before moving to Cleveland and changing its name to the Lake Shores,
That team again changed its name to the Cleveland Bluebirds in 1901 when they became a charter member of the American League. Writers and fans frequently called them simply the Blues, matching their all-blue uniforms, and explains why the Cleveland Blue Sox remained an endearing +900 betting option.
Players at the time hated the name though — even trying unsuccessfully to rebrand themselves as the Bronchos the following season. But in 1903, the team struck a legal coup and traded for second-base sensation Napoleon Lajoie.
The next year, the team changed its name in his honor to the Cleveland Naps, one of the top entries on the odds board when lines on the new team name opened in late 2020. But a modern betting public either thought it was like calling the team the Cleveland Sleeps — or something akin to the Minnesota Vikings trading for Aaron Rodgers and renaming themselves the Minnesota Aarons the next year.
Whatever the reason, the Naps fell down the betting board to as low as +1400 as it seemed clear Cleveland wouldn’t be naming themselves after their 1903 selves. Of course, “Nap” Lajoie would eventually leave the team and they would need a new name.
As the story goes, owner Charles Somers solicited ideas from local baseball writers who referenced Native American Louis Sockalexis, a renowned player from the other famous Cleveland baseball team, the Spiders.
Thus in 1915, they began calling themselves the Cleveland Indians, and did so for another 106 years.
Why the Name “Guardians”?
When it came time in 2021 to announce the new name, the Cleveland Guardians received the official nod, upsetting both the Cleveland Spiders and the Cleveland Baseball Team.
Despite ownership’s insistence on numerous occasions, it wouldn’t use a placeholder name, Baseball Team still held its second rank on the odds board until the very end, bumped out of the top spot only by the Cleveland Spiders.
So after the announcement was made, the new moniker the Cleveland Guardians took many fans by surprise.
Not everyone was on board with the name change or the design. Some fans were taking to twitter to make fun of the Cleveland Guardians logo and name. But there are some strong roots to this new name.
Our fans spoke and we listened. pic.twitter.com/QV5NSwk4Ez
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) July 24, 2021
The Cleveland Indians’ new name is a reference to the city’s iconic Guardians of Traffic, monolithic Art Deco sculptures which grace the Hope Memorial Bridge close to the Progressive Field.
These Guardians of Traffic have flanked both sides of the bridge since 1932 with each statue holding a different vehicle to signify “the spirit of progress and transportation” as identified by engineer Wilbur Watson.
The Cleveland Guardians of 2021 will be the third major professional sports team to change its nickname. Washington’s NFL franchise first did it in 2020 by axing the “Redskins” from its moniker followed by the CFL’s Edmonton football team switching from the “Eskimos” to the “Elks” this year.
With the name change, the franchise hopes it will bring fans even closer and make the city more unified.