Terry Francona on Cleveland’s name change: ‘Proud that we are going to do something that is correct’

Terry Francona, who grew up in the Cleveland organization with his father and managed the club the past eight years, certainly understands the emotional tug-of-war among their longtime fans.

He grew up with Cleveland having a Chief Wahoo mascot, players wearing the “Indians’’ nickname across their jerseys, and the proud tradition of the organization, but Cleveland officials announced this week that their nickname will be put to rest.

And Francona, 61, during a conference call Friday, says he is proud to be on the right side of history.

“The organization has done many, many things to listen to people and to try to understand,’’ Francona said, “which I think we all said early on what we needed to do. (Owner) Paul Dolan said early on that he really wanted to listen. And that’s what our leaders in the organization did. …

“We set out to find answers that maybe we didn’t have. Through that, we came to the realization that we need to make a change. I am proud that we are going to do something that is correct.’’

The name will be gone forever, Francona says, but it won’t taint or even tarnish the memories.

“We don’t have to ignore (Cleveland history), that’s not the idea behind this,’’ said Francona, who played for the team in 1988. “I just think by simply saying, 'We’ve always done it this way, so we’ll just continue to.’ Shoot, if we did that, Jackie Robinson may never have played in the game of baseball.

“Nobody was ever trying to be disrespectful, but that wasn’t a good enough answer anymore.’’

Terry Francona has managed Cleveland the past eight seasons. (Photo: Paul Rutherford, USA TODAY Sports)

The name change will become official, sometime after the 2021 season, once they come up with a new nickname and provide time to change uniforms, logos, trademarks and licensing.

“We’ve always said that we didn’t ever want to be disrespectable, but I think we found that in 2020 that just by saying that wasn’t correct anymore,’’ Francona said. “And so regardless of how we felt about it, what was really ultimately most important is how other people that it was most affecting felt about it.

“So, as an organization we do what we always try to, and do the right thing.’’

When Cleveland made the official announcement Monday, Dolan reached out to several local media entities, including the Associated Press, and explained his decision.

“I think when fair-minded, open-minded people really look at it, think about it and maybe even spend some time studying it,’’ Dolan told the AP, “I like to think they would come to the same conclusion. It’s a name that had its time, but this is not the time now, and certainly going forward, the name is no longer acceptable in our world.’’

Francona, 61, couldn’t agree more. The Washington Football Team didn’t lose their fans when they dropped their nickname. Universities like Stanford and St. Johns didn’t have an enrollment reduction when they changed nicknames.

NEXT? 10 new name suggestions for Cleveland 

INDIANS:Cleveland officially announce it will change nickname

If you’re a fan of Cleveland’s baseball team, you’ll still be a fan.

“I think what’s important for people to understand is that what we’re really proud of is the first name of our team,’’ Francona said, “which is Cleveland. And I hope we never hear a player say something that’s contrary to that.

“Maybe in the next year or so, the fans and the people can have fun with something going forward. We’re not trying to be disrespectful to anybody, believe me, we’re trying to be the opposite and that’s being respectful.’’

Native American groups have opposed Cleveland’s nickname for decades, but once Washington dropped its nickname, and with the George Floyd death created an awakening in America, Cleveland’s ownership group knew the time had finally come for change.

“I think this year was probably the epiphany for a lot of people,’’ Francona said, “when you see a lot of things that were happening. I think it made a lot of people step back and re-think some things maybe we took for granted, or that we shouldn’t have taken for granted. …

“I’m really proud of our organization for trying to do the right thing.’’

Now, with perhaps this being the final year before the nickname changes, Francona hopes to field a team that can still be competitive and reach the postseason. They have reached the playoffs four times in the past five years, and in 2016 were one victory away from their first World Series championship since 1948.

If they are to return to the playoffs, they not only will be doing it without All-Star closer Brad Hand, but likely All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor, who they are trying to trade before opening day. He’s projected to earn about $20 million in salary arbitration before he’s eligible for free agency after the 2021 season.

“We all know that Franky is not only an unbelievable player,’’ Francona said, “but an unbelievable person. Nobody enjoys having him in uniform more than I do. But we do have challenges. We have to attack those challenges.

“Where that goes, I don’t know.’’

All that’s known at this point is that Cleveland is changing.

Their nickname since 1915 will soon be gone.

So will Lindor, their star player.

But the expectations, Francona insists, will still be around.

“One thing you’ll never hear me say is that we’ll make an excuse for not winning,’’ Francona said. “The last eight years we’ve been very competitive, and that’s our goal moving forward.

“And that will never change.’’

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

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