Arachnids vs. Saltines in the great autumnal classic

October 29, 1995|By Theo Lippman Jr.

I DON'T KNOW much about baseball as a game, but I know plenty about it as a political/social phenomenon, and I can tell you the 1995 World Series is the most politically incorrect championship in 47 years. No, make that ever.

I am referring to the fact that both teams have insulting Native American nicknames. Cleveland is the Indians, and Atlanta is the Braves.

On the warpath

The Braves (then in Boston) played the Indians in the 1948 World Series. That was a politically incorrect event only in retrospect. At the time no one knew (cared?) about political incorrectness and ethnic sensitivity. In fact, sports writers routinely, un-self-consciously and with no sense of wrongness or insult or shame referred to that 1948 match-up as ''the Injun Series.''

Some Native American groups have demanded that the Atlanta and Cleveland teams change their names. The answer so far has been, ''Can't. Tradition.''

Tradition is important. Fortunately there is a way to honor it and accommodate the protesters' complaints. Both Cleveland and Atlanta baseball teams have other nicknames in their tradition.

Cleveland was once the Spiders. That was back in the 1890s. In the earliest post-season championships in the last century, the Spiders appeared three times, beating the Baltimore Orioles once, losing to them once and losing to the Boston Braves once. But Boston was not known as the Braves then. The team was the Beaneaters.

So Indians-Braves could be Spiders-Beaneaters. But hold it! Bean-eaters is sure to be confused with the slur directed at Mexican-Americans by Gringo bigots in the Southwest: Beaners. So it's out, too.

But Atlanta has a couple of other choices in the team's rich history. The team became the Braves in 1912. In the 1930s, after two decades of losing teams, the owners decided to change the name, make a fresh start. Fans suggested hundreds of alternatives. The owners decided on Bees. The team continued to lose, so it changed back to Braves in six years.

Spiders vs. Bees in 1996! An all-insect World Series!

Don't like it? OK. The Braves' other choice is to forget its Boston roots and invoke its Atlanta tradition.

It's OK to insult them

The minor league team that the Braves replaced was the Atlanta Crackers. The Dictionary of American Regional English defines the word as ''a backwoodsman, rustic, countrified person; a poor white person.'' It was originally used to mean ''boasters'' and ''lawless rascals,'' specifically in Georgia and a few other states, including Maryland. Not to worry. According to the Manual of Political Correctness (Article Four, Clause 3), it is OK to insult such people. In fact, Bubba, most of 'em don't even know it's an insult.

Theo Lippman Jr. writes editorials for The Sun.

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