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GDT #116: Cleveland @ Minnesota

A final post about Native Americans in baseball.

Honoring heritage, one redface at a time.
Honoring heritage, one redface at a time.
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Time: 6:10 (00:10 GMT.) Vegas Line: CLE -112/+102 MIN
Weather: Nasty-Ass 92
TV: FSN. Radio: Sal Says Turn It Down

Louis Sockalexis has often been credited as the first person of Native American ancestry in MLB, but he almost certainly wasn't. Jeffrey Powers-Beck, author of "The American Indian Integration Of Baseball," believes it was actually Jim Toy, for the same Cleveland team ten years before -- except that nobody knew about Toy's background at the time. If Native players could pass for "white," they sometimes did so. Why?

Here's an utterly typical example of newspapers portraying Natives in those days:

"LA ROY, HE BIG CHIEF: HE HAD HEAP MUCH CURVES AND TREATED THE ROYALS LIKE SQUAWS AND PAPOOSES -- The little Indian, Lee LaRoy, donned his war paint yesterday afternoon, gathered together a quiver full of speedy straight balls and started as his ancestors did of old -- after the scalp of subjects . . ."

Almost invariably, this is how Native players were described, with "humorous" references to their traditions and mangled mockery of their languages. Charles Bender had his wallet stolen on a public train the Philadelphia A's were riding. A New York cartoonist heard the story and drew Bender in war-feather style, looking madly for his "wampum belt" while passengers recoiled in terror from the deranged savage.

Apparently the modern Cleveland club claimed for years that their "Indians" nickname stemmed from fan adoration of Sockalexis. Researcher Ellen Saurowsky more-or-less debunked this. While Sockalexis's novelty factor may well have been a fan draw, he wasn't treated with much respect.

As with many players of the period, Sockalexis had alcohol issues. These went largely unreported (or joked about with euphemistic terms like "carousing") for most players, but Natives were easy targets for the "drunken Indian" slur. Rudy York, a one-eighth Cherokee described by newspapers as "part Indian, part first baseman," bemoaned "all an Indian's got to do is be seen drinking a beer and he's a drunk."

By the time Cleveland adopted their newest nickname, Native-themed team monikers were common in American sports. And they were basically respectful in the way anti-Semites claimed Jews could be crafty with money. Natives got labeled for having racial attributes white Americans could admire as useless, such as being "stoic" or good at track-and-field because they hunted in the pre-conquest days.

That last belief was held by "Pop" Warner (yup, the football guy), athletic supervisor at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. These "Indian Schools" were intended, as Carlisle's headmaster put it, to "kill the Indian and save the man," erasing culture to replace it with a new one they didn't expect students to thrive in -- the schools taught industrial arts and stuff like clothes sewing, not much pre-law/med going on. (Carlisle had a pretty gruesome tally of students dying from malnutrition, poor housing, and disease, a 10% death/graduation ratio -- that's high even for Hogwarts.)

Sport was often a refuge for students, one place to escape, a little, the regimentation of boarding-school life when the games began. They could also experience some Native pride by competing with local white teams in sports the majority culture invented and respected. (And, absolutely, the girls played baseball, too.) Some athletes made money with local barnstorming teams, another plus. (Future Olympic star and MLBer Jim Thorpe ran away from school more than once to stay with those teams.)

Despite these hardships, Native Americans in baseball helped somewhat alter the racist attitudes of many other Americans, and certainly inspired other Natives. Fans from different tribes in the Northwest traveled to Portland, Oregon for ticker-tape updates of Bender's World Series performances. (There are two Native Americans active in MLB today; Oregonian Jacoby Ellsbury, and ex-Twin Kyle Lohse.)

And many used their publicity as athletes to speak out against prejudice. Former Philadelphia player Louis Bruce helped pass the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924, expanding voting rights. Bender largely remained silent on the matter as a player but loosened up as an A's spokesperson in the 1950s, delivering lines like "I was sure I'd make the Hall sometime because I figured, sooner or later, the white man would have to give something back."

Here's my favorite quote, from 1950s minor-leaguer Joseph Oxendine, on the perpetual nickname "Chief":

It is really used by non-Indians to say, "Hey, you're an Indian, that's how I can define you and keep you in your place" . . . You don't mind being known as an Indian, but you don't want it to be your whole identity.

Which nails both the cruelty and the point of reducing others to stereotypes. It's then easier to dismiss their reaction to how you treat them, and helps spread the toxic notion that others in your peer group should be at ease with this mistreatment. Stereotypes end up being clever little memes reinforcing themselves. Fortunately, baseball has had many gutsy individuals who did their part in the ongoing effort of bringing those stereotypes to shame.


Duff Man is back! He's opposed by Josh Tomlin, who's been out until now this season recovering from some surgery I can't spell. According to MLB, "Francona said Tomlin's velocity hasn't been what it was last year." Career digits for Tomlin, 2015 AAA/AA for Duff (we'll be kind and forget his MLB game):

Name ERA K/9 H/9 BB/9 HR/9 OPS v L/R BAbip FIP BAL
Duffey 3.14 8.9 8.8 1.8 0.0 .710/.580 .339 1.91 Barney
Tomlin 4.89 8.1 10.4 1.2 1.6 .776/.769 .286 4.44 Homer

Hunter, Plouffe, and Mauer hit Tomlin well; Dozier doesn't. Maybe he should sit today too, big chicken.


Spiders Twins
Jose Ramirez, 2B Aaron Hicks, CF
Francisco Lindor, SS Brian Dozier, 2B
Yan Gomes, DH Joe Mauer, 1B
"Smooooth," 1B Miguel Sano, DH
Giovanny Urshela, 3B Plouuuufe, 3B
Abraham Almonte, CF Torii Hunter, RF
Roberto Perez, C Eddie Rosario, LF
Lonnie Chisenhall, RF Chris Herrmann, C
Mike Aviles, LF Eduardo Escobar, SS