Native Village Youth and Education News
September 2009

 

Maine bows to tribe’s athletic stars
Tribute honors Sockalexis feats a century late

INDIAN ISLAND, Maine - Louis Sockalexis, who most historians say was the first Native American to play major league baseball, grew up on this island reservation in the late 1800s. According to Penobscot tribal lore, he could throw a baseball across the Penobscot River at the old ferry landing.

His cousin Andrew Sockalexis, a marathon star a century ago, did his winter training on a track cleared on the frozen river.
 
The Penobscot tribe asserts that the Sockalexis' legacies have been overlooked and misunderstood for too long.  In the Maine Legislature, tribal representative Wayne Mitchell sponsored two resolutions: one to honor Louis Sockalexis who played baseball with the Cleveland Spiders in 1897; the second to honor Andrew, who placed fourth in the 1912 Olympic marathon and was twice a runner-up in the Boston Marathon.

Last month, the Maine Legislature agreed to the resolutions. 
 
Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis said the Sockalexis cousins have never been forgotten on Indian Island.
 
“They were always talked about in my upbringing on the reservation,’’ Francis said. He said Andrew Sockalexis “ran countless laps on a track on the frozen river.’’ Of Louis Sockalexis, Francis said, “He batted left and threw right with great power.’’ Francis said Sockalexis hit three triples in his first game at the College of the Holy Cross. As a pitcher there, Francis said, he pitched a number of shutouts and at least two no-hitters.
 
Francis also said Sockalexis hit a home run on the first pitch of his first at-bat in the major leagues in New York.  But Sockalexis constantly faced racism and racist remarks for being Native American.
 
Ed Rice, who wrote biographies of both Sockalexis cousins, said that Louis’s stint with the Cleveland Spiders inspired the name for today's team, the Cleveland Indians. He said Louis played a historic role in changing the major leagues.
 
“He’s the man 50 years before Jackie Robinson who broke the color line,’’ Rice said. “ ‘Sock’ broke the red color line.’’
 
Despite their accomplishments, the Penobscots believe the cousins have been overlooked and disrespected by media outlets and baseball institutions.
 
Specifically, they say:
The National Baseball Hall of Fame has not officially acknowledged Louis Sockalexis as the first Native American to play in the majors;
The Cleveland Indians refuse to stop using the mascot Chief Wahoo, an Indian caricature disrespectful of the legacy of Louis Sockalexis;
Sports Illustrated left the cousins off a 1999 list of 50 greatest Maine athletes.

In their recent resolutions, Maine legislators asked the Cleveland Indians, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Sports Illustrated address these concerns. The responses were:
 
“We as an institution do not at this time make those types of declarative statements that reflect the first of a certain ethnicity or group to make contributions to baseball>’’ Brad Horn, Hall of Fame spokesman.
 
“These lists are very subjective, and should we produce a similar list in the future we will give them the utmost consideration, which they deserve.’’ Sports Illustrated spokesman.

The Cleveland Indians did not return calls seeking comment.
 

Tribal Elder Butch Phillips is surprised that concerns about the Indians mascot have gone unanswered for so long. He and the Penobscot Tribal Council wrote the team in 2000 asking that it stop using the mascot. Phillips said the appeal, and a subsequent letter, went unanswered.
 
 “I hope these resolutions get people to see there are more people than just the Penobscot Nation that are concerned about the legacies of the Sockalexis cousins," Chief Francis said. "It’s all part of honoring our ancestors, and making sure they get the respect they are due.’’
 

Original Chief Wahoo

Current Chief Wahoo

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