October 25, 2007

The first Indian baseball player

The Story of Louis SockalexisAlthough it was discovered in the 1960s that the first Native American in the major leagues was James Madison Toy, who played in the American Association in 1887 and 1890, the first man known and treated as an American Indian was Louis Sockalexis. Born on October 24, 1871 on the Penobscot Indian reservation outside of Old Town, Maine, Sockalexis displayed incredible athletic talent in his youth. Tales abounded of his great throwing arm, with descriptions of him hurling a baseball over 600 feet across the Penobscot River. He went on to become a star pitcher and outfielder at both Holy Cross and Notre Dame, where life and legend continued to intertwine. One of his colossal home runs was estimated at 600 feet, while another reportedly broke a fourth-story window in the Brown University chapel. He stole six bases in one game; pitched three no-hitters; and one of his outfield throws, measured by two Harvard professors, traveled 414 feet on the fly.

Sockalexis was signed to a professional contract in 1897 by the Cleveland Spiders baseball club of the National League and was an immediate success, hitting an impressive .338 with eight triples and 16 stolen bases in his first 60 games. He appeared to be on target to fulfill the enormous promise predicted for him by New York Giants manager John McGraw, who described Sockalexis as the greatest natural talent he had ever encountered in the game. But his rookie season and his professional baseball career were soon ground to a halt. A drinking problem that had begun in his college days resurfaced, and on July 4, 1897, during a party, an inebriated Sockalexis jumped from the second-story window of a brothel, severely injuring his ankle. He played only sporadically during the next two years, and his last game in the major leagues came in 1899 at the age of 27.

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