May 16, 2008

Invisible history of Indian baseball

American Indians' Untold Baseball StoriesBaseball fans around the world have probably heard of two of America's major league teams, the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves. Both names refer to American Indians, although the teams themselves have no connection with tribal culture. But few fans have heard the names Charles Bender or Louis Sockalexis, legendary baseball players who really were American Indians. A new exhibit at a museum in New York State hopes to change that. It celebrates the role of America's first people in America's pastime. David Sommerstein reports.

The Iroquois Confederacy, a group of six American Indian tribes, once reigned across much of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. Today, the Iroquois Museum in upstate New York commemorates that legacy. The museum's cedar shingles resemble the elm bark of a traditional Iroquois longhouse, or meeting place.

With major league baseball's hall of fame a short drive away in Cooperstown, it's the ideal meeting place to tell the largely invisible history of American Indian ball players. Inside, you're greeted by more than a dozen black-and-white photos of players with American Indian ancestry. Many are household names.

Exhibit visitor Rosemary Joyce looks them over in amazement. "Bucky Dent and Johnny Bench and Early Wynn… I didn't know there were this many American Indians in baseball. In fact, I was surprised at the names. Names I always heard growing up when I was a teenager."

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