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Louis Francis Sockalexis
Louis Sockalexis
Born: (1871-10-24)October 24, 1871
Penobscot Indian Island Reservation, Maine
Died: December 24, 1913(1913-12-24) (aged 42)
Burlington, Maine
Batted: Left
MLB debut
April 22, 1897 for the Cleveland Spiders
Last MLB appearance
May 15, 1899 for the Cleveland Spiders
Career statistics
Batting average .313
Home runs 3
Runs batted in 55

Louis Francis Sockalexis (October 24, 1871 – December 24, 1913), nicknamed The Deerfoot of the Diamond, was an American baseball player. Sockalexis played professional baseball in the National League for three seasons, spending his entire career (1897-1899) as an outfielder for the Cleveland Spiders.

A Native American from the Penobscot tribe, Sockalexis is often identified as the first person of Native American ancestry to play in Major League Baseball, though many conflicting reports exist. In some cases, Jim Toy, a catcher in the early American Association, is identified as the first person with Native American ancestry to play major league baseball.[1] Author Ed Rice has disputed this, having found a death certificate for Toy stating his race as Caucasian, although birth records of the time are notoriously inaccurate. Also, Chief Yellow Horse, who played in the early 1920s, is noted as the first full-blooded American Indian to have played in the major leagues.[2]

Early life[edit]

Louis Sockalexis was born on the Penobscot Indian reservation near Old Town, Maine in 1871. His grandfather was Chief of the Bear Clan.[3] In his youth, Sockalexis' athletic talents were very noticeable. It was reported that Sockalexis could throw a baseball across the Penobscot River from Indian Island to the shore of Old Town.[3] Additionally, it is said that Sockalexis and his father entertained crowds at the Bangor Race Track by playing catch across the entire track.[3] He attended High School in Van Buren's St. Mary's.

After completing his secondary education, Sockalexis began his college career in 1894 at the College of the Holy Cross.[3] While there, he participated on the school's baseball, football, and track teams.[4] Sockalexis spent those summers playing baseball in the Trolley League along the coast of Maine.[3] After the end of the 1895-96 baseball season, the Holy Cross baseball coach accepted a position at the University of Notre Dame in February 1897. When that happened, Sockalexis decided to transfer to Notre Dame.[5] In his two season at Holy Cross, Sockalexis compiled a .444 batting average.[3]

Sockalexis biographer Ed Rice challenges this entire Notre Dame-Giants account, since there is (1) no known newspaper account of it and (2) it sounds too remarkably like the account that actually occurred when the Cleveland team played the Giants for the first time in the Polo Grounds. In 1897, the Notre Dame baseball team played an exhibition game against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds.[5] In a sign of things to come, Sockalexis had to deal with taunts, racism, and insulting chants during the game.[3] At the same time, sports writers in attendance insulted a delegation of Pensobscots who had come from Old Town to watch the game.[3]

Amos Rusie, a future member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, pitched that day for the Giants; and, before the game, Rusie had promised to strike out Sockalexis.[3] Things did not go well for Rusie as Sockalexis hit a home run following Rusie's first pitch.[3] Here, Rice completely challenges the Notre Dame account: Why would Rusie promise to strike out the "damned Indian" as he characterized Sockalexis before he and the Cleveland team arrived in New York? When this incident occurred in the professional game, Rice and Society for American Baseball Research member Richard "Dixie" Tourangeau discovered Rusie had a reason to be upset with Sockalexis. It seems earlier in the 1897 season, New York had played a series in Cleveland; in the game Rusie pitched there, the game went into extra innings and Sockalexis got the game-winning hit off Rusie. This Notre Dame account hasn't been proven.

However, Sockalexis' career at Notre Dame was short. In an event that foreshadowed future problems, the University expelled Sockalexis not long after he arrived for his problems with alcohol.[6] Although he played exclusively as an outfielder in the majors, Sockalexis played outfield and pitcher while at Notre Dame and Holy Cross.[4]

Professional career[edit]

On March 9, 1897, Sockalexis signed a major league contract with the Cleveland Spiders. Just a month later, on April 22, Sockalexis made his major league debut. Just a few months after he was expelled from school, his drinking problems resurfaced. On July 4, 1897, Sockalexis, in an inebriated condition, jumped from the second-story window of a brothel. He severely injured his ankle in the fall.[6] Evidently, the injury affected his play. In the five games after the injury, he had nine hits in 18 at bats.[6] However, his fielding was not very good. From July 25 until September 12, Sockalexis played in just one game. In that game, he committed two errors.[6] In his first season with the Spiders, Sockalexis hit for a .338 batting average with three home runs and 42 RBIs. In 66 games that season, Sockalexis also had 16 stolen bases.

Burdened by his alcoholism,[3] Sockalexis played just two more seasons of major league baseball. After a mediocre 1898 campaign, in 1899, a combined ownership cartel that controlled both the Cleveland Spiders and the St. Louis Perfectos engineered a 'trade' in which all of Cleveland's best players were assigned to St. Louis—in this way, the St. Louis team would have a shot at the pennant, while the Cleveland team would be allowed to languish. Sockalexis, no longer considered a star, was kept in Cleveland.

After playing just 7 games for what is often considered the worst team in major league baseball history, the Spiders released Sockalexis, and his major league career was over. Sockalexis finished his career in the minor leagues and returned to Indian Island to coach juvenile teams in 1901.[3] Five players whom he coached went on to play in the New England League. However, his baseball career ended for good in 1903.[6]

Later life and legacy[edit]

Sockalexis suffered from tuberculosis and heart trouble in his later years.[3] On Christmas Eve, 1913, Sockalexis died in Burlington, Maine.

Although Sockalexis had a brief career, he faced many non-tangible obstacles during his time in professional baseball. It was reported that fans of the opposing teams often shouted racial slurs toward him due to his Penobscot heritage. Additionally, fans imitated war whoops and war dances in his presence.[1] Later, when sports journalists attributed his rapid decline to alcoholism, they identified the disease as the inherent "Indian weakness".[1]

For many years, people believed that when the Cleveland Naps changed their name to the Indians in 1915, the franchise did so to honor Sockalexis.[citation needed] However, the Indians' official media guide says that the owners solicited sportswriters to ask fans for their favorite nickname, and the name Indians was chosen. A brief story in the February 28, 1915, issue of the Plain Dealer states that the Cleveland Indians would wear the depiction of an Indian head on the left sleeves of their uniforms to "keep the Indians reminded of what the Braves did last year." [7] Sockalexis had died two years earlier.

In recognition of his accomplishments, the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame has elected Sockalexis. He was joined by his second cousin, marathon runner Andrew Sockalexis, who finished second in the 1912 and 1913 Boston Marathons and in fourth place at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm.


  1. ^ a b c "The Story of Louis Sockalexis". baseballreliquary.com. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  2. ^ "Photo Auction". Retrieved 2007-05-29. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Louis Sockalexis". maine.com. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  4. ^ a b "Before Chief Wahoo". deadspin.com. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  5. ^ a b "First Cleveland Indian was a Domer first". nd.edu. Archived from the original on 2007-05-09. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  6. ^ a b c d e "Baseball Library Bio". baseballlibrary.com. Retrieved 2007-07-07. 
  7. ^ "Indians to Follow Example of Braves". Cleveland Plain Dealer. February 28, 1915. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Sockalexis — Please support Wikipedia.
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83 news items

Bangor Daily News
Tue, 16 Dec 2014 11:41:43 -0800

Bangor native and writer Ed Rice is starting a campaign to find support and interest in building a statue in Bangor of Maine Penobscot Indian Louis Sockalexis, the first Native American to play Major League Baseball. “I've believed, for a very long ...
Tue, 18 Mar 2014 10:56:14 -0700

When I was a kid growing up in Cleveland, I believed — completely, wholeheartedly, without reservation or pause — that the Cleveland Indians were named to honor a Native American ballplayer named Louis Sockalexis, who played for Cleveland in the late ...
The Plain Dealer
Wed, 18 Jun 2014 04:24:52 -0700

At that time, Clevelanders may demand a more attractive portrait of Louis Sockalexis at their stadium; perhaps, there will even be a movement to create a statue to recognize the member of Maine's Penobscot tribe as the first-known Native American to ...
Indian Country Today Media Network
Tue, 23 Sep 2014 05:04:21 -0700

As my plane winged its way to Cleveland last week, to give a library talk in praise of Maine Penobscot Indian Louis Sockalexis and against the Cleveland Indians' continuing use of Chief Wahoo, I began imagining myself as being something like the Jimmy ...

Bangor Daily News

Bangor Daily News
Sun, 03 Nov 2013 06:15:51 -0800

I found Louis Sockalexis in the 1880 census of “Oldtown Island,” as transcribed by the Mormon church on its website, familysearch.org. The census listed Francis Socklexis (note the different spelling), 39; wife Frances, 36; daughter Soluice, 18; son ...
cleveland.com (blog)
Fri, 16 Jan 2015 04:05:43 -0800

As the story goes, "Indians" supposedly referred to Louis Sockalexis, who played for the Cleveland Spiders from 1897 to 1899 and hit .313 over 94 games. But Posnanski, through methodical research, shows the nickname's connection is tenuous to ...
Bangor Daily News
Tue, 16 Dec 2014 08:49:06 -0800

Medical marijuana users rent downtown Bangor space to take their medicine. Next story: Campaign seeks support for Louis Sockalexis statue in Bangor ». Judge finds mother guilty of murder in the death of her toddler, rejects insanity defense. Print this ...

Bangor Daily News

Bangor Daily News
Tue, 16 Dec 2014 14:45:22 -0800

Previous story: « Campaign seeks support for Louis Sockalexis statue in Bangor. Next story: Knee surgery sidelines UMaine women's basketball guard Anderson ». 'The Drive' set to compete against 'Downtown' in eastern Maine sports radio lineup in 2015.

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