on Indian Island, grandson of the Chief of the Bear Clan.
A natural athlete, young
Sockalexis could hurl a baseball across the Penobscot River from Indian Island
to the Old Town shore, and it is said that Sockalexis and his father entertained
crowds at the Bangor Race Track by playing catch, across the width of the entire
Attends St. Mary's College, Van Buren.
Attends Holy Cross College, Worcester, Massachusetts, batting a
powerful .444 over two seasons.
to Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, where his outfield talent catches the eye
of big league scouts.
Serves as outfielder for National League's "Cleveland
Spiders," the first Native American to play major league baseball.
In his first time at bat in New
York, Sockalexis hits a homerun out of the stadium. Famous for his throwing arm,
he steals 16 bases in 66 games, hits .338 in his rookie season and is celebrated
by sportswriters as "The Deerfoot of the Diamond."
the big leagues, exhausted by alcohol and the pressures and exploitations of
baseball's evolution into a big business game.
to Indian Island. Coaches juvenile teams and proudly sends five Penobscot boys
into the New England League.
working as a woodsman, dies of tuberculosis and a heart attack on Christmas Eve,
at the age of 41.
"Cleveland Spiders" officially change the team's name to the
Inducted posthumously into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.
SOCKALEXIS, LOUIS FRANCIS (1871-1913)
It was a sultry summer day in 1897, and at
New York City's sweltering Polo Grounds, the spectator stands burst into
taunting war-whoops as a bronzed, brawny Indian strode solemnly to the plate.
Before him stood the New Yorker's smirking
fast-ball pitcher; behind him stretched tables of cynical sports-writers;
and far beyond the centerfield fence, the blue sky beckoned. The pitch--the
swing--and in that instant a legend was born in the crack of a bat.
Life and legend forever intertwine in the
tragically short career of Penobscot Indian Louis Francis Sockalexis
(1871-1913), the first American Indian to play professional baseball on a major
Born on Indian Island, October 24, 1871,
Sockalexis was the grandson of the Chief of the influential Bear Clan. Even as a
boy, his strength was legendary. He could hurl a baseball over 600 feet across
the Penobscot River from Indian Island to the Old Town shore, and at the Bangor
Race Track, it is said, father and son amused the crowds by pitching an easy
game of catch--across the width of the entire oval.
At the urging of a local priest,
Sockalexis attended college first at St. Mary's in Van Buren and in 1884-85 at
Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he batted .444 in two
seasons and honed his skills in the summer playing ball in the Trolley League
along the coast of Maine. In 1896, his Holy Cross coach moved on and Sockalexis
followed, transferring to the famous Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. There, a
sharp-eyed scout quickly signed the strapping, 6-foot, 197-pound Sockalexis,
against his father's wishes, to the outfield of the old National League's
Sockalexis' rise to fame was the stuff of
romance. His first time at bat in a major league game, at the old New York City
Polo Grounds, he faced a stadium full of taunting, war-whooping spectators and
the New York club's grinning fast-ball artist Amos Ruse, who had pledged to
strike the "damned Indian" out. Lounging sportswriters laughed at the
delegation of proud Penobscots in beadwork and full feathered regalia who had
travel from Old Town to see the city debut of their native son.
Amid the cat-calling Sockalexis strode to
the plate, hammered the first pitch over the center field fence clear out of the
park, and brought the stands roaring to their feet.
Thereafter, war-whoops shook the stands in
salute when Sockalexis took the field. He hit .338 his first Cleveland season
and stole 16 bases in 66 games. He hurled record 400-foot outs, knee-high and
hard, from centerfield to home plate. Sportswriters dubbed him "The
Deerfoot of the Diamond" and hailed his team, now in admiration, as the
He was celebrated in poetry and in song:
Like the bison on
Plunging from the
Sock it to them,
And even readers of "Frank Merriwell
At Yale" were soon dazzled by the deeds of a new fictitious sports hero,
"Joe Crowfoot," a thinly disguised salute to Louis Sockalexis
by the author, fellow Mainer Gilbert Pattern.
"He should have been the greatest
player of all time," Detroit Tigers manager Hugh Jennings once wrote,
"greater than Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Roger Hornsby, or any other man who
ever made history for the game."
Then, suddenly, it was over. A man of
pride and intelligence, Sockalexis' sheltered education and trusting nature left
him unprepared for the pressures and exploitation of a big business game.
Alcohol and high living took their toll, and in 1899 he played only seven
error-riddled games before fading back into the bush teams and minor leagues.
He returned to Indian Island in 1901.
There, he coached juvenile teams and proudly sent five Penobscot boys into the
New England League before tuberculosis and heart trouble took his life on
Christmas Eve, 1913. He was barely 41.
Fame came again, posthumously, for the
powerful man thousands once cheered at the plate. Like a long, high hit,
Sockalexis' story came soaring home again in later years. In 1956 he was
inducted into the Holy Cross Athletic Hall of Fame, and in 1969 was a charter
member of the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1985, he was named to the Maine
Sports Hall of Fame, there joining his cousin Andrew Sockalexis, a U.S. marathon
medal winner in the 1912 Olympics.
And in 1915, the Cleveland Spiders, the
team he once made famous, officially changed their name to the "Cleveland
But he would be proudest, perhaps, of his
hometown's 2,500 seat Sockalexis Ice Arena, where Indian Island youth still
learn the love of competition and the joy of sports, and the ring of challenge
in the heart.
Source: Reproduced from Maine's
Claim To Fame.
Rice, Ed. Baseball's First
Indian, Louis Sockalexis: Penobscot Legend, Cleveland Indian. Windsor,
Connecticut: Tide-Mark. 2003.