The first Native American major leaguer is the topic of this post. He was born on the Penobscot Reservation – sometimes referred to as Indian Island, Maine – in 1871. Like just about every other First Nations player to reach the big leagues before the 21st Century, he was nicknamed “Chief,” a pejorative that further undermines any authority that a real chief would have had and delegitimizes some final shreds of potential humanity in the larger American societal sphere. This is so ingrained in White Mainstream American culture, that even his Baseball Reference page still officially lists his first name as “Chief” in the bold header, despite listing his full given name in smaller print below.*
This right fielder was a multi-sport star, including track and field (sorry, this isn’t Jim Thorpe, but the parallel brings him to mind, for sure) at Holy Cross University and then the University of Notre Dame.
Before the 20th Century even arrived, before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, our mystery man endured the fierce racist derision as the lone American Indian playing on a major league diamond.
Interestingly enough, the entirety of his major league playing days would be in Cleveland, where Chief Wahoo still exists to this day as a healthy reminder of how easily we, as a society, accept the rugged, brutal buffoonery of the Vaudevillian racist tradition. Even in the so-called post-racial America. He did not, however, play for the Cleveland Indians, but their Northeastern Ohio predecessors, the Cleveland Spiders.
He only played in 94 big league games, totaling 395 PAs. He had 0.7 career WAR and 101 OPS+.
Sadly, he would die at the young age of 42 years old, six years before Jack Roosevelt Robinson was even born.
I don’t expect anybody to know who this guy is…fancy a guess?
- Dear Baseball Reference, I respectfully urge you to put his proper given name in the bold header. Thank you.