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My son asked me if Jacoby Ellsbury is the first Native American in the majors. I could think of Chief Bender, Louis Sokalexis, Jim Thorpe, and Allie Reynolds, but I wondered where I could find a comprehensive list. And perhaps someone has written a book on the topic. Please help. Thank you.
~Submitted by Oz McConathy
In all, only forty-seven full blood Indians have played in the baseball major leagues since 1897.
Jacoby Ellsbury was the first Navajo to play in the major leagues and is one of the most recent baseball players with Indian ancestry. This Native American star in the making spent Spring Training in Red Sox Nation. Ellsbury, signed by Boston in the first round of the draft in 2005 as the 23rd overall pick, is a left-handed outfielder who competed for Oregon State University where he was the 2005 Pac-10 Conference Co-Player of the year and an All Academic Honorable Mention. Ellsbury was ranked as the fastest base runner and 3rd best defensive outfielder of eligible college players in Baseball America's Best Tools Survey for 2005.
Ellsbury's speed coupled with power to all fields, according to the Red Sox, most closely resembles Johnny Damon's playing style and the hope is that he will at least spend part of the 2008 season at the major league level while becoming a regular starter in 2009.
While Ellsbury is only one-half Navajo, he is one of several players of native American descent now making a mark in the big leagues – another being Joba Chamberlain (Winnebago), a rookie reliever for the Yankees.
Right handed starting pitcher, Joba Chamberlain, was landed by the Yankees in the 2006 draft, signed as a supplemental first-round pick and 41st overall. Chamberlain is a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. After competing for two years for the University of Nebraska, having only started to play baseball as a senior in high school in Lincoln, Nebraska, Chamberlain led his team to the 2005 College World Series going 10-2 for the season with a 2.81 ERA.
Now 21, Chamberlain has been clocked with a 98-mph fastball and has been favorably compared by physique, delivery and his portfolio of pitches to Cleveland Indians pitcher, C.C. Sabathia.
Another recent former major leaguer, Bobby Madritsch (Lakota Sioux), pitched for the Seattle Mariners in 2004 and 2005 and was traded to the Kansas City Royals for the 2006 season. Madritsch was recovering at age 28 from reconstructive shoulder surgery when the Mariners signed him. Unfortunately, he re-injured his shoulder and tore his labrum in 2005 and the Royals eventually released him. He is now looking for a contract in the minor leagues.
The first American Indian who is believed to have competed in the major leagues was James Madison Toy, (1/2 Lakota Sioux), who played in the American Association League in 1887 as well as in 1890. Toy preceded Louis Sockalexis, the first officially acknowledged full-blood American Indian to play major league baseball.
Louis Sockalexis is usually credited with having been the first full-blood native american to play major league baseball.
He played for Cleveland from 1897-99, when they were the Cleveland Spiders.
Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox),is perhaps the best-known Native American player of the 20th century as he excelled in multiple sports. Jim Thorpe was an amazing athlete who won both the decathlon and the pentathlon in the 1912 Olympic Games by wide margins in Stockholm, but in 1913 an investigation by the Amateur Athletic Union showed that he had played semi-professional baseball in 1909 and 1910, which should have disqualified him from Olympic competition. He was subsequently deprived of his gold medals, which were reinstated after his death and given to his family in the 1980s. Thorpe later became a major league baseball player and then a pro football player.
From 1913 through 1919, Thorpe was an outfielder for the New York, Cincinnati (Ohio), and Boston baseball teams in the National League. He was more successful as one of the early stars of American professional football from 1919 through 1926. He spent two seasons (1922–23) with the Oorang Indians, whose owner attracted crowds by having Thorpe and his teammates dress up and perform “Indian” tricks before games and at halftime.
Jim Thorpe once hit three home runs into three different states in the same game.
He also excelled at basketball, boxing, lacrosse, swimming, and hockey. Thorpe was named ABC's Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Century.
There are also many well-known Hall of Famers who are of part Native American ancestry such as Johnny Bench, Willie Stargell and Early Wynn. Charles Albert "Chief" Bender (Chippewa) was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953, the first and one of only two full-blood Indians to hold that distinction to date. The other is Zack Wheat (Cherokee).
John Tortes "Chief" Meyers (Cahuilla) played catcher for the New York Giants from 1908-1915 and later with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He set a record in the 1911 World series by throwing out 12 base runners in six games.
Allie Pierce "Superchief" Reynolds (Creek), played for the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees from 1942-1954, after attending college on a track scolarship and playing football for three years. Allie Reynolds led the American league in strikeouts in 1943 and 1952, and was voted the national professional athlete of the year in 1951.
In all, only forty-seven full blood Indians have played in the baseball major leagues since 1897. They are:
American Indian Baseball Players
by Baseball Almanac
Player [Click for Stats / Teams]
Fox & Sac
If you're a baseball fan in general, explore around the website linked to in the above chart, you're likely to be there all day.
The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball
Instead of merely listing players and statistics, this book covers a broad range of topics with articles arranged in an easy-to-use alphabetical format. For example, there are such unexpected topics covered as alcoholism in baseball, baseball in France, facial hair, and the dumbest players. Other topics include the histories of venerable ballparks and franchises, perfect games and no-hitters, famous players and managers, and much, much more. Leading off many of the articles are apt and well-written quotes from sports writers, past and present. Interspersed throughout are black-and-white photographs, although most pages include only text. The index is extensive, as it should be, since this huge book of baseball facts has nearly 900 pages.
Daily Life of Native Americans in the Twentieth Century
Donald Fixico, one of the foremost scholars on Native Americans, details the day-to-day lives of these indigenous people in the 20th century. As they moved from living among tribes in the early 1900s to the cities of mainstream America after WWI and WWII, many Native Americans grappled with being both Indian and American. Through the decades they have learned to embrace a bi-cultural existence that continues today.
In fourteen chapters, Fixico highlights the similarities and differences that have affected the generations growing up in 20th-century America. Chapters include details of daily life such as education; leisure activities & sports; reservation life; spirituality, rituals & customs; health, medicine & cures; urban life; women's roles & family; bingos, casinos & gaming. Greenwood's Daily Life through History series looks at the everyday lives of common people.
This book explores the lives of Native Americans and provides a basis for further research. Black and white photographs, maps and charts are interspersed throughout the text to assist readers. Reference features include a timeline of historic events, sources for further reading, glossary of terms, bibliography and index.
The Major League Baseball Book of Fabulous Facts and Awesome Trivia
Baseball aficionado Ken Shouler packs in more than 500 Q&As, covering the game's all-time greats and not-so-greats, teams past and present, legend and lore, colorful personalities, and, of course, the numbers. Test your knowledge with dozens of quizzes on remarkable game moments, historical turning points, and mind-blowing statistics. Licensed by Major League Baseball and checked by the Baseball Hall of Fame, this book brims with bafflers, stunners, and confounders that will take you into extra innings.
The American Indian Integration of Baseball
Jeffrey Powers-Beck provides biographical profiles of forgotten Native players such as Elijah Pinnance, George Johnson, Louis Leroy, and Moses Yellow Horse, along with profiles of better-known athletes such as Jim Thorpe, Charles Albert Bender, and John Tortes Meyers. Combining analysis of popular-press accounts with records from boarding schools for Native youth, where baseball was used as a tool of assimilation, Powers-Beck shows how American Indians battled discrimination and racism to integrate American baseball.
Links on this site:
Louis Sockalexis, first American Indian to play major league baseball
Student letters help make Thorpe cereal-box champ
National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum