Opinion | Sports

Ed Rice: Honoring a true Cleveland Indian -- Louis Sockalexis

Louis Sockalexis. Photo from College of The Holy Cross

Ed Rice, the author of Baseball’s First Indian, discusses his talk in honor of Louis Sockalexis, a member of the Penobscot Nation who is considered the first Native American in major league baseball:
As the author of the 2003 biography, Baseball's First Indian, and writer of two commentaries on the controversy in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in the past 10 months, I had received an invitation to speak at the Beachwood branch of the Cuyahoga County Library from librarian Margaret Reardon. Beachwood is an affluent, prominent suburb of Cleveland.

I went because I doubt that anyone has ever gone to Cleveland to speak in honor of Louis Sockalexis, since he played as the first-known Native American Major League player in 1897 or since his death in 1913.

When it was learned I was coming to Cleveland to speak, Curtis Danburg, senior director of communications, e-mailed me to see if I’d like to go to lunch with both him and Robert DiBiasio, vice president of public affairs. How could I resist this?!

Because I was early for my luncheon meeting, I toured the ballpark…and just about everything I saw angered me. First, I stopped at the team shop. Nothing but a sea of Chief Wahoo images, from t-shirts to bobblehead dolls, wall-to-wall. And not one single item with the name Sockalexis. Just how does this team store “honor” Louis Sockalexis and the team’s identification with him? It doesn’t.

Then I walked around the ballpark. A beautiful statue of Bob Feller, the young Iowa farmboy, at the height of his skills, leg raised, about to fire an unhittable fastball. Inside the park, portraits of many of Cleveland’s greats, stretching along a wall a whole section long in the upper deck, all featured in the bloom of their youth in their glory days. And then I came to the portrait of Sockalexis, above a concession stand at one entrance to the park.

Get the Story:
Ed Rice: Mr. Smith Goes to Cleveland to Kill Chief Wahoo (Indian Country Today 9/23)

Related Stories:
Ed Rice: Maine schools show lack of respect with Indian mascots (03/31)
Ed Rice: Cleveland team owes debt to Penobscot Nation (01/14)