Opinion | Sports

Ed Rice: Cleveland baseball team cursed by a real Indian player

Louis Sockalexis. Image from Shadows and Light

Louis Sockalexis, who was a member of the Penobscot Nation, is considered to be the first Native American in major league baseball. So why does the Cleveland professional team dishonor his legacy by perpetuating a racist mascot? Ed Rice, the author of Baseball’s First Indian, has more on the real history behind the offensive name:
When Sockalexis joined the Cleveland Spiders in March of 1897 for spring training, his very presence set off a wave of wholly-acceptable racist sportswriting in the four Cleveland newspapers of the day. Sockalexis was frequently labeled “a savage,” accounts replete with all the overworked clichés about “going on the warpath” and “scalping opponents.” Nothing written about him was the least bit respectful and, he was treated like a curiosity, a marketable side show.

Thus, nothing about the use of the nickname “Indians” or [player-manager Patsy] “Tebeau’s Indians” was meant to be flattering or respectful. It was only when Sockalexis was the sensation of pro baseball for the first three months of the season that he made the nickname “Indians” into something of a backhanded compliment.

Ultimately, in the fall of 1914, after running through a colorful array of nicknames, owner Charles Somers determined he wanted an official nickname, especially since the departure of star player (and future Hall of Famer) Nap Lajoie rendered the existing nickname of “Naps” completely obsolete.

Thus, the editors of those four Cleveland newspapers were charged with the task of coming up with an official nickname by Somers. They chose “Indians” but nothing in the news accounts mentioned the original use of that nickname nor was Sockalexis mentioned.

Read More:
Ed Rice: Curse of Sockalexis, Russell Means Cast Shadow on Cleveland Indians (Indian Country Today 10/31)

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