Throughout the years, there have been many prominent Indigenous legends who have made their mark in Major League Baseball.
While baseball fans might be familiar with more modern players such as former pitchers Joba Chamberlain (Winnebago), Kyle Lohse (Nomlaki Wintun) and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (Navajo), chances are they wouldn’t be too familiar with the early Native American players who made their debuts over a hundred years ago. These include players such as Louis Sockalexis (Penobscot tribe), who made his major league debut in 1897 followed a year later by Bill Phyle (Lakota) before Chief Bender (Ojibwe) on April 20, 1903 started his career.
Sockalexis, who had the nickname, ‘The Deerfoot of the Diamond’ and was a proud member of the Penobscot Tribe, made history when from 1897-1899 he was credited with becoming the first Native American to compete in major league baseball. This left- handed batter who played his entire three- year career as an outfielder for the Cleveland Spiders, ended up with a career .313 batting average with three homeruns and 55 RBI’s.
After signing on March 9th, 1897, Sockalexis officially made history on April 22nd when he took the field for his Spiders major league debut. Showing some strong potential, Sockalexis played 66 games in his rookie campaign where he produced a respectable .338 batting average with three homeruns and 42 RBI’s along with 16 stolen bases. Unfortunately, this slugging outfielder battled alcoholism which had a strong effect on his career. During his second year, Sockalexis played in only 21 games where in 67 at bats, he had 15 hits, 11 runs, 8 stolen bases with a .224 batting average. A year later, in his final season, he competed in seven games where in 22 plate appearance he had six hits an RBI and a .273 batting average.
For his career Sockalexis totaled 94 games where in 367 at bats he scored 54 runs, 115 hits, 12 doubles, 8 triples, 3 homeruns, 55 RBI’s, 16 stolen bases and a .313 batting average.
After being released by Cleveland, Sockalexis had a brief stint in the minor leagues.
Though Sockalexis was credited with being the first Native American to play pro ball, some historians have argued that catcher Jim Toy was actually the first. Meanwhile, Chief Yellow Horse, who made his mark in the early 1920’s is credited as being the first full-bloodied American native to have made his mark in the major leagues. Moses J. “Chief” Yellow Horse, who represented the Pawnee tribe, pitched with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1921 and 1922 seasons where in those two years he registered an 8-4 record with a 3.93 ERA and 43 strikeouts.
These names are only a few of the many Native Americans who have over time had an impact on Major League Baseball.