A Story and Interview of Louis Sockalexis
Mike B. | On 11, Apr 2014
Our friends at D.C. Baseball History are currently working on a book about the 1897 Washington Senators season. In it, former Cleveland baseball player Louis Sockalexis, makes his first appearance in Washington. While the book is not complete, author Kevin Flynn, has been kind enough to allow us to share the excerpt involving Sockalexis.
Sockalexis Comes to Washington
Saturday 5 June 1897. Louis Francis Sockalexis plays his first game in the Nation’s Capitol. Born 24 October 1871 in Maine. Sockalexis attended Holy Cross, then signed with the Cleveland League franchise and made his debut with them. Sockalexis has been a wonder for the Spiders, his only weakness is ground balls and he is working on improving his play. Rumors fly about possible changes in Washington; Gene DeMontreville is expected by many to be traded. Kip Selbach is laid up with a severe case of the mumps.
The arrival of the Cleveland franchise merited this mention in the Washington Star. The Cleveland’s with their great attraction, Sockalexis, will be with us tomorrow. Patsy Tebeau and Jack O’Connor have been stars in past seasons, but the Indian has eclipsed them all, and as drawing thousands of extra dollars to the box office every week. It is to be hoped that the Washington “fans” will refrain from any unseemly jests when the tawny right fielder takes his place in the field or at the bat. Sockalexis’ throwing at Brooklyn was a revelation. He stands entirely in a class by himself as the champion throwing outfielder of the league, so some people claim. He made a magnificent running fly catch that sent a thrill at excitement down the backbone of staid and sober Brooklyn, and shot the ball into second base so fast that a double play was missed only by the difference of opinion between the umpire and the spectators. The New York World thus describes the first appearance of the Indian in that city: ‘Eighteen thousand persons, more, or less, whooped unmusically in what they deemed the stereotyped imitation of an Indian war cry, and the sound of the steam plane that protects the rear guard of the circus parade was heavenly music in comparison. Eighteen thousand persons saw a tall, splendidly proportioned man. square shouldered, as straight as the arrow his fore fathers shot, as fast on his feet as the deer his forefathers chased, as amiable and polished as a knight of “ye ancient time,” with the straight, black hair of his race and features strongly characteristic of his nation-play ball like a base ball star of the first magnitude. Sixteen thousand people left the grounds firm in the belief that Sockalexis was all he had been represented. Two thousand remained to give him an ovation and followed him to the “L” station, cheering the greatest Indian of them all.”
It was a tale of two cities. Cleveland had been playing good ball, their record of 17-16 put then in sixth place, 7.5 games behind the first place Orioles. Washington, despite hopes that they could land in the first division, was 11th with a record of 9-22.
Cleveland wins what is said to be a slow game by the score of 10 to 5. The key features are the play of Tom Tucker and Lou Sockalexis.
Here is the game as it appeared in the press. The palefaces fell before the Indians this afternoon at National Park, and once more it was demonstrated that the Washington cannot win from a team out of its class. The Cleveland’s won the game easily by score of 10 to 5. It was a long-drawn-out affair, the result of the slowness principally or Pitcher Mike McDermott, of the tribe of Patsy Tebeau. To see the pitcher working reminded one or an Anacostia street car on a warm afternoon. He gave five men bases on balls, and hit two and was hit safety thirteen times, he is not in the Cleveland class, and would make a much better twirler in an eleventh place club. The one thing that saved him was the fact that he had Temple-Cup contestants back of him to pull him out of a hole whenever he had one foot in it. On two occasions he had one foot and half a leg in a very tight hole, but the Indians pulled away, and the twirler came out with nothing more than a bruise. Sockalexis, the Indian, and Tom Tucker, the Senator-elect, were the attractions, and 3,400 people paid admission to see the game. There was also the same old Patsy Tebeau and his full stock of bluffs of the patent medicine variety; but they had no effect upon Umpire Emslie, who used excellent judgment throughout the contest, even so far that he did not put the captain of the Indians out of the game when he became obnoxiously aggressive. Thomas Tucker had his full-grown voice, and he played more ginger than has been witnessed on the local grounds this season. He put up a good game, but some others were simply abominable, John O’Brien, for instance. He was very much out of shape at times, and five runs resulted from his two errors. Every other play he made was sharp and accurate. Gene DeMontreville was brilliant at the start, but he became as weak as a five-furlong horse trying to go seven-eighths of a mile. In the fourth he was painfully slow to get agoing, and Bobby Wallace scored a hit when he should have been, fielded out by ten feet. Again in the sixth he attempted to handle Cupid Childs‘ grounder like a youngster playing on the commons. Charley Reilly seemed affected by a contracted arm, making a wild throw to first on Wallace’s grounder. He was knocked out by a pitched ball in the second inning. The accident to the popular third baseman was most unfortunate, because it put Effie Norton in left, Zeke Wrigley going to third. His maiden effort to catch an easy fly was really ludicrous. He first misjudged it. Then by a quick movement he rested for thirty seconds, and crowned the act by dropping the ball. It was very much like a benefit performance to third-rate actors. His base running was a feature of the game, however. He was on first when Wrigley made a terrific drive over the real Indian’s head, and when General Utility reached third he came very near colliding with the bench-warming twirler, who got mixed up with his feet, and before he could get himself balanced the ball was in the infield and he was run down between third and home. Charlie Abby also gave additional signs of a general decline. He was caught off second, having overrun the base a clear case of stupidity. Win Mercer pitched fairly well, but he lost himself with the bases full in the fifth, by giving Chief Zimmer a low ball, which the big chief drove to the left-field fence for two bases, scoring three runs. However, he was pretty well disgusted about that time, for he had been hit for two singles when chances were given to retire the side. Les German went on the rubber in the eighth, but the game had been lost. He probably held down the score, as the other men took a sudden brace and no more runs were scored. Duke Farrell and Tucker were the only Senators who played anything like ball, and, as they belong to better than an eleventh place team, their work had a bright light about it. Farrell’s throwing to second was a feature of the game. The base running of the Senators was like an amateur photographer trying to take pictures for a verascope. In the fifth they made two singles and a three-bagger, with none out, and only scored one run. A little bit of hard luck helped them out, on this line. In the seventh, when the bases were full on a hit by pitcher and two singles. A quick double play by McDermott, Zimmer and Tebeau and Wallace’s lightning throw ended the inning without a run. Sockalexis made two hits and fielded his position in fine form. He is a ball player far above the average, and the pace he is leading the visitors ought to help the Cleveland to go farther up the flag staff. Tebeau was in the game with head, hands, feet, and bat. He was like a coal combine to the individual operator. He knew where put the ball when he got hold of it and he put it there. Wallace is very fast at third and Ed McKean and Childs are like Bourbon whisky, which improves with age. Sockalexis hit safely in the first, but when he essayed to give an exhibition of his fleet-footedness, Farrell nailed him at second. Reilly’s bad throw to Tucker let Wallace on first in the second, and he scored on Tebeau’s triple to left. The Indian’s second, hit, Mercer’s error, and Child’s single, scored a run in the third. In the fourth Wallace’s single, Tebeau’s double to light, O’Brien’s error, a base on balls and a put out resulted in two runs. Four more were made by the visitors in the fifth on singles by McKean and Blake, doubles by Zimmer and McDermott and O’Brien’s failure to field Jimmy McAleer‘s grounder, which, had it been fielded clean, would have resulted in a double play and no runs Norton muffed Harry Blake‘s fly in the seventh; Zimmer made a double, McDermott singled, and two more runs were sent across the plate. The Senators scored four runs in the second. Tucker walked to first and Reilly was knocked down by a vicious in-shoot, an out was followed by singles by Mercer, Tom Brown and Abbey, and Zimmer made an error. They earned one in the fifth on singles by Tucker, Norton and Wrigley’s triple.
Time 2:40. Umpire Bob Emslie. Cleveland line-up, Louis Sockalexis-Rf, Cupid Childs-2b, Ed McKean-SS, Jimmy McAleer-Cf, Bobby Wallace-SS, Harry Blake-Lf, Patsy Tebeau-1b, Chief Zimmer-C, Mike McDermott-P. Washington Line-up, Tom Brown-Cf, Charlie Abbey-Rf, Gene DeMontreville-SS, Duke Farrell-C, Tom Tucker-1b, Charlie Reilly-3b, Zeke Wrigley-Lf, John O’Brien-2b, Win Mercer-P.
On 19 June 1897, Sporting Life printed this interview with Louis Sockalexis. “No ball player has been talked of more this season than Sockalexis, the right fielder of the Cleveland’s. The Indian has been a lucky find for the club in more ways than one. Not only has the team been strengthened, but many dollars will be added to the coffers of the club. In the different cities of the National League where the “Indians” have played, large crowds have been the rule. He Indian is having a troublesome time with the small boys who can be seen hovering around the grounds. While the Cleveland’s were in Brooklyn, Joe Villa, who reports his experience as follows: At first the Indian opened his eyes with wonder, and edged away, but finally consented to talk. The red man is a well-built fellow. He is probably six feet tall and an athlete from head to foot.
“If the small and big boys of Brooklyn and other cities find it a pleasure to shout at me I have no objections,” he said. “No matter where we play I go through the same ordeal, and at the present time I am so used to it that at times I forget to smile at my tormenters, believing it to be a part of the game. But I do love to play ball. Ever since I was so high (lowering his hand to within three feet of the ground) I have played this game. Out at Old Town, Maine, where I was born. I used to join other Indians and some white boys, and it has been my ambition to become a great player.”
“Will I succeed? Why, of course, I will. You have no idea how anxious I am to learn every point and trick of the game. There are many little things that come up in nearly every game which are new to me, but the white players are good to me, and are always ready to advise me.”
“Are the Brooklyn’s a good team?”
“They are very strong. At least, they played well against the Cleveland’s.”
“Who is the best pitcher?”
“All left-handed pitchers bother me, but I will in time overcome that weakness. Payne has been very effective against me, but I will find him by and by.”
“I have seen printed in several papers that the Cleveland players are liable to freeze me out of the club because I am an Indian. That is all bosh, for the white players can’t do enough for me, especially Burkett, who is said to be jealous because I lead him in batting. Jesse is proud of me because I have made such a good showing, he having recommended me to Manager Tebeau. It was while playing with the Holy Cross team at Williamstown, two years, that John M Ward, told a League manager to sign me. Burkett, who coached the Holy Cross team, finally got Tebeau to let me have a trial.”
“College base ball is much different from that played in the National League. The result of a college game generally depends on the pitcher, who is expected to become wild. In the League the pitcher puts the ball over the plate, and you have a better chance to hit it, but their tricks are so many that you must keep your eyes open every moment. Maybe someday I will be a great player, but not yet. I have a good deal to learn and watch every player, some of who may do something that may be of benefit to me at another time.”
“How old are you?” the reporter asked.
“I think I was born in 1871, and will be 24 years old next October 24. No! No! That’s a mistake! I was born 1873. I have so much to think of that I get things mixed.”
“Are your parents living?”
“Yes, they are at Old Town, and are very anxious to see me succeed. My parents are of the Penobscot tribe. Father’s name is Francis F Sockalexis and mother’s Frances P Sockalexis. While my parents are not rich they are comfortable and are not depending on my salary.”
“I first played with the St. Mary’s College team, of Van Buren, Maine, and then with Ricker’s College, after which I went to Holy Cross. I was a great favorite at Holy Cross, with which team I played center field.”
Sockalexis would go on to bat .338 in his rookie campaign. Drinking and injuries curtailed what might have been a great career. Louis died in 1913, he was 42 years old.