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Indian Summer: The Tragic Story of Louis Francis Sockalexis, the First Native American in Major League Baseball Hardcover – March 19, 2003

4.2 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A monumental and valuable piece of previously untold baseball history. A must for any student of the game.” ―Bill Madden, baseball columnist for the New York Daily News and co-author of Zim: A Baseball Life

“Through the years I had heard of the East Coast Indian who was a great athlete, but I didn't know his name, his sport or tribe, or when he was active. Sockalexis was a baseball star when my father was an impressionable teenager, and must have been a role model.... I would like to see this book in every tribal school and library.” ―Grace Thorpe, Native American activist and daughter of Jim Thorpe

From the Inside Flap

The Indian wars were over, and the Indians had lost. But on the green fields of our national pastime, this Indian stood tall ...

America, as always, was in the throes of change. Segregation was becoming law down South with the passage of Jim Crow. West of the Mississippi, the slaughters at Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee still stung recent memory. At the same time, in 1897, the name Sockalexis resounded in barrooms and backrooms, in the lurid headlines of the popular press, and in the bleachers of the legendary ballparks in Baltimore and Boston, Chicago and Cincinnati, New York and St. Louis.

More than a century ago, on a remote reservation in the wilds of Maine, a "natural" athletic talent was born who would change the face of baseball-- literally. The Indian, as he was labeled by friend and foe alike, caused a commotion in city after city as rowdy fans, hard-drinking players, and corrupt team owners all wanted a piece of the first Native American to play in the Majors. For one sensational season he was the toast of Cleveland and the National League, his appeal so strong that there's little doubt he inspired the name his old club carries today.

This is the story of Louis Francis Sockalexis, grandson of a Penobscot chief, who endured a firestorm of publicity while blazing a trail for such sports heroes as Jim Thorpe and Jackie Robinson. Unfortunately, Sockalexis also followed the well-traveled path of stars before and since who have sealed their own fate with alcohol and other temptations. And yet, as rendered by Brian McDonald, the forgotten story of Sockalexis reveals a most memorable figure from baseball's-- and America's-- storied past.

Brian McDonald's first book, My Father's Gun, received critical acclaim as a "lucid" (The New Yorker) memoir of three generations of Irish-American police officers. It served as the basis of a two-hour docu-movie that aired on the History Channel in 2002. McDonald graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism and has written for the New York Times, Reader's Digest, and Gourmet magazine, among other publications. He lives in New York City.


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Product Details

  • Series: Ohio
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Rodale Books; 1st ed edition (March 19, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1579545874
  • ISBN-13: 978-1579545871
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,095,749 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I had heard of Louis Sockalexis and knew he was from Old Town, Maine, but that was all. Author Brian McDonald has researched the baseball life of this Penobscot Indian, and provided us with a neglected subject in baseball's history. Sockalexis was on his way to having a superior season with the Cleveland National League team in 1897 while enduring the derisive taunts from fans throughout the league because he was an Indian. Sockalexis turned those taunts to cheers with his batting and fielding skills, while others attended games just to see this much heralded Indian play ball. It certainly wasn't known at the time, but the apex of Sockalexis's career was on the team's first visit to New York's Polo Grounds when he hit a home run onto 8th Avenue off the "Hoosier Thunderbolt" Amos Rusie.
As has been the case with numerous athletes throughout history, the love of alcohol and the night life brought this budding star's career to an abrupt end. While jumping out of a second story brothel window Louis suffered a broken ankle and his running ability was never the same. He managed to hang on through the seasons of 1898-1899, but was only a shadow of his former self. He had vowed to give up his drinking and take his baseball seriously, but it was not to be. The Cleveland team was known as the Spiders, and was changed during this time to Indians. Whether it was because Sockalexis was on the team in open to conjecture. In 1900 the National League dropped its four weakest franchises, Cleveland among them, which finished the 1899 season with the worst record of any team in baseball history, 20 wins and 134 losses. Sockalexis died from heart failure on Christmas Eve of 1913.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a must read for baseball fans and history fans alike.
McDonald tells the story of this unsung hero while interweaving facts about the struggles of Native Americans in general during the 1890's in this country. The author does both Sockalexis and baseball fans a great service by telling the story of this phenomenal talent. Sockalexis performed head a shoulders above the others players while facing adversity at every turn. It is difficult to believe that a player of Sockalexis' caliber is not touted along with Babe Ruth, and the like- such a disservice to the game.One can't help but wonder what type of impact Sockalexis would have had on the game if he had played baseball during a different time period in this country.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is more than a baseball story; it's a bit of insight into American culture at the turn of the last century as well. It is also an extremely fast read. The story flows smoothly and doesn't drag. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the career of Louis Sockalexis. Blessed with tremendous athletic ability, this Native American rises quickly to the top of the game, only to fall more rapidly. Here is a guy who by most accounts could have been one of the all-time greats of the game, but was used by owners, friends and hangers-on, until he was all-used up and cast aside. Certainly, much of his demise was his own doing; but some of it was the time period, the structure of the baseball business, the racism of the day. Regardless, it's a tale worth reading, as one can draw certain parallels to today's athlete - coddled, manipulated and directionless.
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Format: Hardcover
On August 14, 1897, according to the "Cleveland Plain Dealer," a Choctaw Indian sentenced to be executed for the murder of another tribesman was granted a stay by the governor of the tribe to play in a big baseball game. This story is one of several that are found throughout "Indian Summer: The Tragic Story of Louis Sockalexis, the First Native American in Major League Baseball" by Brian McDonald and symbolizes the problem the author had in writing this biography. The subject of "Indian Summer" was a Penobscot Indian from a remote reservation in Maine, grandson of a chief, and a natural athlete who caused something of a furor when he played six successful seasons for the Cleveland Spiders in the National League in the 1890s before disappearing into the minors and ending his career because of alcoholism. The problem is that the historical record on Sockalexis and his baseball career are sketchy at best, which explains why McDonald has to resort to filling out this biography with stories providing insight into what life was like for Native Americans at the end of the 19th-century. The result is more of a biographical sketch, fleshed out by excerpts from the Cleveland press: before each chapter there is the reproduction of newspaper stories about Sockalexis ("Sockalexis's Usual Home Run") and other related topics ("Indian Outbreak Feared"). But I think once you take into account the limitations McDonald faced in putting together "Indian Summer," you can better appreciate the result.Read more ›
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