I'll preface this review that I am an Oakland A's fan and have been fascinated by the franchise's history going back to its start in Philadelphia. This biography of one the A's greatest players, Chief Bender, is a worthy addition to the Kashatus book (Connie Mack's '29 Triumph: The Rise and Fall of the Philadelphia Athletics Dynasty) and the David Jordan one (The Athletics of Philadelphia: Connie Mack's White Elephants, 1901-1954) as well.
The focus of this book is obviously on the one player and his story is maybe the most important and poignant of all from the early 20th century baseball era. With the moniker Chief, Bender is obviously what we now call a Native American. To read how mindbogglingly poorly Native Americans were treated post-Indian Wars is hard to comprehend now. The author, Tom Swift, is able to bring all that out without framing it all as a "woe is me" or "white race's guilt" tale. He takes us into the world of the 1880s and to the famous Carlisle School in Pennsylvania that Bender ended up at. Yes, the very same school made famous by possibly America's greatest athlete (and also a Native American) Jim Thorpe.
The book sort of frames itself around Bender's Game One start in the 1914 World Series yet the narrative weaves itself around this dipping in and out of this 1914 game to give us the total picture of Bender's life. And what a life! He not only ended up a Hall of Fame pitcher but pitched for years really afterwards in the minor leagues as well as coached, scouted and even pitched batting practice in his 50s back in the majors. Off the field he did battle alcoholism and the author manages to cover this without dragging it down to the typical Native American "can't hold his drink" stereotype by pointing out the various ailments Bender suffered and overcame for the most parts throughout his career.
Finally, the epilogue will bring a tear to your eye as Bender and his wife, Marie, lived such a wonderful life together and the image of Bender being such an accomplished gardener shows just how whatever he put his mind to in life, he did to perfection.
Hopefully, when baseball fans read this they'll gain a greater appreciation for one of the best pitchers (and one of the best in the clutch) the game has ever seen, but even more for one of the truly classiest human being to ever walk this planet.