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.