In the Day of Louis Sockalexis

Position: Rightfielder
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Born: October 24, 1871 in Indian Island, Maine
Died: December 24, 1913 in Burlington, Maine
Education: University of Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana) & College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, Massachussetts)
Major League debut: April 22, 1897

In 1899, the Hartford Base Ball Club of the Eastern League signed outfielder, Louis Francis Sockalexis. He was coming off a 3-year stint with the Cleveland Spiders where he was a teammate of Cy Young. His ball playing was so popular in Cleveland that the team later became known as the Indians. Sockalexis was the first ever Native American athlete to play professional baseball and the first person of color to do so in Hartford, Connecticut. As a member of the Penobscot tribe, Sockalexis hailed from Indian Island, Maine. Also, nicknamed “Sock”, he was considered to be one of the best talents of the Deadball Era.

1899 Cleveland Spiders

Sockalexis was an impressive contact hitter, was fast on his feet and had a superb throwing arm. He only spent a few weeks with the Hartford squad managed by Billy Barnie. Sockalexis hit for a dismal .198 batting average with Hartford in 91 at bats. Later, he went on to play for Waterbury and Bristol in the Connecticut State League and batted for a .320 average. However, his day in the spotlight did not last very long. An addiction to alcohol was said to be the cause of his downfall from professional baseball.

Louis Sockalexis

Although the Waterbury club was interested in retaining him for the following season, Sockalexis was nowhere to be found in the spring of 1900. A series of news reports during the next two years detailed several arrests for public drunkenness and disturbances, and it appears that the former baseball star was reduced to homelessness and vagrancy. He served intermittent time in jail and remained out of baseball until 1902, when he signed with Lowell of the New England League.

The Day of Sockalexis – Hartford Courant, December 7, 1906.
Sockalexis is a Shadow, Waterbury Evening Democrat, March 12, 1908.

At 30 years old, Sockalexis hit for a .288 average, but remained with Lowell for only one season. A short stint with Bangor in the Maine League in 1903 was his last connection with organized baseball. He wound up back on the Penobscot Indian Island Reservation in Maine, playing for local teams and teaching the baseball to young tribesmen. He piloted a ferryboat between Indian Island, home of the reservation, and the mainland. He enjoyed reading The Sporting News and other papers that his passengers left behind.

Sockalexis plaque

Sockalexis eventually stopped drinking to excess, but he was not in the best of health. He suffered from attacks of rheumatism and appeared much older than his years. In the fall of 1913, Sockalexis joined a logging crew that harvested trees in the northern woods of Maine. While cutting down a pine tree on Christmas Eve of that year, he suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 42. Louis Sockalexis was buried in St. Anne Church Cemetery on Indian Island.

Burial Site of Louis Sockalexis, Indian Island, Maine.

Location: Hartford, CT

Sources:

  1. Statistics: https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/sockach01.shtml
  2. SABR Bio: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/2b1aea0a
  3. Louis Sockalexis – Remembering Now and Forever: http://sockalexis.net/

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