An item in “The Week” (August 11) makes fun, with good reason, of Major League Baseball’s new “ambassador for inclusion” of “people of diversity.” The item states that “there’s nothing new about identity politics in baseball; the Cleveland Indians’ nickname pays tribute to a popular early-20th-century player from the Penobscot tribe.” The general point may be true; the particular point about the Indians is not.
The idea that the Indians’ nickname was intended to honor Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian who played baseball briefly in Cleveland before problems with alcohol ended his career, is a feel-good myth promoted for decades in Indians media guides. A Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter, Bob Dolgan, looked into the matter a few years ago, finding no mention of Sockalexis in any 1915 newspaper reports about the selection of the new team name (a name that happily replaced “Spiders”).
By the way, Abner Doubleday didn’t invent baseball.
Erik M. Jensen
The Editors respond: The understanding that Erik M. Jensen describes so clearly is, we recently learned, not quite accurate. Back in March, sportswriter Joe Posnanski explained in a detailed, 3,800-word post on his website that for a few years at the turn of the century, the Cleveland club was informally called the “Indians,” after Sockalexis. Cleveland had signed him in 1897. “Repeatedly that season — and periodically over the next few years — the Cleveland team was referred to as ‘Indians’ in headlines and stories,” Posnanski wrote. That usage eventually subsided but was revived when the club was formally renamed in 1915. On January 18 of that year, the Plain Dealer ran an editorial on the subject:
Many years ago there was an Indian named Sockalexis who was the star player of the Cleveland baseball club. . . . Sockalexis so far outshone his teammates that he naturally came to be regarded as the whole team. The “fans” throughout the country began to call the Clevelanders the “Indians.” . . . It has now been decided to revive this name. The Clevelands of 1915 will be the “Indians.” There will be no real red Indians on the roster, but the name will recall fine traditions.
In Kevin D. Williamson’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” (August 11), some of the data attributed to the Illinois Policy Institute were inaccurate. The article states that “Illinois loses one native-born resident every ten minutes”; the Illinois Policy Institute has reported that Illinois loses one resident every ten minutes but does not have data on where those residents were born. The article also states that “if not for international immigration, the state’s anemic population-growth rate would be negative”; the Illinois Policy Institute does not use international immigration statistics as part of its analysis. Last, the article states that “people continue to move to Chicago, but places such as rural Boone County, near Rockford, are losing population.” In fact, Chicago is the only one of the ten most populous American cities to have lost residents since 2000. It has lost close to 200,000 residents since the census of that year and is now at its lowest population since the 1920s.