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Rare 1897 Football Broadside for a Game Featuring Louis Sockalexis - The First Native American in the Major Leagues!
Starting Bid - $300, Sold For - $1,320
Large paper broadside heralding a game between the Forest City Foot Ball Club and the Akron Foot Ball Club at the Buchtel College Grounds on Saturday, October 2nd. What makes this poster so significant to collectors and historians today is not the game, but the announcement in the middle of the broadside that reads "SOCKALEXIS WILL BE IN THE GAME."
The story of Louis Sockalexis, who was the first Native American to play in the major leagues, is one of the most tragic in baseball history. A member of the Penobscot tribe, Sockalexis was one of the most talented players of his time, but his dependence on the bottle abruptly ended his major league career just as it started. Sockalexis appeared in sixty-six games with the Cleveland Spiders in 1897, finishing the season with a .338 average while wowing the crowds with his spectacular defensive abilities in the outfield and his daring on the base paths. However, an ankle injury that season, combined with all-too-frequent drinking binges, ruined what was sure to be an outstanding pro career. Just two seasons later, after his appearances at the local taverns became much more frequent than his appearances at the ballpark, Cleveland released him. He never played in the major leagues again and died in 1913 at the age of forty-two. His popularity never waned, though, and in 1914, the Cleveland Naps were renamed the Indians in honor of Louis "Chief" Sockalexis.
Although no year is listed on the poster, it seems certain that it dates from 1897. That was the only year between 1886 and 1909 that October 2nd fell on a Saturday. Sockalexis had just finished his first season with the Indians in October 1897 and was the most popular player on the club. It stands to reason then that he would be recruited to take part in this semi-pro football game, as his presence on the field was sure to guarantee a large crowd that day. Though his fame was achieved on the diamond, Sockalexis was no stranger to the gridiron. In addition to baseball, he also starred on both the track and football teams while attending Holy Cross (1894-1896). Incredibly, we have found a page from the October 16, 1897 issue of Sporting Life (link: http://library.la84.org/SportsLibrary/SportingLife/1897/VOL_30_NO_04/SL3004003.pdf) that specifically mentions Sockalexis' participation in football games during the fall. In part: "McKean and Sockalexis will play on the Cleveland Athletic Club's football team until snow flies." Needless to say, this is the only example of this poster that we have ever seen and it is most likely the lone survivor. According to our consignor, who lives in Ohio, his father obtained it many decades ago from Frank Van Dellen, who at one time was the head groundskeeper at League Park in Cleveland. Regardless of its history, it remains an extremely rare broadside, and the only one we know of that heralds the appearance of Louis Sockalexis. The fact that it dates from 1897, Sockalexis' first season with the Indians, only adds to its significance. The poster (33 x 44 inches) displays three horizontal and vertical folds, along the lines of which are a number of moderate tears, some of which have been repaired. Also evident are light toning, creasing, and small edge tears. In Very Good condition overall. Framed to slightly larger dimensions. Reserve $300. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $1,320
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