By Joe McLaughlin, Bangor Daily News Staff
Bangor native and writer Ed Rice is starting a campaign to find support and interest in building a statue in Bangor of Maine Penobscot Indian Louis Sockalexis, the first Native American to play Major League Baseball.
“I’ve believed, for a very long time, that it’s a shame that the first man to break the color barrier in professional baseball has gone totally ignored in his home area,” Rice said in an email to the BDN. “Every year, without fail, I get a message from some baseball fan, from somewhere around the country, who is making a pilgrimage to see Sockalexis’s gravesite [on Indian Island].”
Bangor is an ideal site for the statue because Sockalexis played and umpired baseball games in the city, according to Rice, who is a college instructor in Bangor and the author of “Baseball’s First Indian, Louis Sockalexis: Penobscot Legend, Cleveland Indian.”
In his research, Rice learned Sockalexis played baseball games in Castine and Bangor.
“Local historians know there was a baseball park inside the track oval at what is now Bass Park (then known as Maplewood Park),” Rice said. “Since we have Paul Bunyan at the foot of the driveway into that complex, how easy would it be for those looking for such things to find the statue of Sockalexis right where he played for the Bangor entry in the old Maine League back in 1907?”
Sockalexis had a bright but brief career playing outfield for the Spiders, as the Cleveland team was then known, and batted .328 through July 3, 1897, to rank behind future Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Big Ed Delehanty. He played in 94 games for the Spiders, from 1897 to 1899. He was out of major league baseball two years later because of injuries and alcohol abuse and died in 1913.
Rice is unsure of how much funding is needed to erect a statue and explained his first steps are to gauge public interest for the project and interest from such groups as the Wabanaki Alliance, Bangor City Council, Bangor Chamber of Commerce and Bangor Historical Society.
Sean Faircloth, a member of Bangor City Council, said he would be willing to learn more about Rice’s proposal.
“I can certainly respect the fact that, by most accounts, [Sockalexis] was the first [Native American] to play big league baseball,” he said. “[The statue] seems like a worthwhile idea.”
He is open to the idea of Bangor being the site for the statue without the support of governmental funds.
He explained he was speaking as one city councilor, and any proposal would need to follow a process and receive full council scrutiny.
The city is a host to several statues and memorials, according to Matt Bishop, interim director and curator of the Bangor Historical Society.
The statues are the Hannibal Hamlin and Victory statues in downtown Bangor and the Paul Bunyan statue next to the Cross Insurance Center.
There are also many war memorials in the city. At Mount Hope Cemetery are the Second Maine Infantry, Civil War Soldiers, Korean War and GAR memorials. There are Vietnam and World War II memorials at the Cole Land Transportation Museum, and the USS Maine memorial is at the corner of Main and Cedar streets.
There also is a Sister City Memorial on the waterfront that is dedicated to the friendship between Bangor and Harbin, China, and the River Drivers memorial next to the Bangor Public Library.