By Larry Mahoney, BDN Staff March 23, 2018 1:00 am
BANGOR — Ed Rice, author of a book about Indian Island native and former major league baseball player Louis Sockalexis, is again at the forefront of an effort to recognize the groundbreaking athlete.
Rice has teamed up with Theodore Bear Mitchell and John Bear Mitchell on the board of directors of the “Friends of Sockalexis,” a committee that will raise money to build a monument dedicated to Sockalexis.
Rice and Theodore Bear Mitchell held a news conference at the University of Maine at Augusta’s Bangor campus on Thursday morning.
“He was the first known Native American and person of color to play any professional sport. It really is tragic Sock doesn’t get the credit for being an important civil rights icon,” Mitchell said of Sockalexis. “He was subjected to the same racial prejudice Jackie Robinson was subjected to as the first African-American player 50 years later.”
Sockalexis played 94 career games for the Cleveland Spiders from 1897-1899 and was believed to be the inspiration behind the team’s eventual decision to change their name to the Cleveland Indians in 1915. The Indians’ mascot, “Chief Wahoo,” was created in 1932.
Rice has been instrumental in drawing attention to the offensive nature of the characterization of Chief Wahoo. In part through his efforts, and with the support of Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, the Indians franchise will remove it from use in 2019 as a condition of Cleveland hosting the All-Star Game.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame also recently retired the Chief Wahoo logo.
Rice, the executive director of the “Friends of Sockalexis” campaign, said sculptors told him a statue should be cast in bronze and be at least eight feet high and placed on a foundation block. The estimated cost is between $80,000 and $100,000.
“Ted has already contacted some people and we have one really well- known Mainer interest in it. Hopefully, some other people will join this person,” said Rice. “We’re hoping to exceed it.”
An account created under ‘Louis Sockalexis Monument’ has been established at Bangor Savings Bank.
Rice noted that the only statue showing people of color in “lily-white” Maine is one depicting the underground railroad from the Civil War.
Several sculptors have expressed interest in the project, but there is no timetable.
Rice, author of the 2003 book ‘“Baseball’s First Indian, Louis Sockalexis: Penobscot Legend, Cleveland Indian,” originally pitched the idea of a monument in 2014 and discussed it with then Bangor City Councilor Sean Faircloth.
Rice said at the time he was open to putting the statue in Bangor and he mentioned on Thursday that he would also consider a spot on Indian Island and a variety of other places.
Bangor is one option because Sockalexis paddled the Penobscot River and played baseball for a town team on a field located inside Bass Park, Rice said.
The state capital in Augusta would be another option, he said.
Rice has donated papers, artifacts and photographs from his book to the Maine State Library and Museum and he said people could admire the statue and then go inside the library and “study more about him.”
Castine, another of the many places where Sockalexis played town ball, is another possibility.
Mitchell said he didn’t know how the Penobscot Nation would react if the monument was built somewhere other than Indian Island, where Sockalexis’ grave is located.
Sockalexis has a headstone and bronze plaque featuring two crossed bats and a baseball. It was added to his new gravesite on June 24, 1934.
He was a legendary town baseball player who played all across the state and was the first Penobscot Indian to play a sport in college, at Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He is in the Holy Cross Sports Hall of Fame and put up impressive numbers in his brief major league career (.313 batting average, 3 home runs, 55 runs batted in, 16 stolen bases).
Sockalexis also coached youth baseball and umpired in Maine.
Rice harped on injustices perpetrated by the Baseball Hall of Fame and Sports Illustrated magazine for not giving Sockalexis the recognition he deserves for his role as a pioneer as well as for his accomplishments.
“Sports Illustrated chose the top 50 athletes from each state and he wasn’t included among Maine’s top 50 athletes. That was absurd!” said a passionate Rice.
He noted that former Lawrence High and University of Maine basketball star Cindy Blodgett was second on the list behind 1984 Olympic marathon winner Joan Benoit-Samuelson and “didn’t make it at the professional level. She just sat on the bench (in the WNBA). And L.L. Bean was on the list and all he did was invent boots.
“It means people weren’t aware of what happened many years before,” Rice said.
Rice also said the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., doesn’t have a section dedicated to Native American players as it does for African-Americans and women.
Rice and Mitchell are in the process of applying for non-profit status for their organization, which would make contributions tax deductible.
Donations may be made by check to the “Louis Sockalexis Monument” in care of either Theodore Bear Mitchell or Ed Rice, P.O. Box 318, Old Town, ME, 04468.
More information may be obtained upon request via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.