Academic journal article Base Ball

Remembering the Chief

Academic journal article Base Ball

Remembering the Chief

Article excerpt

Remembering the Chief Review by Jim Frutchey Chief Bender's Burden: The Silent Struggle of a Baseball Star, Tom Swift. University of Nebraska Press, 2008, 339 pp., $24.95 (hardcover).

Combining the writing flair of a journalist and the research tenacity of a historian, author Tom Swift reveals the fascinating, multifaceted life and times of Charles Albert Bender. Beyond his skills as a clutch pitcher for the first dynastic incarnation of Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, Bender is shown to be a thoughtful and intelligent man who withstood a difficult childhood, entertained a variety of non-baseball interests, and endured the prejudice of being born to a Native American woman in the late 19th century.

As the title implies, a main theme of the book is the rampant racism that was directed toward Native Americans during Bender's life. Indeed, Swift points to many (mainly journalistic) instances of prejudice that must have affected Bender. For example, instead of simply pitching a terrific ballgame, the "Chief " might be said to have called upon his Indian wiles to "scalp" the opponent. The description of Bender being refused service and roughly shown the door at a Washington café simply due to his ethnicity is the most egregious specific instance of prejudice noted by Swift.

However, the author's claim that Bender was forced to endure vitriolic prejudice is rarely supported by documented instances. His teammates, managers, and coaches seemed at worst simply to accept him and at best to embrace him. The specific descriptions of bench-jockeying from opposing teams were mild. The newspaper descriptions of Bender's pitching exploits did often mention his Native American background, but they usually provided praise or fair explanation.

Chief Bender's burden does not nearly rival the depth of prejudice endured by Jackie Robinson, for instance. Indeed, some of the reported comments directed against presidential candidate Barack Obama were more derisive than those noted in Bender's biography. This is not to say that Swift failed thoroughly to research his subject or that Bender faced no racial prejudice. It simply means that Swift's estimation of the extent of that prejudice does not find adequate support in the written records that have come down to us.

Scarce evidence regarding Charles Bender the man (as opposed to Chief Bender the pitcher) also affects Swift's ability to cover fully his life story. …

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