Book review by Tony Barrow
Book: Indian Summer
Subtitle: The Forgotten Story of Louis Sockalexis, the First Native American in Major League Baseball
Author: Brian McDonald
Being a baseball player and a fan of baseball stories from our past, I found the book “Indian Summer” to hit a home run in many ways.
The author, Brian McDonald, who also wrote “My Father’s Gun,” understood the story of Louis Sockalexis so well that the facts and details are impeccable. It makes this book such a great read. Baseball is and always will be considered America’s past-time and this sad but interesting story epitomizes the traumatic and ever-so impacting late 19th century.
It would be a sin to go through the details of the story and spoil the read, so it is my job to explain the general plot behind the story without ruining it for the readers. The story starts considerably slow but it is critical in order for the reader to get an idea of what not only Louis Sockalexis was experiencing as a Native American, but the entire nation as well.
The tale unfolds against the backdrop of the closing frontier, the final destruction of Indian resistance, the removal of Native American children to Indian schools for “civilizing,” newspaper chains’ circulation wars, and the beginning of baseball as America’s past-time and what is known to this day as the Golden Age.
Sockalexis, from the Penobscot tribe of Maine, is considered to be the first Native American to play in the “Big Leagues,” meaning Major League Baseball. Sockalexis was also praised by some baseball experts as the greatest outfielder in history. But his career was short, just shy of three years, in which he created a name for himself in just half of a summer.
A great fielder, hitter and thrower, he was also a great drinker. “Sockalexis was the toast of Cleveland nightlife. His downfall came swiftly with an injury sustained leaping from the window of a house of ill repute as well as prodigious drinking,” noted Luke Salisbury, a baseball advocate and critic of Brian McDonald’s “Indian Summer.”
One aspect that caught my attention while reading this book and intrigued me was that Louis Sockalexis was recruited in 1897 by the Cleveland Spiders as a first baseman. He was just less than 6 feet tall, weighed about 200 pounds and, at a young age of 21 years old, “he towered over the other players,” Brian McDonald writes.
To be considered to “blaze across the baseball sky as a true, and tragic, supernova” at just 21 years of age is quite an honor. Overall, the story is well-documented by McDonald, who is sensitive to the racial climate of the time and to the perils of alcohol. Though the writing sometimes relies on a few too many baseball clichés, this book is very, very good.