Sockalexis was a legendary baseball player at the turn of the 20th century. He was a folk hero in his native Maine before coming to Holy Cross, where his legend grew. A shade under six feet tall, Sockalexis, the son of the Penobscott tribe’s chief, excelled in baseball, track and football. His speed led to amazing feats in the “Field Days”, as track meets were called in those days, in the 40 yard dash and mile relay. He was a quick and powerful halfback on the football team. Baseball, however, was his shining sport. He batted .436 in 1895, and followed that up by hitting .444 in 1896. He was described in the Worcester Telegram as “a whirlwind on the bases, could field anything that his great speed could get him into, and could throw like a bullet”.
He signed with the Cleveland Spiders of National League in 1897, weeks after he decided to transfer from Holy Cross to Notre Dame. His first season in the major leagues was by far his best. Despite dealing with racism on and off the field as the first person of native american ancestry to play in the major leagues, he batted .338 in 1897, stole 16 bases and didn’t strike out in 278 at bats. Sadly, alcoholism robbed him of most of his skills after that season, and he played just 28 games over the next two seasons with Cleveland and then finished his career in the minor leagues, finally ending his time in professional baseball in 1903. He returned to Maine where he passed away at the age of 42 in 1913.
In 1915, the Spiders changed their name to the Cleveland Indians. There are many reports that the name was chosen to honor Sockalexis, but the true origin of the name change is not clear.