Title: Chief Bender's Burden
Author: Tom Swift
University of Nebraska Press
Charles Albert Bender (1884-1954) was the go-to pitcher on one of the greatest teams in the history of baseball: the Philadelphia Athletics club that won four American League pennants and three World Series titles between 1910 and 1914. When legendary manager Connie Mack needed a big win, Bender was his first choice to take the mound. Then, after one terrible game, Game 1 of the '14 World Series, everything fell apart. Bender started the day as one of the most reliable players in the sport. At the end of the day, he was a has-been. It is one of the cruelest, most mystifying tales in the game. As Swift's biography clearly attests, the reality was more complicated.
The Chief Bender story is about a lot more than baseball. Bender was a member of the Ojibwa tribe, thus the sadly inevitable nickname. While not the first Native American in Major League baseball, he was almost certainly the most successful. Racial prejudice was a fact of his life from beginning to end. An alumnus of the now infamous Carlisle Indian School, Bender endured taunts and slurs from players, fans and journalists throughout his career. Even the obituary writers couldn't resist. "Chief Bender Answers Call to Happy Hunting Grounds," wrote The Sporting News.
Swift's account is very engaging. The story is told in medias res, interspersing tales of that fateful day in 1914 with summaries of earlier triumphs. As a result, it's occasionally confusing to remember which game is presently under examination. Regardless, the point is clearly made: Bender was a phenomenal pitcher and his "one bad day" and its aftermath were the culmination of numerous external factors. His baseball contemporaries held him in very high regard. Ty Cobb, one of history's most notoriously bigoted athletes, considered him the most intelligent pitcher he'd ever faced. Discussion of his life after pitching is relatively brief, but warming. Bender managed to stay in the sport in one capacity or another for the rest of his life and was remembered with affectionate admiration by those who knew him.