GREATEST MOMENTS | Holy Cross started the legend of Louis Sockalexis


Holy-Cross-greatestJohn Gearan, longtime “Give Another Hoiah” columnist and career journalist, selected 25 standout moments from the school’s athletics history for Holy Cross Magazine in 2012. Excerpted here is the sports moment judged the greatest in Holy Cross history:

April 19, 1895:

The Legend of Louis Sockalexis grew up in a newspapers-only era when reporters would fabricate and elaborate in flowery detail deeds of derring-do to outsell competitors.

That the son of an Indian Chief played for Holy Cross at the dawning of intercollegiate sports was a feather in the College’s cap. The Jesuits had fostered the education and conversion of American Indians for decades, and Sockalexis served as an appropriate hero in that storyline.

Actually, he was 22 when he arrived at Holy Cross in September 1894 to attend the college-run prep school yet was deemed eligible long before the NCAA was created. Sockalexis had four hits and six stolen bases against Brown University on Patriots’ Day in 1895.

A Penobscot Indian from Old Town, Maine, Sockalexis hit .436 in 1895 and .444 in 1896 and threw two no-hitters in his two years on Mount St. James. He transferred to Notre Dame, where he was expelled for rowdy behavior.

In 1897 he joined the Cleveland Spiders, becoming an instant hero as the first full-blooded Native American to play in the majors. “The Chief of Sockum” became one of the most celebrated players of his day.

The left-handed hitting rookie was batting .328 with 16 stolen bases, 40 runs scored and 39 runs batted in before he broke his foot carousing after a game on July 4, 1897. Benched after his injury, “Sock” could not stay sober.

He was released by Cleveland after playing seven games in the spring of 1899. On Christmas Eve 1913 Sockalexis died of alcoholism and heart failure at age 42. In 1915 Cleveland fans voted to rename the team “the Indians” in his memory.

Holy Cross Louis SockalexisIn 1934 the state of Maine erected a stone marker at his grave noting “his athletic achievements while at Holy Cross and later with Cleveland which won him national fame.”

In 1956, Holy Cross inducted Sockalexis, also an outstanding football player and track man, in its newly created Varsity Club Athletic Hall of Fame.

In 1992 Sockalexis was immortalized in Luke Salisbury’s novel “The Legend of King Saturday.”

Some maintained that Sockalexis inspired the heroic character of Frank Merriwell, the subject of many works by Maine author Gilbert Patten, who wrote under the pen name of Burt L. Standish.

• Holy Cross Varsity Club Hall of Fame

• Holy Cross Top 25 sports moments

Above: Louis Sockalexis of Holy Cross once made a throw  from center field to the plate that was measured by a group of professors at 413 feet, an unofficial national record at the time. (Courtesy Holy Cross Magazine)

Monday: High Point and Hofstra
Tuesday: Holy Cross and Houston
Wednesday: Houston Baptist and Illinois Chicago (UIC)
Thursday: Incarnate Word (UIW) and Jacksonville State
Friday: James Madison

American Sports Network

Mike Bambach

Mike Bambach is senior web producer for ASN.