Thursday, May 30, 2013

Native Americans in the Majors (Concluded)

Polishing off my survey of successful Native Americans in the majors, I'd like to add four more profiles to the list.

Pepper Martin
Baseball historian Lee Allen described Pepper Martin as "a chunky, unshaven hobo who ran the bases like a berserk locomotive." An Osage Indian, Martin grew up in Oklahoma. He later earned the nickname "The Wild Horse of the Osage" for his fire and determination. Martin was quite stocky at 5-foot-8, 170 pounds, but he could really fly on the base paths. He toiled in the minors for 6 years before earning a full time roster spot with the Cardinals. After hitting .363 in 135 International League games during the 1930 slate, he won the center field job in St. Louis the following year. He hit at an even .300 clip during the regular season then turned in one of the most brilliant World Series performances of all time, compiling a .500 batting average with 12 hits and 5 ribbies in the Cards' 7 game victory over the A's. Between 1933 and 1936, Martin led the league in stolen bases on three occasions and scored no less than 120 runs the same number of times. He was an indispensable member of the '34 "Gashouse Gang," playing alongside Hall of Famers Frankie Frisch, Joe Medwick and Dizzy Dean. In the '34 Fall Classic, he stole the show again with 11 hits and a .355 average as St. Louis disposed of the Tigers in 7 games. Martin accumulated one of the highest postseason averages of all-time at .418. He scored 14 runs and drove-in 9 more in 15 World Series games. He saw less playing time after the '36 slate, though his average never dropped below .294 between '37 and '40. After retiring as a player, he coached for the Cubs briefly and served a s director of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

Kyle Lohse
Affiliated with the Nomlaki Wintun tribe, right-hander Kyle Lohse got his start in the Cubs' farm system. He was chosen in the 29th round of the 1996 amateur draft. Traded to the Twins in '99, he made his big league debut two years later. Still active as of this season, he has recorded double digit win totals 5 times. He enjoyed his finest season to date in 2011, when he led the league in winning percentage with a 16-3 record. He posted a 2.86 ERA that year and became the first pitcher since Allie Reynolds to start a World Series game. Lohse has polished his craft over the years. He currently employs a 2-seam fastball, a hard slider, a 12-6 curveball and a changeup that tops out in the 80 mph range. He has excellent control though he rarely finishes among the league leaders in strikeouts. He currently plays for the Brewers and is off to a slow start with a 1-5 record and 3.76 ERA through May 19th.

  Jacoby Ellsbury
A Navajo Indian, Ellsbury attended Madras High School in Oregon and turned down an offer from the Tampa Bay Rays to attend Oregon State University. He was a first round draft pick in 2005, spending two years in the Red Sox farm system before getting his first big league call-up in 2007. After playing in  33 regular season games that year, he helped the BoSox to a World Series victory (their second in four years). Ellsbury hit .321 with 4 doubles and 4 ribbies in 11 postseason games. Assuming full time center field responsibilities for Boston, he led the AL in stolen bases for two straight seasons ('08/'09). He also topped the circuit in triples during the '09 slate. He enjoyed his finest all around season in 2011, hitting .321 with 212 safeties, 46 doubles, 32 homers and 105 RBI's. Additionally, he stole 39 bases while capturing multiple accolades, including a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger Award. Hampered by injuries in 2010 and 2012, he is off to a decent start this year. As of May 28th, he was leading the AL with 16 steals and hitting at a respectable .257 clip. 

Allie Reynolds
Reynolds was born on a reservation in Bethany, Oklahoma as a member of the Muscogee Nation. Aside from Albert Bender and Zack wheat, he was arguably the most talented Native American ever to pull on a uniform. The right-handed hurler posted double-digit win totals every year from 1943 to 1954, topping out at 20 wins in 1952. As was so often was the case with players of his ancestry, he carried a variation of the "Chief" nickname. According to one biographer, he was uncomfortable with the handle, not necessarily because of its Indian origins, but because of the leadership implications it carried. The moniker of "Superchief" was rarely used in his presence. Reynolds attended college on a track scholarship and switched to baseball when an injury prevented him from running one year. He eventually signed with the Indians in 1939 and compiled a 51-47 record before joining the Yankees in '47. Reynolds credited veteran hurler Spud Chandler with making him a better pitcher. Chandler taught him to change speeds and strategize. It worked like a charm as he posted a 131-60 record in pinstripes while winning 6 World Series. This included 5 Fall Classics in a row from 1949-'53. Known for his blazing fastball, Reynolds threw a pair of no-hitters in 1951. He led the league in shutouts twice and ERA once. Oklahoma State University later named its baseball field after him.    

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