Chief Bender: A True Baseball Hero and an Extraordinary Human Being

Bleacher Report Senior Writer IOctober 25, 2008

Chief Bender is a true baseball hero. He dealt with racial tension his entire life. When he played, even young ignorant fans called him "Chief" instead of his name "Charles." Historian John Rossi called the discrimination against him "a perfect reflection of the naivete and racism of the age."

Bender faced discrimination from racists everywhere he went. He wasn't segregated like blacks were, but was expected to take lots of racism—and he did. The average man who discriminated Bender was less educated than him, actually.

As a kid, he went to Indian Carlisle School. There, he faced abuse. It was run by whites who wanted Indians to be ashamed of their heritage. If they didn't obey, they would be physically abused. It didn't affect Bender, though. What they aimed to do was have the Indians leave the school proud "whites."

One time, as a rookie, Bender's Philadelphia Athletics were traveling to St. Louis to play. On the bus ride there, Bender's wallet was stolen. In it, Bender was carrying $100. The newspaper made little buzz about it. I feel sure that if a white rookie's wallet with $100 in it was stolen, the media would spin it out of control and whoever stole it would be punished harshly.

But, Bender was not white.

In 1907, the Athletics were in Washington, playing the Senators. Bender went into a local shop and made an innocent Seltzer Lemonade order. The guy who took his order promptly said "Get out now. Go quietly. You're not allowed." Bender was shocked and just repeated his order. The man said "If you insist on trouble, all right." The worker signaled to security, five minutes later, Bender was thrown to the ground onto Pennsylvania Avenue.

When a white fan asked for his autograph, they usually couldn't do it without mocking him. They would mimic Indian gestures. This would shy Bender away from sticking with his roots, and he'd sign his autographs with the name "Charlie" or "Charles" Bender.

His wife would no longer be viewed by the public as Mrs. Charles Albert Bender. She was referred to as "that Indian pitcher's wife."

Even when he was known as a diligent ballplayer and a hard worker, he faced stereotypes from the press. Indians are lazy. Indians are stupid. Indians are not competitive people and don't deserve the privilege of pitching in Major League Baseball.

Bender proved he was the opposite. Bender would pitch every day had more education than the average man during his time and won 212 games in his career. Yet, he still faced more stereotypes then ever.

Why is this?

Why did Chief, or Charles, sorry, not get bothered when ignorant fans did rain dances and war whoops to make fun of him? Why did he not get bothered by being thrown to the ground on Pennsylvania Avenue because he wanted Seltzer Lemonade? Why did he not get bothered by stereotypes even though he proved he was an exceptional human being?


We may never know. But what one can definitely conclude from this is that Chief Bender was an exceptional pitcher and had great perseverance and personality.

Bender was a great human being and got his share of heckling from Philadelphia fans, who ripped on him for not only being an Indian, but being raised in a Quaker home, which somehow makes him less of a man.

If you ask me, Bender was twice the man all those critics will ever be.

I am surrounded by so many ignorants that I start to call him Chief. I'm becoming what I hate! Sorry, I'll call you Charles from now on.

Charles was probably better than most of the white pitchers who were "inferior" to him. Bender was viewed as inferior and might as well have played with the Pittsburgh Crawfords.

But, being the tough guy that he was, Bender fought through 70 years of discrimination to become one of the greatest pitchers ever, winning 212 compared to just 127 losses and a 2.46 ERA, reserving a spot for him in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Whoever gave him the nickname "Chief" wasn't doing him any favors. The nickname pretty much ruined his life.

But he overcame the racism.

In my opinion, he overcame just as much as Jackie Robinson did. Why? When Robinson was playing, the majority of the country ridiculed him for his skin color, but some said "OK, that's not right." Even the nice guys made fun of Bender, it wasn't even considered insulting. 

He had the guts not to fight back and stoop to the "bully" level and ended up getting the last laugh.