INDIAN ISLAND, Maine -- Leaders of Maine's Penobscot Indian Nation say it's time for a pioneering baseball player from their tribe to be properly recognized for his contributions to America's pastime.
Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis and tribal Rep. Wayne Mitchell, who gathered with other tribal members at the grave of Louis Sockalexis, also reiterated their request to the Cleveland Indians to stop using the caricature of a grinning Chief Wahoo on players' uniforms and team publications.
Sockalexis played professional baseball for the Cleveland Spiders from 1897-99 and batted .338 in 66 games in his first season.
A resolution passed June 12 by the Maine Legislature calls Sockalexis the "first known American Indian to play major league baseball" and the inspiration for the team name Indians, which was officially adopted in 1915. The resolution also criticizes Sports Illustrated for not including Louis or his cousin Andrew, who competed in the Olympic marathon in 1912, on its list of Maine's 50 greatest athletes and asks that the magazine "correct the oversight."
"They were always talked about in my upbringing on the reservation," said Francis, adding that "they truly were heroes in this community."
But Francis and Mitchell said the contributions of the two athletes have been largely overlooked by baseball and the media.
"To me, their accomplishments went far beyond their athletic prowess," said Francis.
Sports Illustrated spokesman Scott Novak said the magazine has "great respect for the Sockalexis cousins. In fact, Louis was profiled by SI in 1995.
"These lists are very subjective in nature and if SI produces a similar feature, we will surely give them the utmost consideration which they deserve," Novak said.
Mitchell said the Penobscots first asked the Indians in 2000 to stop using the Chief Wahoo image, "a bucktoothed cartoon-face Indian that they wear on their uniforms."
"We felt then as we do now, that it was ignorant and disrespectful," Mitchell said. "But that franchise completely ignored our request ... and showed their complete disregard for us, and their disrespect."
Messages left with Indians spokesman Bob DiBiasio were not immediately returned.
The Penobscots' resolution also asks the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., to formally recognize Sockalexis as the first American Indian to play major league baseball. Baseball author Ed Rice, who also spoke at Tuesday's event, acknowledged that Sockalexis did not play enough games to qualify for the hall itself.
But "Sock broke the red color line" in baseball and opened the door to other Native Americans who played, Rice said.
James Madison Toy, who played for Cleveland a decade before Sockalexis, was said to be of Sioux ancestry but he never publicly acknowledged his Indian heritage. Toy's 1919 death certificate lists his race as white.
Sockalexis' meteoric career was cut short by alcoholism and he died at age 42 on Dec. 24, 1913, according to the state of Maine Web site. In 1934, the state erected a stone marker to replace the wooden cross that had marked his grave.
Andrew Sockalexis finished fourth in the 1912 Olympic marathon in Sweden and second in both Boston Marathons in which he competed. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 27 in 1919.