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Native Currents

Torn between a legacy and a logo

I have been watching the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians. I have been a Sox fan for all my life. My sister and I used to watch the Sox and Yankees play quite frequently. I was such an avid fan that when the Sox lost, and most of the time they did, I would just cry and cry. My big sister had no sympathy and would always laugh.

That was a bit traumatic for me but watching the Indians and the Sox play against each other has been even more traumatic for me. I do want the Sox to win, but then again, it wouldn't be so bad if the Indians won. The problem with the Indians winning is that I would have to look at that ugly mascot, ''Chief Wahoo,'' on their baseball caps. It is a grinning caricature with a bright red face, a big mouth full of buckteeth and a single feather for a headdress. How stupid is that?

This logo denigrates the contributions made by Louis Sockalexis to this Cleveland team and to American baseball. Why do I say that? I say that because the Cleveland Indians and the Penobscot Nation have a history together. We both have the honor and privilege of having Louis Sockalexis as a member. He was a Penobscot Nation tribal member and he was also a member of the Cleveland Indians. The Cleveland Indians were not always Indians. When Louis was on the team, it was known as the Cleveland Spiders.

Louis Sockalexis was perhaps the greatest baseball player ever to play the game of baseball. He has been called by many the most talented player in American baseball history. Playing for Holy Cross, Notre Dame, and then the major league Cleveland Spiders, he could run with incredible speed, throw baseballs impressive distances and hit with solid consistency. Former Red Sox manager Bill ''Rough'' Carrigan compared him to Joe DiMaggio, but pointed out that DiMaggio couldn't run or throw quite as well as Sockalexis. Hughie Jennings, former manager of the Detroit Tigers, said, ''At no time has a player crowded so many remarkable accomplishments into such a short period. He should have been the greatest player of all time, greater than Cobb, Wagner, Lajoie, Hornsby, and any of the other men who made history for the game of baseball.''

Sockalexis was the first American Indian to play major league baseball. (Claims that James Toy, who played in the old American Association in 1887, was the first have recently been refuted by author and Sockalexis biographer Ed Rice.) Sockalexis was the first person of color to play in the major leagues, 50 years before Jackie Robinson.

It is an honor for his legacy to be remembered and preserved by the Cleveland Indians baseball team. Two years after Sockalexis' death, the team changed its name from Spiders to Indians. There are those who say the team is not named after Sockalexis, but during his time with Cleveland, the team was referred to by sports writers as Indians because of Sockalexis' presence on the team. Think about it, there are more than 30 baseball teams in the majors. They all are named after animals, reptiles, birds, colors, et cetera; but of all those teams, only one club name can be traced to an individual: and that person is a Penobscot Indian, Louis Sockalexis.

My emotions are torn between the legacy of Louis Sockalexis to the Cleveland Indians and the totally senseless logo they wear on their caps. I would suggest a change in uniform. Get rid of ''Chief Wahoo,'' whose red face and buckteeth are an insult to Sockalexis' legacy and Indian people everywhere, and replace it with a design possibly provided by a true Penobscot artist.

I do hope the Sox pull it off because, if they don't, we will all have to keep seeing that red-faced, bucktoothed caricature on Cleveland's baseball caps during the World Series. That, my friends, would really be traumatic.

Donna Loring, a member of the Penobscot Indian Nation, is the nation's representative to the Maine state Legislature.