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‘Deerfoot of the Diamond’, snapshot of Cleveland baseball history, airs tonight

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 9/27/2022 Marc Bona,

CLEVELAND, Ohio – “Deerfoot of the Diamond,” an ESPN’s “30 for 30″ short documentary, is slated to premiere at 8 tonight – Tuesday, Sept. 27.

Watch live for free: DirecTV Stream (free trial); (free trial); Hulu + Live TV (free trial). Also, Sling TV has promotional offers. The film will be available on ESPN+ after its premiere.

The film focuses on 19th century Native American baseball player Louis Sockalexis, whose stardom exploded immediately upon his arrival in Cleveland, but whose fame faded as fast as a line drive shot to the outfield.

Sockalexis’ legacy lies with his heritage. His name is the genesis of any discussion of the nickname “Indians” for Cleveland baseball.

A Penobscot Indian from Maine, Sockalexis began playing ball at a young age and starred at Holy Cross in Massachusetts on a team that would eventually send five players to the majors.

The 27-minute documentary uses a handful of interviews, photographs and occasional recreated dialogue to tell the story of the player who, by any account, was the first hyped star in Cleveland baseball more than 120 years ago.

His is a story more of what could have been.

He signed with Cleveland in 1897 and was a complete package – he had power, a rifle for an arm, and could run like the wind. That year, The Plain Dealer referenced “Tebeau’s Indians,” the moniker referring to “Captain” Patsy Tebeau, manager of the National League Cleveland Spiders. Excitement built quickly among fans to see the speedy outfielder.

“He was like a Christmas present to sportswriters of the time,” we hear an interviewer say.

Sockalexis played only three seasons, but his star dimmed before his rookie season ended. After an injury he suffered while drunk – alcohol would be his Achilles’ heel – his downfall came fast. He hit .338 in 66 games in 1897 but played only 28 games the next two seasons. After 1899 he was out of baseball.

That first season, Sockalexis went from curiosity to star to bum, in the eyes of fans and the press. Welcoming cheers turned to racist taunts. With a lifetime batting average of .313, he drifted into semi-obscurity before returning to Maine.

More than a decade later, when Cleveland’s American League team sought a nickname, Sockalexis was still on the minds of writers. His legacy remains a tragic footnote in the history of baseball in Cleveland.

The film also chronicles the latest name change to “Guardians” and the accompanying rift between Native Americans and some fans.

About “Deerfoot of the Diamond”

TV: ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary short.

Length: 27 minutes.

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 27.

Director: Lance Edmands.

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I am on’s life and culture team and cover food, beer, wine and sports-related topics. If you want to see my stories, here’s a directory on Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I talk food and drink usually at 8:20 a.m. Thursday morning. Twitter: @mbona30.

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