Flashback Friday: Charles Albert 'Chief' Bender, baseball Hall of Famer and inventor of the slider born in 1884
Only four Minnesota born players have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While many may know the three St. Paulites — Jack Morris, Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor — those three were beaten to the hall by nearly 50 years by Charles Albert "Chief" Bender, of Brainerd.
Bender was born on May 5, 1884 in Brainerd to a German father and part Chippewa mother. He was given the Ojibwe nickname Mandowescence, which means little spirit animal, according to William C. Kashatus in his book "Money Pitcher: Chief Bender and the Tragedy of Indian Assimilation."
Bender grew up on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, one of at least 11 children, before he moved to Pennsylvania to attend boarding school at age 7. Bender later attended the Carlisle Indian School where he played many sports, including baseball, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.
After graduating, Bender began playing for a nearby Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, semiprofessional baseball team. He excelled for the team and soon caught the eye of the great Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics. Mack signed Bender to a $1,800 contract as a 19-year-old in 1903.
Bender's star began to shine in 1905 after he threw a four-hit complete-game shutout in the World Series. The Athletics would go on to lose that series but Bender was no longer overlooked.
Over the rest of his illustrious career, Bender would record 212 wins, 1711 strikeouts and a 2.46 earned run average while leading the American League in win percentage three times.
Bender was known for his calm presence on the mound and is credited by the Baseball Hall of Fame with inventing the slider, a pitch somewhat similar to a curveball with more velocity and side-to-side movement.
"If I had all the men I've ever handled and they were in their prime and there was one game I wanted to win above all others," Connie Mack said, "Albert would be my man."
While Bender was known to many as "Chief" throughout his career and fans would often yell war cries when he took the mound, Bender was never fond of the nickname saying, "I do not want my name presented to the public as an Indian, but as a pitcher," according to the Minnesota Historical Society. Bender often had to endure racist behavior directed toward him during his Hall of Fame career.
Charles Albert Bender was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953, the first and only Minnesotan for another nearly 50 years to earn the honor. He died in Philadelphia in 1954 of prostate cancer before the official induction ceremony.