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NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 12.2 (2004) 149-151
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Todd Fuller. 60 Feet Six Inches and Other Distances from Home: The (Baseball) Life of Mose YellowHorse. Duluth MN: Holy Cow Press, 2002. 167 pp. Paper, $16.95.
Todd Fuller blends fact with fiction in exploring the myths surrounding Mose YellowHorse, supposedly the first full-blooded Indian to play in the Major Leagues. Fuller uses newspaper accounts, tribal documents, poetry, and even Dick Tracy cartoons to portray YellowHorse's career and its impact on the Pawnee Indian culture and image.
Born in Pawnee, Oklahoma, YellowHorse had a brief but successful career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The right-handed pitcher won 8 games, lost 4, and [End Page 149] saved 1 in 1921 and 1922, before being traded to Sacramento of the Pacific Association. YellowHorse's legacy remained in Pittsburgh for years after in Pirate fans' cries of "Bring in YellowHorse" whenever they thought the Bucs needed a pitching change.
Fuller devotes a long footnote at the end of the first chapter to whether YellowHorse was indeed the first full-blooded Native American to play in the Major Leagues (Louis Sockalexis, who played with Cleveland, and Ben Tincup, of the Phillies, are the other candidates). Fuller feels confident, based on various oral and written accounts, that YellowHorse was the first. Quoting Tim Wiles, director of research for the Hall of Fame Library, Fuller admits that there's no "way to determine" the first Native American in the big leagues.
But that may have been YellowHorse's only distinction in baseball. Instead of becoming the next Charles Albert "Chief" Bender (as some tribal leaders expected), YellowHorse developed the reputation for going on benders. According to Fuller he was known as much for his antics off the field as he was for his pitching prowess. Fuller uses several sources, including an interview with long-time Pirate pitching great Babe Adams, to relate how YellowHorse and Rabbit Maranville became kindred spirits as practical jokers. One incident noted throughout the book involved YellowHorse and Maranville catching pigeons and putting them in the hotel closet of Bucs manager Bill McKechnie. McKechnie opened the closet after returning to the room one night following a game and "got a face full of pigeons," according to Adams.
Fuller also focuses on YellowHorse's brush with greatness, striking out Babe Ruth during a barnstorming game and beaning Ty Cobb during a Tigers- Pirates exhibition game. According to some Pawnee tribal members, Cobb had to be carried off the field.
After YellowHorse won 23 games for Sacramento in 1923, his career unraveled because of an arm injury. How YellowHorse injured his arm is conjecture, and Fuller explores numerous stories from tribal members and sportswriters. Author Bob Lemke claims YellowHorse incurred his injury when he didn't warm up properly before coming into a game, but another account has YellowHorse falling out of a hotel window after drinking too much. Fuller presents all accounts as equally credible but does discuss in some detail YellowHorse's drinking and his subsequent bouts with alcohol-related problems, including domestic abuse and diabetes. YellowHorse's last years were mellower, and the Pawnee dignified him through ceremonies and by naming the Pawnee, Oklahoma, baseball field in his memory.
Fuller portrays YellowHorse as an enduring figure in the culture of the Pawnee and of baseball. He ends the book with an "Open Letter" imploring [End Page 150] the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee to induct YellowHorse and noting that he had a higher winning percentage than Cy Young, fewer losses than Tom Seaver, and a better ERA than Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1921. Irrespective of those feats, argues Fuller, beaning Ty Cobb has to be worth 100 votes.
David C. Ogden is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, University of Nebraska at Omaha. His baseball research interests center on youth baseball, its demographics, and overall interest by youths in ball. He has presented his research at the...