This Day in Baseball History: March 11th, 1901

So close.

On March 11, 1901:

John McGraw signs Chief Tokohoma, a Cherokee Indian.

If you think that this is going to be a “first Native American player” piece, you are wrong. There have several Native American players, most notably Louis Sockalexis (for whom the Cleveland Indians are supposedly named). This actually is closer to a “first African-American player” piece.

While in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1901, Chief Tokohoma was a bellboy as the Eastland Hotel. One day while he was playing baseball nearby, he caught the attention of John McGraw, and McGraw signed him to play for the Baltimore Oriole. At first, some questioned his ethnicity, but once they saw his straight black hair, they took him for Native American. Chief Tokohoma quickly affirmed that he was, indeed, a Cherokee Indian.

Known for his blazing speed, Tokohoma was invited to Spring Training. Tokohoma actually played most of the spring with the Orioles until one fateful day. Charles Comiskey, then owner of the Chicago White Sox, became a bit more curious and cynical of Grant’s lineage. Ultimately, it was discovered that Chief Tokohoma was not a Native American. He was an African-American by the name of Charlie Grant. As soon as this was discovered, Grant had to be released. John McGraw supposedly called him and told him to report to Baltimore, but Grant never did. This could have been a rumor as McGraw was angry because Ban Johnson suspended McGraw and McGraw may have tried a power move. Regardless, Grant never made his debut in the regular season.

Though a good fielder, Grant wasn’t a very good hitter, but he spent the next 15 years in the Negro Leagues. He wasn’t great enough to be a star, but he bounced around the country signing on where he could.

Here are a couple articles from the time about Tokohoma (or Grant).

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2 Responses to “This Day in Baseball History: March 11th, 1901”

  1. Ron Rollins Says:

    That was the inspiration behind the Richard Pryor character in ‘Bingo Long and Traveling Motor Kings and All-Stars’.

  2. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    Interesting.

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