From the SABR release:
Buford’s ‘Native American Son’ Wins 2011 Larry Ritter Award
Kate Buford’s Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe is the winner of the 2011 Larry Ritter Award, given by SABR’s Deadball Era Committee to the best book related to the Deadball Era published in the previous year.
Kate Buford’s fine biography of Thorpe, published by Alfred A. Knopf in October 2010, details the story of Thorpe’s legendary athletic achievements: leading the Carlisle Indian Industrial School football team to victories against the country’s finest college teams, coached by the renowned “Pop” Warner; winning gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics; defining the burgeoning sport of professional football; and playing long, often successful — and previously unexamined — years in professional baseball.
This is not strictly a baseball book, but, as stated above Jim Thorpe did play professional baseball at the major league level. From 1913 to 1919 he played parts of 6 seasons in the National League, with the Giants, Reds and the Braves. Thorpe hit just .143 in his 1st season with the Giants, primarily do to the inability to hit the curveball, albeit with just 36 at bats. He improved every season and actually hit .327 while playing in 62 games in his final season. A testament to his athletic skills.
This book is about the life of arguably the greatest athlete in the 20th Century. Covering his childhood, his years at the Carlisle Indian school, the Olympics, professional football, baseball, as well as his movie career, 3 marriages, and his lifelong battle with alcoholism. All detailed in this fine biography written with reverence and respect for the athlete and the man, as well as a no holds barred recounting of the deplorable treatment of the American Indian before and during his life. If you have an interest in the Deadball Era, the early days of professional football, or a well told story of a great American Athlete, then this book will not disappoint.
Some of the things I learned from this book:
Pop Warner was Jim Thorpe’s coach at the Carlisle school, and he was not a very nice man.
Amateurism in the Olympics was always a joke.
Although his Olympic amateur status and his medals were restored in 1982, the official Olympic records were not modified to include his records or his 1st place finishes. Does this make any sense?
The early days of football were extremely violent, with numerous deaths on the field.
Jim Thorpe appeared in over 50 Hollywood films.
Iron Eyes Cody appeared in a couple of movies with Jim Thorpe. He is most famous as the crying Indian in the “Keep America Beautiful” commercials back in the 1970’s. He was actually an Italian by the name of Espera Oscar de Corti, not an American Indian. Is there no truth in the world?
The town of Jim Thorpe where he is buried is approximately 70 miles south of this blogger, and it is commonly known that it is the former town of Mauch Chunk. Mauch Chunk is Indian for Mountain of the Sleeping Bear. I never knew that, ……and now we all know. The story of how the town of Mauch Chunk became the town Jim Thorpe and how it became his final resting place is included in the book. Let’s just say it’s an ignominious ending for one of America’s greatest sport legends.
I also believe I found a factual mistake in this book. On page 180 it states that Jim Thorpe was inserted in the 2nd game of the 1913 World Series on a hunch by Manager John McGraw. He struck out twice and grounded out weakly to the opposing pitcher, Grover Cleveland Alexander. This included quoted excerpts from an unattributed news clipping found at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I didn’t think that could be right because Pete Alexander never played in the American League. In fact the Giants lost to the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1913 World Series, while Pete Alexander pitched for the NL Philadelphia Phillies. Jim Thorpe did not appear in this World Series. Jim Thorpe did play in 1 game in the 1917 World Series against the White Sox. He was the starting right fielder, but was pinch hit for in the 1st inning, never getting an official at bat. I’m not sure what game is described in the book, but it did not happen in a World Series as stated. I’m actually pretty psyched about finding this error. I feel like Keith Olbermann hammering Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary for it’s numerous factual errors. It feels kind of good. Does that make me a bad person?
Read the book, it deserved the Larry Ritter Award, and it deserves your attention as well.