SABR

Louis LeRoy

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Louis Leroy was a Native American who almost became a charter player for the Boston Red Sox franchise. Leroy was born on February 18, 1879, in Omro, Wisconsin, as a “Stockbridge-Munsee” Indian, a group of Mohicans who relocated from New York’s Hudson River Valley and Delaware to Wisconsin in the beginning of the 19th century. His parents were Mr. and Mrs. Frank Leroy, and Louis grew up hunting, fishing, and trapping in the Wisconsin woods of Shawano County near Red Springs with at least four younger siblings: Frank, Roy, John, and Lucinda. School records show him as “half-Indian,” apparently on his mother’s side, with father Leroy being French-Canadian.

Louis was taught in reservation schools growing up, and seems to have played his first baseball at age 15 in a team at the Keshena School in 1894. He’s known to have pitched there. When he was 16, Louis was sent to the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas for three years. He pitched for the Haskell team as well, but was dropped from the school for desertion. [1]After a year off, Leroy applied to continue his schooling at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, and was accepted. The Indian Helper noted his arrival after a week as “a baseball player and a lover of athletic sports in general.”[2] He had some degree of wanderlust, though, and was several times absent without leave even from Carlisle. It was apparently not uncommon for Indian boys to run off and join minor league or semipro baseball teams during the summer in order to make extra money. Leroy’s school training was in the blacksmith shop, which probably was not nearly as much fun. Carlisle newspapers show Leroy as the ace pitcher on the school squad.

Leroy played baseball under famous Carlisle coach Glenn “Pop” Warner for three years, 1899-1901, and began to become known to people in baseball. Jeffrey Powers-Beck, researching his book The American Indian Integration of Baseball, came across clippings in the Baseball Hall of Fame files which indicate that Leroy came to the attention of Boston ballplayer Jimmy Collins as early as his first year at Carlisle, 1899. After six seasons with Boston’s National League team, the Boston Beaneaters, Collins became the first manager of the new American League team in 1901. But Collins had signing power with the 1899 Beaneaters and offered Leroy a contract with the team. Carlisle Superintendent Richard Henry Pratt denied the 20-year-old Leroy the opportunity; Warner explained that he was not free to accept outside work until graduation because “the U.S. government had a claim on the Indian.”

Every spring, Warner wrote, Leroy ran away from school as soon as Carlisle’s baseball season was over:

His escape schedule was like clockwork. Leroy was crazy about playing baseball and was always trying to land a job with a professional baseball team. … And every fall, like clockwork, Leroy would return to Carlisle and beg to be able to re-enter the Indian School.[3]

Warner dubbed Louis “the boy with the ten thousand dollar arm and the five cent head.”[4] Were he caught, he would be arrested and returned to the school. In 1901, Coach Warner followed the again-missing Leroy to Boston, where he found that Jimmy Collins -- now manager of the Boston Americans -- had come to agreement with the young Carlisle pitcher. Warner convinced Collins that Leroy needed to complete his education and was – in any event – a ward of the school, without the rights any non-Indian American would have had at a similar age. With Leroy still recalcitrant upon his return, Warner had him placed in a cell at the school and kept on bread and water for 57 days, confined for a longer period overall from mid-June to early September 1901 -- kept on the “reservation” when he could instead have been pitching for Boston. Given his age and his grade in school, Leroy would have been kept at Carlisle until he was 25. He ultimately did complete his course of studies, which qualified him as a college graduate. [5]

Leroy did play ball in Boston in 1901, as left halfback for Carlisle’s football team. The Indians challenged Harvard at the college’s Soldiers Field stadium, but were shut out by the Crimson, 29-0. Leroy made a number of small gains, a yard or two at a time, but the Harvard defense proved impenetrable. Leroy eventually did make it to the Red Sox, but it wasn’t until 1910, and then only for the briefest of stays. His first major league appearance came for the AL’s New York Highlanders in 1905. Before that, he put in some time in the high minor leagues.

In 1902, manager George Stallings signed Leroy to a contract with the Buffalo Bison. Leroy pitched for the Eastern League team in 1902 (he was 13-5) and 1903 (a lesser 7-7), then for the Montreal Royals the following three years (he was 14-10 and 18-12 in the first two seasons, before he had his first taste of major-league action). A 1903 clipping reflects some of the attitudes of the day, referring to Leroy as “the little red man” and with a subhead saying the “Indian warrior cut down and scalped” the opposing team. Leroy was on the “warpath” -- coverage of the “heap good injun” continued on in this vein. Powers-Beck said that Leroy suffered “crude caricatures and incessant war-whoops throughout his career.”

Leroy worked hard at the craft of pitching, quickly realizing that he could not rely on his fastball alone. While working on control, he also developed some other pitches including a curve and a spitball. He enjoyed playing outfield on days he wasn’t on the mound, but even while pitching he was deemed a first-rate fielder. Leroy built up his pitching stamina, as well, and won two September doubleheaders for the Royals in 1904. A clipping from the day wrote that Leroy had gone through “a siege of trial to become a professional ballplayer, and his dogged persistence and determination are responsible for his being one of the stars of the diamond today.”[6]

Late in 1905, the inevitably-nicknamed “Chief” Leroy was purchased by the New York Highlanders (later, the Yankees), as announced on September 1, and he appeared in three games beginning on September 22. He won his first start, defeating the White Sox, 5-2. He lost his second, closing the season with a 3.75 ERA. In 1906, Leroy went to spring training in Birmingham with the New York team, and opened the season with them, too, winning his first start, 11-3, and his second one – more than three weeks later -- 4-1. He saved another game, in relief.  Leroy appeared in 11 games for the Highlanders -- only two as a starter -- and was 2-0 with a 2.22 ERA in 44 2/3 innings, but he spent most of the year with the Montreal Royals. Why did New York give up on him? They had a strong pitching staff, and Montreal offered a considerable amount of cash. Leroy was dejected and pitched somewhat listlessly, compiling a 6-14 record for the Canadian ballclub, his one poor season.

From 1907 into 1913, Leroy pitched in the American Association for the St. Paul Saints, with a brief excursion to Boston at the start of the 1910 season. St. Paul was A-ball, the highest level of organized baseball at the time other than in the major leagues. Only once in his seven seasons with St. Paul did the team have a winning record, but Leroy earned double-digit wins every year and two 20-win seasons. In 1908, his batterymate was John Tortes “Chief” Meyers, the only Native American battery in baseball at the time. Red Sox scout Patsy Donovan had watched Leroy in a few games while on a visit to Minnesota in the summer of 1909; the pitcher was on his way to a 20-17 season and we see now that he posted a WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) of 0.976. When Donovan was named manager of the 1910 Red Sox, he decided that he wanted Leroy. He was even quoted in the Boston Globe as envisioning Leroy as capable of becoming a second Chief Bender.[7] St. Paul manager Mike Kelley had promised Leroy that he’d help him if any major league team ever wanted him, and he was true to his word. The day after his signed contract was received, the Boston Globe reported that the contract of “Leroy, the Indian” was in hand. The paper headlined: “Boston Club Now Has Indian Sign on that Leroy Contract.”

Leroy was expert in pitching with expectoration, legal at the time. The spitballist was on his way to Boston, legitimately so this time. He joined the team for spring training in Hot Springs, and looked good at the start of spring training, but when the regular season arrived, he played just one game for the Red Sox, and it was his last in major league ball. Donovan may have worked him too hard early in the spring, and urged him to rely too much on the fastball, the pitch that had sometimes done him in due to the force with which he threw it and the strain it put on his arm. “My wing began to feel the strain, being unused to the hard work so early in the season,” he told a sportswriter. His pitching suffered, and it produced at least one unfortunately stereotypical sports story, perpetuating the myth of the “lazy Indian.” Leroy had told Donovan, “See here, Pat, I’m no spring chicken; I’ve pitched ball some time now, and there’s still many good years of pitching in my arm if it isn’t abused. I don’t feel like throwing it away in these exhibition games; it isn’t worth while.” This prompted a newspaper headline: “La Roy [sic] Doesn’t Like Hard Work in Spring” – the story also lamented that Donovan “didn’t know how to handle the red man.” [8]

Some of the stories Leroy had to endure included ones with headlines such as “La Roy, He Big Chief: He Had Heap Much Curves and Treated the Royals Like Squaws and Papooses” referring to a 1903 game for the Bison against Montreal.[9]

Donovan apparently developed a lack of trust in the pitcher he’d himself sought out, and used him sparingly for the rest of the spring. The sixth game of the 1910 season saw his one appearance for Boston. It was April 20, 1910, the day after the Patriots’ Day doubleheader. Charlie Smith started the game and gave up three runs in the first two innings, but Leroy’s four innings of relief were disastrous. He gave up nine runs (to be fair, only five were earned) on seven hits and two walks. He struck out three. Ray Collins pitched the rest of the game without giving up a hit, but the final score was Washington 12, Boston 4. Leroy also misplayed two balls in the field, but the only errors charged were four committed by other Boston ballplayers.

After a couple of weeks of sitting on the bench, Leroy was returned to St. Paul on May 5. The Boston Globe observed, “Louis Leroy… was disposed of, yesterday, to the St. Paul club. … Leroy was perfectly satisfied to go back to his old wigwam in the far west.” [10] He won 14 games and lost 16 with the 88-80 Apostles, including a July 15 no-hitter against Toledo for 9 2/3 innings before a hit dropped in during the 10th inning. He recorded an official no-hitter just 12 days later against the Indians (the Indianapolis ballclub). Less than a year later, his brother Frank Leroy threw a no-hitter for the Bay City Cardinals in the Southern Michigan League on July 18, 1911, pitching against the Jackson Convicts. The Washington Post was among those who dubbed Frank as “Chief” Leroy. [11] Frank was a right-hander who pitched for three seasons in the minor leagues, two for Bay City and 1912 for Jackson.

Louis Leroy’s Boston ERA was 11.25. Lifetime, he was 3-1, 3.22 in major-league ball.

In the years that followed, Leroy pitched through 1920 with St. Paul, the Indianapolis Indians, Salt Lake City Bees, St. Paul again, Springfield Ponies, Muskegon Reds, Joplin Miners, La Crosse Infants, St. Paul for a fourth time, Seattle Giants, and Mitchell Kernels in South Dakota, the final team which he helped lead to a championship in the 1920 Dakota League.

After finishing his years in pro ball, Leroy lived in Gresham, Wisconsin, and played some semipro ball in the state while he farmed, did lumber work, and became involved in some of the tribal affairs of the Stockbridge. His first marriage, to Rose Poudry, had fallen apart in 1908, but he remarried at the end of the 1910 season, to Josephine “Joe” Hoffman. He had one son, Lee Daniel Leroy, from his first marriage, and two children (Louis Jr. and Arlene) from his second. In 1936, he moved to a two-story log cabin home on an expanded Indian reservation at Bowler, Wisconsin. There, he talked baseball and tribal politics, until he died of liver cancer on October 10, 1944. Readers interested in more on Leroy and other Native Americans in baseball should read the Powers-Beck volume.

Sources

The principal source for this biography is the longer chapter on Leroy in Jeffrey Powers-Beck’s book The American Indian Integration of Baseball (Lincoln: The University of Nebraska Press, 2004).


Other sources are indicated in the text. The author also relied on the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.






[1] Almost all the information about Leroy’s early life comes from Jeffrey Powers-Beck’s book The American Indian Integration of Baseball.


[2] Indian Helper, April 7, 1899, per Powers-Beck


[3] Warner, Glenn, Pop Warner, pp. 96-98


[4] Powers-Beck, p. 104


[5] Washington Post, September 15, 1912


[6] [Unattributed clipping from Leroy’s personal scrapbook cited by Powers-Beck.]


[7] Boston Globe, February 11, 1910


[8] Unattributed clipping in the Louis Leroy scrapbook


[9] Unattributed clipping from Leroy’s personal scrapbook cited by Powers-Beck.


[10] Boston Globe, May 6, 1910. Powers-Beck rightly questions just how “perfectly satisfied” Leroy would have been to be thus “disposed of,” but at least he got to pitch in St. Paul.


[11] Washington Post, July 19, 1911
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