As a star pitcher with the Carlisle (Pennsylvania) Indian School, Charlie Roy was favorably compared to a famous alumnus, and his fellow Ojibwe from Northern Minnesota, Chief Bender. The right-hander attracted the attention of several major-league organizations, and was the subject of a drawn-out contract dispute between two of those clubs. However, his big-league career consisted of only a few games with the 1906 Philadelphia Phillies. A deeply religious man, Roy said he would “never again sign a contract which required him to work on the Sabbath.1 So after one more season in the minor leagues, and Roy, only 23 years old, quit baseball to become an evangelist among his American Indian people.
Robert Charles Roy was born on June 22, 1884, to Benjamin and Philomene2 Roy, the third of at least eight children. In the 1900 Census, Benjamin listed his occupation as a steamboat laborer. Charles was born in the small town of Beaulieu, on the Ojibwe (Chippewa) White Earth Indian Reservation in north central Minnesota. Hall of Fame pitcher Charles Albert “Chief” Bender’s birth date and birthplace are not certain3 but it is known that Bender’s family moved to the White Earth Reservation when he was young and Roy and Bender were childhood friends.
Like many American Indian children at the time, Roy attended boarding schools while growing up. He first went to Flandreau, South Dakota, and later to the Morris Indian School in Minnesota, where he played on the school’s baseball team. Because the school didn’t have money to hire coaches, Charlie said, he learned to pitch from his older brother Louis, who was also a student at the school. (Later, in many of the independent and semipro games Charlie pitched in, Louis was his catcher.)
After graduating from the Morris school in 1904, Roy began study at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. In addition to Bender (who was at Carlisle a couple of years before him), the school also produced professional players Frank Jude, Chief Johnson, and Jim Thorpe. Roy led the 1906 team in wins, but two game summaries suggest he may not yet have been ready for the major leagues. In April he dropped a 3-1 decision to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and was beaten 8-1 by Georgetown University in Washington.
In addition to being the captain of the baseball team, Roy also played on the school’s nationally prominent football team. In November of 1905, in the first-ever meeting between the two colleges, Carlisle defeated Army 6-5 with the 6-foot, 170 pound Roy listed in the lineup as a right tackle. Also that fall, the football team traveled to Ohio to play the University of Cincinnati. While in town, Roy was approached by Garry Herrmann, owner of the Cincinnati Reds. They reached an agreement for Roy to pitch for Cincinnati the following season, but Charlie held off on signing a contract until he could get his parents’ consent to play professional baseball.
Roy returned to Carlisle and then to his home at the White Earth Reservation during the semester break. That December Major William Allen Mercer, superintendent of the Carlisle school, said Roy “informed me that he does not intend pitching professional ball for at least two years.” However, the Reds continued to try to sign him, and at one point the frustrated Herrmann said, “I guess he’ll lose as much or more as the Reds do. I’m tired of writing letters and getting no reply.”4
In 1905 Charles “Togie” Pittinger won 23 games for the Philadelphia Phillies, or Quakers as they were sometimes called. He lived in Carlisle and that offseason worked out with and helped coach the school’s baseball team to get in shape for spring training. After seeing Roy pitch, he recommended him to Hugh Duffy, his manager in Philadelphia, and Pittinger signed Roy for the Phillies organization in April 1906.5 Roy was to join the Phillies at the completion of the Carlisle season.
For an inexperienced college pitcher, Roy was the subject of a great deal of hype. Pittinger and others touted him as being equal or superior to the great Chief Bender.6 The Phillies were impressed with Roy’s potential, but part of the reason for their interest was competition for fans with their crosstown rival, the Philadelphia Athletics of the American League, who had their own Indian pitcher (Bender). There was also interest from owner-manager Connie Mack of the Athletics and the Washington organization, but no serious effort was made by the Senators to sign him.
Although Roy had never actually signed a Cincinnati contract, Herrmann claimed that he and Roy had shaken hands and agreed on a salary during their meeting in Cincinnati. In May Herrmann filed a claim on Roy with the National Commission, arguing that based on that verbal agreement, Roy was the property of the Reds. Meanwhile, Roy and his Carlisle teammates had wrapped up their season and were guests of the Phillies for their May 31 game against New York. The next day he joined the Philadelphia club.
Roy made his major-league debut on June 27, 1906, pitching the final three innings of a 10-0 loss to the Brooklyn Superbas. A couple of weeks later, on July 10, a decision was reached on Roy’s contract status. According to the July 14 Sporting Life, “In the matter of the appeal of the Cincinnati Club the Board of Directors of the National League for the services of Charles
Roy claimed by the Philadelphia Club and now under contract to said Philadelphia Club, after a careful consideration of the evidence submitted, the Board is of the unanimous opinion, Mr. Dreyfuss of the Pittsburg club not voting, the Cincinnati club should be given to withdraw said appeal and that the contract of said Roy with the Philadelphia club be approved.”
In one of Roy’s pitching performances, an unusual play occurred in which the same man was called out twice on the same play. The Phillies were playing the Cubs in the second game of a doubleheader on August 3. Roy entered the game in the seventh inning and surrendered three hits to load the bases. After a foul out and a walk forcing in a run, Chicago shortstop Joe Tinker hit what looked to be a sure inning-ending double play ball to Philadelphia shortstop Mickey Doolin. Chicago’s Harry Steinfeldt was forced out at second, but second baseman Kid Gleason threw wildly to first. Steinfeldt thought he was safe at second and kept running, and was thrown out (again) on the relay home. When the umpires realized the mistake after the game, they took one of the Cubs’ runs off the board, making it a 7-0 win, instead of 8-0.
In seven games with Philadelphia, one of them a start, Roy allowed 24 hits and 10 earned runs in 18? innings, striking out six and walking five. He was charged with one loss and had an earned-run average of 4.91. Roy also played part of one game at first base. That cameo was apparently enough for manager Hugh Duffy, who said, “Roy lacks the experience necessary to make him a success in the big league. He is still green, and until the greenness wears off, he will be of no value to a big league team.”7
In August Roy was sent down to the Newark Sailors of the Eastern League, and went 2-4 in 48 innings. He returned to Newark the next season but was released in June and signed by Wilmington of the Tri-State League. He finished the season with Steubenville in the Pennsylvania-Ohio-Maryland League. After the season Roy was drafted by Boston of the National League but refused to report. The Washington Post wrote that Roy “says he has had all the National League game he wanted.”8 He quit Organized Baseball and became an evangelist. In his regard he was following the footsteps of another former ballplayer who had become an evangelist, Billy Sunday.
Roy made no secret of the fact that he had played ball only to earn money to further his religious studies. When his pitching interfered with his objection to playing on Sunday, he quit baseball. Roy said, “I consider it no more of a sin for a ball player to play ball on the Sabbath than I do for an engineer to run a train on that day. It is a case of work for the ball player, as well as an engineer, both making their livelihoods in a legitimate way, but in different channels. For me personally, I prefer to cut out Sunday playing altogether.”9
Baseball-reference and other sources show no other appearances in Organized Baseball, but over the next few years Roy continued to pitch near his home in Minnesota. In 1908 he pitched at least one game for Brandon, Manitoba, in the Northern League and in 1909 he pitched for an independent team in Fosston, Minnesota. In 1910 Roy played briefly for Superior, Wisconsin, in the Northern League and Red Wing, Minnesota, in the Minnesota-Wisconsin League. He also pitched at least one game for a semipro team in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Roy spent at least part of 1911 with Rochester, Minnesota, and in 1912 he was briefly back with Superior and then an independent team in Bemidji, Minnesota. In early 1913 it was reported that Roy would be signed by a team in Valley City, North Dakota, but no evidence could be found that he ever played there.
Roy’s whereabouts over the next several years are unclear. It is not known if he served on active duty during World War I, but his draft card from September 1918 listed him as being employed with the US Indian Service on the White Earth Reservation in Becker, Minnesota. He was also still apparently single, as he listed his father, Benjamin, as his nearest relative.
By 1919 Roy was living in Bismarck, North Dakota, and working as a teacher at the Indian school in that city. He also pitched for the town’s semipro team in 1920. In August of 1920 he married Mattie Johnson, an Indian who was a native of Idaho, and a fellow teacher at the Indian school. A brief wedding announcement in the Bismarck Tribune said Roy was an “accomplished instructor” and “a former ballplayer of note.” The couple had three children, a daughter Philomene, born in 1922, and two sons, Robert, born in 1923, and Matthew a year later.
The Indian Service then sent Roy to the Flandreau Indian School in South Dakota, where he had been a student as a teenager. There he was placed in charge of the dairy operation, the trade he learned at Carlisle. In 1927 he was transferred to the Fort Hall agency in Idaho on an evangelical Christian mission and also worked with the school’s dairy herd. His last stop with the Indian Service was Fort Washakie, Wyoming, where he worked for three years.
Roy’s wife, Mattie, died in 1927; the 1930 Census shows him as a widower with this three children living with him in Idaho. Around 1932 he took his family back to Minnesota but three years later returned to Fort Hall, Idaho, where he operated his own farm the rest of his life. Roy died of a heart attack in Blackfoot, Idaho, on February 10, 1950, at the age of 65.
A funeral service was held at the Howard Jackman mortuary chapel in Blackfoot under the direction of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Roy was buried in the Gibson Mission Cemetery. He was survived by his daughter, Philomene, and son, Robert, both of Blackfoot, and three grandchildren.
Laliberte, David J. “Winning Indians and Other Contradictions: The Morris Indian School Baseball Team, 1898-1908,” in NINE: a Journal of Baseball History and Culture, 18 (2), 29-64.
Powers-Beck, Jeffrey. “The American Indian Integration of Baseball 1897-1945,” in American Indian Quarterly, Volume 25, Number 4 (Autumn, 2001), University of Nebraska Press, 508-538.
1 Beck, 190.
2 Roy’s mother’s name, and that of his daughter, who was named after her mother, were spelled many ways in census rolls and other historical documents. The most common spelling was Philomene.
4 Cincinnati Post, February 12, 1906.
5 At the time it was not uncommon for players to be given authority to sign new players for their teams.
6 Boston Herald, April 2, 1906.
7 Pittsburgh Press, June 6, 1906.
9Sporting Life, August 10, 1907.