At the turn of the twentieth century, Native American baseball players found themselves becoming integrated into the professional ranks of baseball. Charles Albert “Chief” Bender, a member of the White Earth Band of Chippewa, became a Hall of Fame pitcher for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. Louis LeRoy of Stock-bridge-Munsee, the boy with the “ten thousand dollar arm,”1 went on to star with the St. Paul Saints of the American Association, after brief stints with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. And perhaps most famously, due to his all-around athletic prowess, Jim Thorpe of the Sac and Fox played in the big leagues for the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds, and Boston Braves.
These three players were among a long list of First Nations players who proved their worth in baseball during the Deadball Era. They were all born in the United States. But the first full-blooded Native American to appear in a regular-season game in the major leagues was a member of the Chippewa tribe born in Canada. His name was Edward Pinnance.2
On September 22, 1880, Elijah Edward Pinnance, the first son of John and Martha Pinnance, came into the world at Walpole Island, Ontario, Canada. Walpole Island is a First Nation reserve located 25 miles north of the town of Chatham, Ontario. (Chatham is the birthplace of Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins.)
As a young child, Pinnance demonstrated great skill in athletics and excelled at traditional Native games. When he became of school age, Edward enrolled at the Shinkwat Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. There, he was introduced to baseball and quickly became a star player for the school.3 The first accounts of Pinnance playing in fast company came in 1902 when he suited up for New Baltimore, a club in a local amateur league in Michigan. New Baltimore is on the American side of the St. Clair River, a mere 19 miles from Ed’s birthplace. He played great ball in the amateur league, earning recognition from the Detroit Tigers. The Detroit Free Press wrote, “Phenoms for the Tigers are being dug up in Michigan one a day. The latest heard from is one Pinnance, a Walpole Island Indian wonder, who has been instructed to report for trial on Thursday.”4 There are no reports of Pinnance ever attending a tryout with the Tigers, but his splendid pitching for New Baltimore put him on the baseball map.
Pinnance did not end up playing with the Tigers. Instead he enrolled at the Michigan Agricultural College, today’s Michigan State University. A pitcher, he helped MAC beat up on rival teams like the University of Michigan, Detroit College, and Depauw University in 1903. In a change of pace for the college men, MAC scheduled a game with the top nine from Walpole Island. In what must have been an exciting game for Pinnance, he got to play against his fellow Chippewa tribesmen. He likely knew his opponents. Pinnance retreated from the pitching box to play third base in the game. He went 2-for-5 at the plate in a 10-4 victory. The Detroit Free Press subheadline stated, “Walpole Redskins Trimmed Neatly by M.A.C.”5 As the school season ended, Pinnance easily found a baseball job with the Mount Clemens club of the Great Lakes River League. Nicknamed the Lawyers, Pinnance and his teammates laid down the law on all comers throughout the summer. In a late-season game, he pitched an 8-0 shutout against the Myrtles of Detroit. In this game he got his lucky break. Philadelphia Athletics superstar Harry Davis was in Mount Clemens to take advantage of the town’s famous hot springs. He decided to take in a baseball match. Pinnance caught the eye of Davis, who recommended him to his boss, Connie Mack. Mack summoned the young Canadian to the City of Brotherly Love at once.
Before Pinnance could meet up with Mack’s big-league club, the Athletics’ leader rescinded his original order and instructed him to report to Lebanon, New Hampshire, for seasoning with that town’s nine. Pinnance hopped on a train from Michigan to New Hampshire armed with a “suit case made from the skin of a large elk he killed himself with a bow and arrow.”6 His stay in Lebanon did not last long. On September 6, 1903, in his first game with the small-town club, he made it through only three innings. In the fourth frame, the big Native Canadian was hit by a pitch, which forced him to retire from the match. Notwithstanding the severity of the injury, Mack soon recalled Pinnance from the Lebanon independent nine.
Just a few days later, on September 14, Pinnance made his big-league debut at American League Park, home of the Washington Senators. “In the eighth Manager Mack trotted out the Indian, Pinnance, from the wilds of Michigan, and his first endeavors against the professionals cannot be said to have been a success,” commented a Washington Evening Star columnist, who was wrong.7 Edward Pinnance did not hail from the wilds of Michigan and, more to the point, he did not pitch poorly. Pinnance allowed only one run in two innings of work in his debut, and finished a 13-1 victory for his club. Hardly unsuccessful. The paper did relent later in the article and gave him a break: “He is only a youngster and very green, but he will do to farm out next season.”8
On the lighter side of the diamond, the young pitcher earned a moniker from the Washington fans upon his arrival to big-league soil. “As soon as Pinnance stepped on the rubber he was christened ‘Peanuts’ by the bleacherites, and this nickname will probably stick with him for all time.”9 In his book Over The Fence Is Out!, baseball historian Jim Shearon explained the occasion further: “At the start of the eighth inning, the public address announcer stepped in front of the grandstand to call out, ‘Pinnance now pitching for Philadelphia.’ The bleacher crowd, straining to catch his name, couldn’t quite hear. ‘What’s his name?’ a man asked his neighbor. ‘Peanuts, I think’ was the answer.”10 Pinnance’s teammates overheard the fans and adopted the moniker with glee. Days later, Pinnance was asked about his nickname, “Why should that name annoy me? I’ll be roasted more or less, and from what I’ve been able to observe, the roasting process vastly improves the peanut.”11
Pinnance stood 6-feet-1 and is listed as weighing 180 pounds. He threw right-handed and batted left-handed. On September 17, Philadelphia sportswriter Charles Dryden noted: “He has a low raise curve, said to equal [Joe] McGinnity’s famous ‘Old Sol,’ and other effective slants and shoots. But the youngster lacks even a minor league experience. Mack thinks one season in a strong independent team would fix Mr. Pinnance about right.”12
Despite not being in the pennant race, Connie Mack didn’t use Pinnance down the stretch. His next appearance for the tall lanky manager came on the final day of the American League season. Donning his brand-new Athletics uniform, he pitched with excellence during his first career start. “In the five innings that Pinnance was in the box the Clevelanders made but three hits and scored one run,” noted the Philadelphia Inquirer.13 Unfortunately for Pinnance, manager Mack wanted to take a look at another rookie, Jim Fairbank. Fairbank proceeded to give up six runs to conclude the game, and the As lost their season finale, 7-5. Although Pinnance failed to earn his first career victory, he did not fail in impressing his manager. Mack appointed him to pitch in the city series against the National Leagues Phillies. Another good performance there secured Pinnance an invitation to 1904 Athletics spring training in Spartanburg, South Carolina. A syndicated article picked up by the Palatine Enterprise suggested that Mack’s 1904 squad would change its name to Indians, as the skipper signed three Natives to his roster: Chief Bender, Lou Bruce, and Ed Pinnance.14 The name change never happened.
Spring training began well for Pinnance. Mack played him with the regulars and he had two strong performances in intrasquad games. The Philadelphia Inquirer spoke of the skipper’s confidence: “Manager Mack is satisfied that Pinnance is possessed of the material of which great pitchers are made, and that it is only a matter of a little time when he will demonstrate his ability to be classed among the crackerjacks of the profession.”15 Then Pinnance’s pitching started to deteriorate. He lost a game he should have easily won against the Princeton University Tigers. The Inquirer noted, “Pinnance did not show good form to-day, having no control and lack of his usual speed.”16 His troubles continued in a preseason series against the Phillies. Despite the Athletics’ taking the series from the Phillies, the games that Pinnance pitched resulted in losses. The manager had no choice but to send him out for polishing. He ordered the young recruit to the Wilmington Peaches of the Tri-State League.
The 1904 Philadelphia Athletics, from the Sporting Boiler Supplement set. Ed Pinnance is top row, third from right. (oldcardboard.com)
Tri-State League rivals were not happy that Wilmington received a player contracted to a major-league team. The Camden team filed an official complaint to the league president. Before any word came from the president, manager Mack put out his own statement: “Pinnance is a member of the Wilmington club. He has been signed by Manager Frysinger, of that club, for the season of 1904…. I do not care to get mixed up in any Tri-State arguments, but this much is certain, Pinnance belongs to Wilmington.”17 After Mack spoke, Pinnance’s appointment to the Peaches became official. He started well and in just his third start with his new club, “Pinnance of Wilmington Pitched a Remarkable Game.”18 The Lancaster team came to Wilmington and was beaten badly by the Peaches. Pinnance pitched a one-hitter in the 6-0 victory. “Pinnance was responsible for the calamity that befell the lads from the land of sauerkraut and onions [Lancaster had a large German population]. But thirty-one men faced him during the game and of that number but one hit the ball safely,” the local paper observed.19 In spite of his great pitching for Wilmington, the game of July 3 was his last with the team. He spent the remainder of the 1904 season as a vagabond baseball player. He pitched for Federalsburg of the Maryland Amateur League and Nashua of the New England League. In August he settled in to play for Amsterdam-Gloversville-Johnstown of the New York State League. He played well with the aptly nicknamed Hyphens, earning himself a contract with the team for 1905, a contract which he signed in mid-March.
By mid-May of 1905, Pinnance grew out of favor with manager Earl Howard. Not worried about future retaliation, Howard released Pinnance to the league-rival Troy Trojans. Pinnance joined fellow Canadians Alex Hardy and Abbie Johnson on the Trojan squad. His season highlight came at a game in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in mid-July: “Pinnance’s Pitching Was More Than the Locals Could Solve With Success.”20 Pinnance pitched brilliantly in a 4-0 shutout of the Scranton Miners. For the following season Pinnance stayed in the New York State League but jumped to the Albany Senators. Late in the 1906 season, manager Mike Doherty inserted Pinnance to pitch against Scranton. The Miners batted the Canadian hurler hard, tallying 13 hits off him. Scranton won the game, 4-3 in 10 innings. Perhaps because Pinnance usually handled Scranton with relative ease, upon the defeat the Scranton Truth pelted Doherty and Pinnance with seemingly retaliatory, culturally insensitive slander. “[Doherty] uncaged his noble red skin, Hiawatha Strongheart Pinnance, but Poor Lo has been seen on parade here so often this summer that he was no more novelty than the average Indian who attends the park. The act fell flat. The red man carried neither tomahawk nor scalping knife, and caused no more uneasiness or shakes in the local camp than his wooden relative in the cigar business.”21 Pinnance was not oblivious to the callous chants he often heard, and stood stoic against them. Nonetheless, he left the New York State League at the end of 1906 and never returned.
In 1907 Pinnance returned home and played in the Southern Michigan League. He became a top contributor for the Bay City team. In September, for reasons unknown, he was transferred to the Flint Vehicles. His continued excellence with the Vehicles garnered him interest from around the nation. At the end of the 1907 campaign, manager Judge McCredie of the Portland Beavers drafted Pinnance as an insurance measure for the 1908 Pacific Coast League season. He made the team out of spring training but was not on the top rung of the ladder for McCredie’s pitching staff. His first appearance for Portland came in a relief role during the team’s fourth game of the season. Despite the team’s 11-2 loss to the San Francisco Seals, the reviews were shining. “Pinnance was the only Beaver who showed any class at all. He worked during the last three spasms and the best the Seals did was a pair of hits,” observed a sportswriter.22 Pinnance struck out five batters. McCredie’s Beavers lost their first seven games of the season. A Portland reporter wondered, “Why doesn’t Mac send Pinnance in to pitch the first ball over? The Indian might scalp the Seals.”23 McCredie relented in his trepidation about using Pinnance, and allowed his new pitcher to make a start. The move paid off.24 Pinnance threw a complete-game 5-0 shutout against San Francisco in his debut start in the Pacific Coast League. He allowed just five hits. “The Indian was a life saver,” said a San Francisco sportswriter. “The way he twisted that ball around the necks of the Seals caused [San Francisco manager] Danny Long to throw at least fourteen fits…. The red man struck the ball right over the plate all the time and put plenty of smoke behind it.”25
Pinnance quickly became a fan favorite. He also earned praise, not just around Oregon, but across the country. Papers from Los Angeles to Wilkes-Barre to Brooklyn spoke of Pinnance’s superlative pitching with the Beavers. The former Connie Mack student seemed destined to finally prove his worth after years of toiling in the minors. The Oregon Daily Journal of Portland wrote of Pinnance: “Of all the new ones McCredie has sprung on the San Francisco public this time, Pinnance, the Indian, looks the best. After that game he pitched last Saturday afternoon against the Seals he was voted all the candy by every one who saw him work. The way he twisted that ball around the neck of every hard hitter on the local lineup was awful for the admirers of the home team to stick around and look upon, and the steadiness that he displayed all the way through made the multitude sit up and take notice. The redskin has the most peculiar line of benders that any man has thrown from a box in this city for a long time. The curves seem to approach in a threatening sort of manner and then they break sharply at the plate. As Pinnance tosses every one of them with practically the same motion, none of the local batters ever could get jerry to his system.”26 But just as the accolades began to roll in, Pinnance found himself with the ultimate dilemma. Back home in Canada, the government began to allocate reservation lands to Natives. Pinnance, who was entitled to 160 acres of land in the Walpole Island area, “explained to McCredie that unless he is on hand when the allotment is made he will not get his farm.”27 The Portland bench boss reluctantly let his top pitcher go.
On June 12 Pinnance left for the East with every intention of returning to Portland to finish the PCL season after attending to his business matters in Canada. Pinnance never journeyed back to the West Coast, instead preferring to stay home and play for the local club in St. Clair, Michigan.
Pinnance received a telegram that asked him to return to Portland for the 1909 season. Perhaps because of his abrupt departure and failure to return, he found himself demoted to the city’s number-two club, the Portland Colts of the Northwestern League. Judge McCredie of the PCL Beavers released his top pitcher from the first half of 1908 to manager Pearl Casey, who felt so confident of a pennant win for his Colts that he placed an order for a new flagpole before the season even started. Manager McCredie reserved the right to recall any of the Colts during the season, including Pinnance, whose play did not justify a call-up to the Beavers. He finished 1909 with 15 victories and 18 losses, and the team finished in fourth place in a six-team league. Pinnance fell out of favor with the management and fans of the West Coast leagues. His career seemed destined to return East.
Flint, Michigan, ended up being Pinnance’s new baseball home. He found comfort in the Michigan League, but his pitching skill became needed elsewhere. The Native Canadian journeyed to the Midwest to play for the Davenport Prodigals of the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa (Three-I) League. Pinnance had a terrible go with the Davenport club and in midsummer the local paper sarcastically praised a win: “The unusual happened again yesterday. Pinnance won a game and pitched an average grade of good ball in doing so at that.”28 He won just five games in 1910. In 1911 Pinnance returned to the Michigan League to play for Bay City, the last stop in his professional baseball career. He continued to pitch in local exhibitions, but never returned to the form of his early career.
Edward Pinnance’s son Parker later described his father’s departure from baseball. “Dad finally quit baseball when he became a diabetic. He would not stay on his diet given by his doctor and manager. He liked his food and you know what a diabetic diet is like.”29 After he retired, Pinnance worked as a marine contractor. He built docks and seawalls on Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River. He also worked as a blacksmith. His time on earth ended on December 14, 1944, after he suffered a heart attack at home on Walpole Island.
1 Jeffery Powers-Beck, The American Indian Integration of Baseball (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), 188.
2 Robert Peyton Wiggins, Chief Bender (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2010), 49.
3 Clipping file, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooper-stown, New York.
4 “Local Baseball Talk,” Detroit Free Press, August 26, 1902:10.
5 “Scalped Indians,” Detroit Free Press, May 31, 1903: 9.
6 “Gossip of the Diamond,” Topeka State Journal, September 9, 1903: 2.
7 “Sports of All Sorts,” Washington Evening Star, September 15, 1903: 9.
10 Jim Shearon, Over the Fence Is Out! (Ottawa, Ontario: Malin Head, 2009), 86.
11 Charles Dryden, “Athletics Must Win Nine Games to Beat Out Spiders,” Philadelphia North American, September 17, 1903: 5.
12 Dryden, “Athletics Must Win Nine Games to Beat Out Spiders.”
13 “Cleveland Takes the Final Game,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 30, 1903:10.
14 “Odds & Ends of Sport,” Palatine Enterprise, October 17, 1903: 3.
15 “Athletics Will Be Stronger Than They Were Last Year,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 3, 1904: 36.
16 “Princeton Puts Athletics Away,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 2, 1904:10.
17 “Tri-State Troubles,” York (Pennsylvania) Dispatch, May 13, 1904: 5. The newspaper article actually read: “I do not case to get mixed up in any Tri-State arguments …” but we have changed that to reflect what we believe was the intended wording.
18 “Lancaster Had One Hit,” Lancaster (Pennsylvania) New Era, May 20, 1904: 2.
19 “Lancaster Got But One Hit Off Pinnance,” Wilmington (Delaware) Evening Journal, May 20, 1904: 7.
20 “Troy Gave Us White Wash Coat,” Scranton Truth, July 20, 1905:8.
21 “Locals Win Again in Ten Innings,” Scranton Truth, September 8, 1906: 9.
22 “Seals Pound Beaver Curve Artist,” San Francisco Call, April 8, 1908: 9.
23 “Squeeze Plays,” Oregon Daily Journal, April 11, 1908: 12.
24 “Beavers Break Seven Day Hoodoo by Indian’s Good Work,” San Francisco Call, April 12, 1908: 46.
25 “Beavers Break Seven Day Hoodoo by Indian’s Good Work.”
26 “Pinnance Looks Best of Beavers,” Oregon Daily Journal, April 19, 1908: 36.
27 “Indian Twirler Released by Portland,” San Francisco Examiner, June 12, 1908: 11.
28 “Pinnance Wins a Game,” Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa) August 12, 1910: 6.
29 Clipping file, National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooper-stown, New York.