Filling in the Blanks—Eastman, Huntington 1913

18 Feb

Baseball Reference lists “Eastman” as a player with the 1913 Huntington Blue Sox in the Ohio State League— he quickly became one of the biggest baseball stories in the spring of 1913, and just as quickly disappeared from the game.

George A. Eastman was born in South Dakota.  In 1862 his grandfather was one of the 284 Santee Sioux warriors who participated in the  Dakota War and  had their death sentences commuted by Abraham Lincoln—38 others were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota.

His father John Eastman was a farmer and Presbyterian minister in Flandreau, South Dakota and his uncle, Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman was a prominent writer, nationally known lecturer and activist.

Exactly when Eastman began playing baseball is unclear, but in 1912 he played on a semi-pro team in Sisseton, South Dakota with former Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Homer Hillebrand.  According to The Pittsburgh Gazette-Times Hillebrand “Considered him very promising material,” and recommended Eastman to Pirate manager Fred Clarke, the paper said “Clarke says Indian players are the style, and the Pittsburgh club will be in style.”

George Eastman in Hot Springs, 1913

George Eastman in Hot Springs, 1913

When Eastman joined the Pirates in Hot Springs, Arkansas, The Gazette-Times, who of course dubbed him “Chief,” said:

“Eastman is a well built fellow, from the baseball standpoint.  He is 5 feet 10 ½ inches tall, weighs 150 pounds and is very fast.”

The paper said Eastman’s preacher father “does not know much about baseball, and does not think very well of it as a profession.”

A shortstop, Eastman quickly became the source of great interest in Hot Springs.  The Associated Press said even the Pirates best player took notice:

“Honus Wagner has taken more than a passing interest in the Indian Chief Eastman.  (Wagner) isn’t given to indulging in extravagant statements and when he says a recruit is a ‘mighty good ballplayer’ it means something…and he added that “chief throws like Mickey Doolan (Doolin) and fields just like Jack Miller.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

The Associated Press said:

“(A) Sioux Indian is burning up things around short field at Hot Springs with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Fred Clarke probably will retain him as an understudy to Hans Wagner.”

The Sporting Life thought he was bound for stardom:

“The Pittsburgh players are very enthusiastic over George Eastman, the Sioux Indian player, now being tried out at short. They say that he is a wonderful natural ball player, including hitting ability. They say he is sure of a place on the team, as he can play most any position and can ‘outhit Larry Lajoie.’

Despite the fanfare, Eastman did not make the team and was released to the Steubenville Stubs of the Interstate League.  It’s unclear whether Eastman ever appeared in a game with Steubenville, and was returned to the Pirates in early May; he was then sent to Huntington for the remainder of the 1913 season.

Eastman hit .210 in 57 games for Huntington.  There is an Eastman who appeared in 18 games in the Central League in 1914, but there’s no evidence that it’s George Eastman, who is never mentioned in connection with professional baseball again.

In fact, the trail for Eastman goes cold from the end of the 1913 until 1937 when he became the first tribal president of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe.  He served seven terms as tribal president before his death in 1954.

George Eastman, circa 1937

George Eastman, circa 1937

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