Chief Bender

Chief Bender

1B, OF, P, 2B, 3B
May 5, 1884
6' 2"
185 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-20-1903 with PHA
Hall of Fame:

Chief (Charles Albert) Bender played 16 years in the majors, from 1903 to 1917 with the Philadelphia Athletics, Baltimore Terrapins and Philadelphia Phillies, and 1925 with the Chicago White Sox.  He racked up 212 wins with 127 losses, while compiling a 6-4 record in the World Series. The tall, strong right-hander starred in the dead-ball era, when games were played in spacious ballparks, with overused, spongy balls, legal spitballs and tensions about growing player diversity.

Though he was continually referred to as a “full-blooded Indian,” his father, Albertus Bliss Bender, was a German-American homesteader in Minnesota. His mother, Mary, was a mixed race member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe.  She and Albertus raised a dozen children, with Charles at number four, in Crow Wing County, Minnesota

Many American Indian children of the time were sent across the country to attend off-reservation schools for a practical education.  Charley began attending an Episcopal-run school in Philadelphia when he was seven (1891). Five years later, he was one of few schoolboys to return to the reservation.  But he lasted only months.  When a recruiter for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania passed through, Charles and his brother decided to make the bold move to leave once again.

Bender demonstrated his athletic prowess in football, baseball and track from 1896 to 1902.  He was expelled after being "loaned out" by the school to participate in sports for Dickinson College, which soon found him competing against Carlisle in track.

He did graduate, in1902, and left to find work baling hay and playing semi-professional ball in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In June, a Philadelphia Athletics scout spotted him as Charley pitched valiantly against the Chicago Cubs in an exhibition game. When springtime came, Bender skipped the minor leagues and jumped straight from semipro ball to the big leagues when owner and manager Connie Mack offered “Albert" Bender a contract for $300 per month.     

As a member of Mack's Philadelphia A's from 1903 to 1914, Bender was part of one of the most distinguished pitching trios in the history of the game in fellow All-Star pitchers Eddie Plank and Rube Waddell, and was backed up by the famous "$100,000 Infield." The team of 1910-14 was the first of Mack's two masterpieces, a powerful unit that would win four pennants and three World Series over those five years, with Chief Bender as Mack’s “money pitcher” In all cases.

While the Carlisle baseball teams lost more than they won, he picked up a change of pace from football and track coach Glenn Warner. Later, like many pitchers of the deadball era who “loaded up” the ball, he reportedly included a “talcum ball” in his repertoire.  But it was the pitch he developed – the nickel curve, now called the slider - that helped him become the first hurler in history to win six World Series games.

Bender made his mound debut at the age of 18, April 20, 1903. He tossed six innings of relief, and picked up his first win over the Red Sox, against Boston’s  Cy Young.  A week later, he made his first start, defeating the New York Highlanders 6-0, giving up but 4 hits. The Philadelphia media and fans immediately dubbed the one-quarter Indian, 'The Chief', even though there were several other “Chiefs” around.

In the 1905 World Series, in which every game was a shutout, Bender blanked the New York Giants 3-0 in Game Two, the only game Connie Mack's club won. Christy Mathewson dominated the Series with three shutouts.

An all-around player, Bender appeared in several games in the infield and outfield and pinch-hit 29 times.  On May 8, 1906, with the A's struggling because of injuries, Mack put him in left field in the sixth inning of a game against the Boston Pilgrims. Bender hit two inside-the-park home runs - a rare feat in the dead-ball era.  He was an expert sign stealer, practicing his art from the third base coaching box between starts.

Milestones include
3-time AL Winning Percentage Leader (1910, 1911 & 1914)

2-time AL Saves Leader (1906 & 1913)

15 Wins Seasons: 9 (1903, 1905-1907, 1909-1911, 1913 & 1914)

20 Wins Seasons: 2 (1910 & 1913)

200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 9 (1903-1907, 1909-1911 & 1913)

Won three World Series with the Athletics  (1910, 1911 & 1913)

No-hitter  (May 12, 1910 against the Cleveland Naps.)

Bender's 6-4 career WS record includes fifty-nine strikeouts, just twenty-one walks, and an excellent 2.44 earned run average.

He threw nine complete WS games.  Three came in 1911 when he tied Christy Mathewson’s mark and opposed him twice, defeating him once.

In 1914, Bender was making $2400 per year. He put together a 14 game win streak, fashioning a 17-3 record (.850) helping his team to the World Series. But, in the first game of the series, he had to be taken out, and lost, 7-1. This would be his final appearance in an Athletics uniform and be the only time he failed in a major game situation.  Of course, the other A’s pitchers failed as the “Miracle Braves” swept the four-game set.

The 1914 team was discussed with suspicions that the A's threw the World Series. Mack was very upset with his team. Specifics were vague, but Mack hinted that some things were not right. There was also a war going on with the upstart Federal League, which was tempting stars from both the NL and AL.  When his players wanted pay hikes to match what the Federal L. was offering, he said he couldn't match the Fed's offers. So Plank and Bender jumped to the Federals, whereupon Mack sold off many of his players before they could jump and leave him with nothing.

But evidence was growing -- Bender's recurring health problems (largely stomach-related problems and rheumatism), heavy drinking, a reported nervous breakdown – that daily pressures were piling up for this quiet, gentle man.

Not the least of these pressures was the outspoken racial prejudice of the day.  Bender was often subjected to bigotry and racial taunts.  He arrived in the major leagues just thirteen years after the massacre at Wounded Knee.  And few Easterners had even seen a “real Indian” from the west, especially one who was clearly bright, well-spoken, and in control.

The press happily reported on Chief’s successes using terms like scalped, happy hunting grounds, warpath, redskins and palefaces, poison arrows.  When Bender was elected to the Hall of Fame, the Sporting News said it was a 'long-delayed feather for the Chief.'  Bender's obituary in the same publication carried the headline: 'Chief Bender Answers Call to Happy Hunting Grounds.'"

Most often, Bender responded to ignorant chants and war whoops from the fans by tipping his ball cap, sometimes with a still and somber face, sometimes he grinned.

After a particularly effective inning, he came off the mound, point in the direction of the yammering fans or opposing benches and yell, “Foreigners! Foreigners!”  He was ejected from one game, though, in 1906 when he responded to the Highlanders’ Clark Griffith’s insults and made a move toward him offering to “make a gentleman” out of him.

To further escape the pressure, Bender honed skills as a craftsman and sportsman for pleasure.  He became well known as one of the best trapshooters in the United States. He bowled and golfed; painted, fished, gardened, and played billiards.  At Carlisle, he had studied the watch and jewelry business and now created and sold his diamond rings to new major leaguers.

But his biggest retaliation came from winning. His pitching was his answer to the rabid crowd. He remained cool, in control.  He expected to frustrate batters with his best pitch, his nickel curve, which “came in fast and dropped”, according to opposing hitters. Bender liked to throw strikes.  He calculated, experimented and observed hitters and throwers to find any way to throw a ball that only made outs.

Now playing for the Baltimore Terrapins, the worst team in the Federal circuit, Bender had his most dismal season of all time, struggling to a 4-16 mark. The upstart league ceased operations completely after that season and Bender immediately became an outsider to the pro game.  Later, Charles admitted that he regretted jumping from the American League.

He eventually played two years with the NL Phillies, but couldn’t agree to a contract for 1918.  He went to work in the Philly shipyards to assist the war effort during World War I.

From 1919 to 1932, Bender made numerous stops in the minor leagues as a pitcher, coach and manager, making it back to the majors as a pitcher for with the White Sox for one game in 1925.  He would also coach with the team.  He continued to work outside of baseball and was the first head baseball coach at the United States Naval Academy from 1924 to 1928

In June 1939, Bender and Mack made peace, and he became a scout for the Athletics from 1945 to 1954.  He still threw BP into is 60s.

Over time, Bender also acknowledged that the ”Chief” nickname was forever connected to his baseball name and fame.  He had signed autographs as 'Charlie' but began to scribble 'Chief Bender' for fans.  He had been called Chief so long, and so often with respect and affection, that he allowed the name to be inscribed on his tombstone.  His wife, Marie, too, identi?ed herself as “Mrs. Chief Bender.”

Connie Mack: “If I had all the men I’ve ever handled and they were in their prime and there was one game I wanted to win above all others, Albert would be my man.”

And on many occasions said, “I consider [him] the greatest money pitcher the game has ever known.”   A fair compliment given that Mack also managed Lefty Grove, one of the all-time great pitchers, as well as Hall of Famers Rube Waddell and Eddie Plank.

Bender was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1953, less than one year before his death on May 22, 1954, due to a heart attack.  He was 70.

“Bender is the earliest known pitcher to have, unquestionably, thrown the slider (though the pitch wasn’t called a slider when he threw it). But few things in baseball history — like the origin of the game itself — can be correctly attributed to one clear and recognized inventor. Being historically accurate, we don’t know for certain and almost certainly never will. Speaking subjectively, Bender was the kind of guy who was always thinking of new ways to get hitters out. Whether that meant changing speeds, developing excellent control, or using different deliveries — he was one of the first to be known for a big kick — Tom Swift, Chief Bender’s Burden

“Mr. Mack thought I was the coolest pitcher he ever had.  Cool on the outside, maybe, but burning up inside.  I was nervous, just like everyone else – maybe twice as nervous – but I couldn’t let it out.”  -- Charles Bender

Although Charley Bender was half European, contemporary accounts either suggest or state the pitcher was a full-blood Indian.  Even his plaque on the wall of honor in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum begins with the words 'Famous Chippewa Indian.'"

"I used to try to get near [Bender and Eddie Plank] and listen to what they were talking about, and every question I'd ask they'd pay attention and tell me what they thought. I used to put sticks behind my ears so they'd stand out further. Boy, I wanted to hear what those guys had to say."  -- Rookie teammate Rube Bressler

Billy Evans, a prominent umpire during Bender’s career and later a baseball executive, called Bender “a master workman” who “knows how to pitch.” Evans said Bender “takes advantage of every weakness, and once a player shows him a weak spot he is marked for life by the crafty Indian.”

Baseball's Ten Commandments

By Chief Bender, Philadelphia Athletics, Baseball Hall of Fame

Nobody ever becomes a ballplayer by walking after a ball.

You will never become a .300 hitter unless you take the bat off your shoulder.

If what you did yesterday still looks big to you, you haven't done much today.

Keep your head up and you may not have to keep it down.

When you start to slide, slide. He who changes his mind may have to change a good leg for a bad one.

Do not alibi on bad hops. Anybody can field the good ones.

Always run them out. You never can tell.

Never quit.    

Do not find too much fault with the umpires. You cannot expect them to be as perfect as you are.

A pitcher who hasn't control hasn't anything.

"Trapshooting alone will not make a pitcher, but the quick calculation of the angle of flight of the target, its elevation and the effect of wind in deflecting not only the target, but also the charge of the shot, are not without value to the moundsman...The exercise you get in clay-bird shooting is not violent, yet it is not exactly the mollycoddle kind, for the handling of a shotgun throughout the 100-bird program, taking the mild pounding of a like repetition of recoil and the other activities of a half day at the traps are just about enough for the average man."  -- Charles Albert Bender

"You ignorant ill-bred foreigners. If you don't like the way I'm doing things out there, why don't you just pack up and go back to your own countries." -- Charles Albert Bender

Chief Bender, Hall of Fame, Philadelphia Athletics
Share |