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Cover for Chief Bender's Burden

Chief Bender's Burden

The Silent Struggle of a Baseball Star

Tom Swift


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The greatest American Indian baseball player of all time, Charles Albert Bender, was, according to a contemporary, “the coolest pitcher in the game.” Using a trademark delivery, an impressive assortment of pitches that may have included the game’s first slider, and an apparently unflappable demeanor, he earned a reputation as baseball’s great clutch pitcher during tight Deadball Era pennant races and in front of boisterous World Series crowds. More remarkably yet, “Chief” Bender’s Hall of Fame career unfolded in the face of immeasurable prejudice. This skillfully told and complete account of Bender’s life is also a portrait of greatness of character maintained despite incredible pressure—of how a celebrated man thrived while carrying an untold weight on his shoulders. With a journalist’s eye for detail and a novelist’s feel for storytelling, Tom Swift takes readers on Bender’s improbable journey—from his early years on the White Earth Reservation, to his development at the Carlisle Indian School, to his big break and eventual rise to the pinnacle of baseball. The story of a paradoxical American sports hero, one who achieved a once-unfathomable celebrity while suffering the harsh injustices of a racially intolerant world, Chief Bender’s Burden is an eye-opening and inspiring narrative of a unique American life.

Praise For Chief Bender's Burden: The Silent Struggle of a Baseball Star

“In Swift’s hands, Bender’s life unfolds gradually, as though he were a character in a novel, and the prejudice he experienced, though never justified, is set within the context of the times. Carefully researched—and documented—as well as stylishly written (uncommon in the genre), this belongs in most baseball collections.”—Wes Lukowsky, Booklist

“Signal thanks to journalist Swift for this authoritative biography of Charles Albert Bender . . . . Swift sets aside the myths about this most famous American Indian player while vividly describing him in the context of the famed Carlisle Indian School, baseball’s Golden Age, Connie Mack and his Athletics, and the effects of gambling and alcoholism on sports.”—Library Journal, Starred Review

“A gem. . . . [A] wonderful and impressively thorough new biography. . . . Swift’s mission is to reassert Bender as an important figure in the history of the game, both as a player and a groundbreaking figure. His book does well in both ways.”—Kevin Canfield, Chicago Sun-Times

“Fans of baseball’s Pre-Golden Age will appreciate the scholarship that went into Chief Bender’s Burden, Tom Swift’s sad but sweet biography of the Native American pitcher . . . from the University of Nebraska Press, a constant source of quality baseball literature.”—Ron Kaplan, ForeWord

“A fascinating study of the hardship and prejudice Bender endured, and the character he showed in the face of it all.”—Pat Borzi,

“A substantial, vivid story of one of the best pitchers of the game’s early years.”—Mike Miliard, Boston Phoenix

University of Nebraska Press, 9780803243217, 346pp.

Publication Date: April 1, 2008

About the Author

Tom Swift is an award-winning journalist, a freelance writer, and a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. He and his wife live in Minnesota.