04 February 2013

John Tortes “Chief” Meyers: A Baseball Biography

William A. Young, John Tortes “Chief” Meyers. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012.

“Chief” is the head man; it is a title of diffidence. As applied to John Tortes Meyers, All-Star catcher for John McGraw’s New York Giants, it is a fitting title: the Dartmouth-educated Meyers was an outstanding hitter and well-regarded field general who might have made the Hall of Fame if his career had been a bit longer. Yet during his playing days, “Chief” was used as an insult, not a compliment, because Meyers was a Native American, from the Cahuilla tribe.

This well-documented, yet readable, biography naturally focuses on Meyers’ playing career, but also explores his youth in California, the racial insensitivity he and other Natives faced, and his life and career after baseball. While the challenges Jackie Robinson faced in breaking baseball’s color line are well-known, Meyers (and other Natives, like Albert Bender, Jim Thorpe, and Allie Reynolds) faced similar abuse—yet were never excluded from the game, as Blacks were. This volume gives new appreciation for their struggle, while giving one of the Deadball-era’s best catchers much-overdue recognition.

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