From his childhood on the White Earth reservation in Minnesota through his career in baseball, Charles Albert Bender developed various pitches (maybe even the game’s first slider) and a reputation for dependability in the clutch.
Bender performed especially well under pressure, going to the World Series five times with the Philadelphia Athletics. During the 1911 series, he pitched three complete games. In 1910, he threw a no-hitter. He was later elected to the Hall of Fame.
Nicknamed “Chief” and subjected to constant stereotyping in the press, the Chippewa found himself ignored when he said, “I do not want my name to be presented to the public as an Indian, but as a pitcher.” Instead, he was called a “wily redskin” and a “child of the forest” who “scalped” opponents.
Tall and regal, smart and well-spoken, he also was known as a genuinely good man.
Bender never let anyone see him sweat. His take on it:
- “Tension is the great curse in sport,” he once said. “I’ve never had any tension. You give the best you have—you win or lose. What’s the difference, if you give all you’ve got to give?”
- Asked during a game of golf if anything ever bothered him, he replied: “Why should it? I’ll tell you how I figure those things. When something like this shot into the trap takes place, I look on it as a problem. It is a new problem that has to be worked out. It has to be studied and played correctly. I don’t face any ordinary shot. If I play it well, I get a kind of kick out of it. If it doesn’t come off … well, what difference does it make?”
- About big games: “All games were the same to me. I worried about each pitch and that was all.”
His biggest feat may have been acting. Of Connie Mack, manager and co-owner of the A’s, here’s what Bender had to say: “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 anyone else—maybe twice as nervous—but I couldn’t let it out. Indians can’t.”
And Mack’s assessment of Bender: “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.”
Lesson: Keep your cool and never let them see you sweat.
—Adapted from Chief Bender’s Burden, Tom Swift, University of Nebraska Press