Remembering the 1964 All-Star Game

johnny callison cardLast week’s Major League All-Star Game was pretty entertaining, as All-Star games go. The game was reasonably close throughout, and the outcome was never entirely certain until the final out was made. Even though the American League jumped off to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, by the middle of the 4th inning, the game was tied at 3-3. The AL went back up 5-3 in the bottom of the 5th inning, before the offense disappeared on both sides. Neither team scored after that point, and together they combined for only two hits and two walks.

The 2014 game also ended a string of somewhat one-sided games. In 2011 and 2012, the NL prevailed by margins of 5-1 and 8-0, while last year the American League shut out a hapless NL squad by a 3-0 margin.

Submerged in the discussion of the game were occasional references to the 1964 All-Star Game of fifty years ago. That game, one of the most exciting All-Star games of all time, was played on July 7, 1964, in recently opened Shea Stadium, the new home of the hapless New York Mets. Shea had opened in April in conjunction with the 1964 New York World’s Fair, which was situated on land immediately adjacent to the park.

In the 1964 game, the lead see-sawed back and forth. The American League went up 1-0 in the first inning, only to fall behind 3-1 as the NL tallied two runs in the 4th and another in the 5th. However, the junior circuit, as the AL was still referred to in that era, came back to tie the score in the 6th inning, and then went ahead 4-3 in the top of the 7th when Los Angeles Angels shortstop Jim Fregrosi (who passed away earlier this year) drove in New York Yankee catcher and reigning American League MVP Elston Howard with a sacrifice fly.

This one-run lead held until the bottom of the 9th inning. As the inning began, Hall of Famer Willie Mays faced Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Dick “the Monster” Radatz, who was pitching his third inning of the game. Radatz had previously been unhittable, retiring all six batters that he had faced, including four by strikeout. Suddenly, however, Radatz could not find the plate, and Mays drew a walk. The Say Hey Kid then stole second and a couple of pitches later came around to score on a bloop single to right by his San Francisco Giant teammate and fellow All-Star game starter Orlando Cepeda.

Actually, Mays would not have scored on Cepeda’s hit, but for first baseman Joe Pepitone’s errant throw to the plate. Mays had already stopped on third base but Pepitone threw home anyway. Unfortunately for the American League, his throw from shallow right field landed short of home plate and bounced over the head of catcher Elston Howard, allowing Mays to scamper home with the tying run, while Cepeda advanced to second base.

With the score now tied, NL Manager Walter Alston inserted fleet-footed Curt Flood into the game as a pinch-runner for Cepeda. Radatz, apparently unshaken by his bad luck, then induced National League third baseman Ken Boyer, who had homered earlier in the game, to pop out to third base for the first out. AL manager Al Lopez then ordered Radatz to intentionally walk catcher Johnny Edwards, an average hitter at best, to set up a possible double play.

At this point, Manager Alston countered by sending legendary Milwaukee Braves outfielder Hank Aaron up to the plate to pinch-hit for Met second baseman Ron Hunt. Undeterred by Aaron’s reputation as a clutch hitter, Radatz whiffed the legendary outfielder for the second out of the inning. At this point, Radatz had only to retire Philadelphia Phillie outfielder Johnny Callison to send the game into extra innings.

This was Callison’s second at-bat against Radatz, and he alone of the National League batters had managed a solid hit off the 6’6” fireballer, having flied out to deep centerfield for the final out of the 7th inning. Rising to the occasion, Callison did even better in his second appearance.

Wasting no time, he blasted Radatz’ first pitch into the right field stands for a game-winning, three-run home run. Suddenly, a 4-4 tie, seemingly headed for extra innings, had become a 7-4 National League victory.

(Here  is a highlight film of the game, which includes Callison’s home run.)

As a reminder of how much baseball has changed since 1964, it is worth noting the All-Star Game of 1964 differed from its 2014 counterpart in a number of ways, beyond having a much more exciting ending.

1. The All-Star Game was a day-time event. In the grand tradition of daylight baseball, before 1967, the All-Star game always began in the early afternoon in the Eastern Time Zone (which meant that it frequently began before noon on the West Coast). Watching the 1964 game, which began on NBC television at 12:45 p.m., presumably required many adults to figure out a way to get the afternoon off from work.

Fortunately, I was an unemployed 12-year old, playing his final year of Little League Baseball, so I didn’t have to worry about free time. In my circles, every boy my age felt obligated not only to watch the game but also to root for one league or the other. For the record, I rooted for the American League.

Night-time All Star Games were introduced in 1967, when the game began at 4:00 p.m. in Anaheim, California, which was 7 p.m. on the East Coast. Since then no afternoon game has been played.

2. The All-Star Game in 1964 was first and last a baseball game. There was very little hoopla surrounding the game other than interest in its final score. Only the starters were introduced by name. Moreover, there was certainly nothing at the 1964 game comparable to the major production made of Derek Jeter’s impending retirement and the minor production around Bud Selig’s announced retirement as commissioner.

No player who participated in the 1964 All-Star game retired after the 1964 season, but it seems certain that if one was planning to retire, he would not have announced it until the end of the season. Commissioner Ford Frick did retire the following year, but he waited until after the 1965 All-Star game to make the announcement. In 1964, a too-early retirement announcement would likely have been denounced as a form of self-aggrandizement.

3. Attending the game in person did not cost an arm and a leg. The most expensive tickets to the 1964 game — those in the box seats — sold for $8.40. If you were willing to sit in the bleachers, you could get in for a buck-twenty ($1.20). According to a Forbes Magazine story published at the end of this past May, the average ticket price for a 2014 All-Star game ticket on the secondary market was slightly more than $1,000, with the cheapest seats going for $367 each.

4. Fewer players made the All-Star team. In 1964, each All-Star team consisted of only 25 players, the number of players on an actual team during the regular season. Although the 25-man roster is still the rule in Major League Baseball, All-Star game rosters have been greatly expanded. This year, there were 34 players on each team. Roster expansion actually began back in 1969, when the number of teams in each league expanded from ten to twelve.

Technically, the expansion in the number of teams, currently 30, has been greater than the expansion in the size of the rosters. In 1964, 10% of current Major League players (50/500) were named to the All-Star game roster; in 2014, the figure was 9% (68/750). In 1964, there was a rule, as there is today, that each team must have at least one representative on the team.

5. Players, not fans, selected the starting line-up for the game. In 1964, the All-Star starters except for the pitcher were selected by a vote of Major League players. In 2014, the starters were selected by a vote of the fans.

Before 1947, the starting line-ups were selected by the All-Star team managers, but in 1947, the selection process was turned over to a fan vote. However, between 1957 and 1970, concern over “ballot-box stuffing” by fans of a particular team, led to the adoption of a system that relied on player voting. Selection of the starting line-ups was returned to the fans in 1970. Since that time “ballot box stuffing” has been encouraged.

Throughout the history of the game, starting pitchers have always been chosen by the All-Star managers. The honor of managing the All-Star team, then as now, went to the manager of each league’s representative in the previous fall’s World Series.

In 1964, that would ordinarily have been Walter Alston of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Ralph Houk of the New York Yankees. However, after the 1963 season, Houk was promoted to General Manager of the Yankees with Yogi Berra named to replace him as field manager. Under the rules, Houk was not eligible to manage in the All-Star Game, and he was replaced, not by his Yankee successor, but by Al Lopez, the manager of the Chicago White Sox, who had finished second to the Yankees in 1963.

6. Many players never got into the game in 1964, and some starters played the entire game. Although substitutions were more frequent in the All-Star game than in a normal regular season game, there was no expectation in 1964 that every player on the All-Star roster would be used in the game. In fact, it was assumed that several of the starters would play the entire game and that many of the reserves would not get into the game, unless it went into extra innings. That a significant number of All-Stars failed to be used by their managers did not seem to generate much controversy in 1964.

In 1964, three National League and four American League starters (including AL catcher Elston Howard), played the entire game. Starters who were taken out usually came out only late in the game. At the end of the 8th inning of the 1964 contest, 10 of 16 starters were still in the game. Altogether only 37 of the 50 roster players appeared in the game, and 5 of the 37 participated only as pinch hitters or pinch runners and another played only one-half inning in the field. In other words, of the 19 position-player substitutes, only 6 played as much as one full inning. Six of the 15 pitchers saw no action at all. Among those who did not get into the game were future Hall of Famers Whitey Ford and Bill Mazeroski .

In contrast, in 2014, 62 of 68 eligible players (32 from the NL and 30 from the AL) made it into the game, and no 2014 position player’s appearance was limited to pinch hitting, pinch running, or a single half-inning in the field. Moreover, every starter had been removed from the game by the end of the 6th inning. (Technically, AL DH Giancarlo Stanton was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the 8th inning, but that was only because a DH can only be removed by being pinch hit for. Stanton last appeared in the game in the 6th inning.)

Curiously, in 2014, for the third year in a row, no San Diego Padre player appeared in the All-Star game although there was, of course, a Padres player on the National League roster each year.

7. In 1964, almost all All-Star pitchers were starting pitchers, and pitchers were expected to pitch up to the three inning maximum unless it was necessary to pinch hit for them. In 1964, American League manager Al Lopez of the White Sox chose only eight pitchers for his 25 man squad, and NL manager Walter Alston of the Dodgers chose only seven. This clearly indicated an expectation that several pitchers would hurl more than one inning. Then as now, pitchers were limited to pitching three innings, unless the game went into extra innings.

Fourteen of the 15 pitchers chosen in 1964 were starting pitchers. The one exception was Boston Red Sox reliever Dick Radatz, mentioned above, who had compiled a truly phenomenal record in relief. From 1962 to 1964, Radatz, while pitching for Red Sox teams that never finished higher than 7th place in the standings, managed to win 40 games and save 78 while striking out 487 batters in 414 innings, all in relief. In contrast, the pitching staffs of both leagues in 2014 were intentionally composed of starters, middle relievers, and closers.

Of the nine pitchers who appeared in the 1964 All-Star game, only one, Philadelphia’s Chris Short, was removed from the game simply so that someone else could pitch. (Short also gave up three hits and two runs in the only inning in which he appeared.) Both starting pitchers, Don Drysdale and Dean Chance, pitched the maximum of three innings, while two others, Juan Marichal and Dick Radatz, were still in the game when it ended. The other four pitchers who appeared were all removed from the game for pinch-hitters. Even though Radatz was a terrible hitter — his lifetime batting average at the start of the 1964 season was .083 — he was allowed to bat in the eighth inning so that he could stay in the game and pitch a third inning.

In contrast, 21 pitchers appeared in the 2014 game. No one pitched more than one inning, and eight pitched less than a full inning. Of course, with the use of the designated hitter in the modern game, the issue of whether or not to remove a pitcher never arises. Nor is the three-inning limitation apparently of any consequence.

8. The two All-Star teams placed a greater emphasis on winning the game in 1964 than they do in the modern era. Judging by the way in which the two managers operated in 1964, this seems to be a valid conclusion. However, at the time, it was a common complaint that while the National League went all out to win each All-Star game, the American League seemed to view the event more as an exhibition game designed to showcase the sport’s stars. The fact that the American League managed only one win and one tie in the 13 All-Star games played between 1960 and 1969 seemed to lend some support to this theory. (There were 13 games in the decade because two All-Star games were played in 1960, 1961, and 1962.)

As mentioned, the way in which both managers handled their rosters in 1964, especially compared to their 2014 counterparts, does suggest that winning meant more to the managers fifty years ago, if not to the players, than it does now. Although Major League Baseball introduced the “league that wins the All-Star Game gets home field advantage in the World Series” feature in 2003, to try to make the All-Star Game appear more significant, getting as many players as possible into the game still seems to be the primary objective of both managers.

9. Fifty years ago All-Star Games didn’t last as long as they do now. Presumably because they featured fewer substitutions and fewer pitching changes, the All-Star Games of the 1960’s were shorter than those of today. Even with a full 9th inning and more scoring the 1964 game lasted only 2:37, compared to the 3:13 for the 2014 event.

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Returning College Athletics to College Students

kansas city chiefs football gamesThere is a simple way to end the hypocrisy that is modern college sport and at the same time preserve the much-beloved pageantry of men’s college football and basketball.

First of all, we need to embrace the idea that college athletics should be a part of the educational mission of colleges, and not part of their “providing entertainment” function. Subject to the exception for men’s football and basketball set out below, participation in college athletics should be limited to regularly enrolled students who chose to attend their college free from the enticement of special financial support.

The first step is to abolish all athletic grants-in-aid (euphemistically called athletic scholarships) except for those awarded in men’s football and basketball. Except for a few pockets of fan support for college baseball and hockey and women’s basketball, the simple fact is that most sports fans do not care about college sports other than football and men’s basketball.

It is foolish for colleges to “hire” players for their “non-revenue” sports teams at great cost when there are so many regularly enrolled students who would be happy to participate on those teams without additional financial inducements. Marquette, for example, does not need to give athletic grant-in-aids to have men’s and women’s teams in tennis and soccer. Lots of current students would jump at the opportunity to be a member of one of those teams.

Obviously, the teams recruited from the ranks of the regular student body would not likely be as talented as those that are purchased with grants-in-aid; but what should matter more is that under this proposal regular students would have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of athletic participation, rather than simply have the option of sitting in the bleachers, watching their professional “classmates.”

For the vast majority of students, even those who devoted much of their pre-college years to competitive sports, college athletic participation opportunities today are pretty much limited to the intramural and club sports. The unrecruited varsity “walk-on” who plays a meaningful role on a college sports team has become almost as rare as the college football player who is awarded a Phi Beta Kappa key.

Men’s football and basketball programs are exempted from the proposed grant-in-aid ban for purely historical reasons. Unlike the case in every other country in the world, at an early date in the United States colleges and universities, rather than private sector clubs or the state itself, assumed the role of sponsoring developmental professional leagues for men’s football and basketball. In this role, college teams in both sports came to be treated as the equivalent of the major professional sports leagues, at least with regard to fan interest.

“Big time” football schools have performed this function for more than a century, and having cultivated enormous fan-bases that extend well beyond the college community, it would not be feasible, or even desirable, to scale back the level of competition in these two men’s sports.

This proposal would obviously require a modification of Title IX, or at least its reinterpretation, but that should not be problematic. Title IX has from its beginning been about expanding educational opportunities and not about providing subsides for elite athletes.

Freed from a mechanical application of Title IX, this proposal would greatly expand educational opportunities. By eliminating athletic grant-in-aids in all other sports and by dramatically reducing athletic travel budgets colleges could expand the number of varsity and junior varsity opportunities for their students, both men and women. Title IX would still require schools to provide equal opportunities for male and female students, but the moneys spent on men’s football and basketball were no longer be part of the calculation. The money that would have gone to athletic grants-in-aid for non-revenue sports could be added to the institution’s regular financial aid budget.

Because “college” football and basketball are still inextricably linked to the idea that the players are students at the institutions they represent, scholarship players in men’s football and basketball would be required to remain enrolled as full-time college students, as they are now. Current eligibility rules could remain in place; players would still receive athletic grants-in-aid; and there would be no problem, at least from the perspective of this proposal, if the amount of the grant was increased to provide for additional spending money.

Schools with scholarship programs in men’s football and basketball could also operate non-scholarship teams in these two sports. Hence, Marquette could have both a scholarship varsity basketball team and a non-scholarship varsity team, each playing a separate schedule and likely in different conferences. While fan attention would likely continue to focus on the scholarship varsity team, the non-scholarship second team would give some regular Marquette students who enjoy playing basketball the opportunity to experience the benefits of participation in intercollegiate sports.

This proposal would return most college sports to students who come to college for the purpose of broadly preparing themselves for their future. It would take athletics away from those whose primary concern, reasonable or not, is for a career as a professional athlete. Superbly talented golfers, tennis players, and baseball and hockey players will find other ways to demonstrate their potential for professional careers in sport.

I know that some will object that this proposal will adversely affect those students whose only path to college is through a grant-in-aid in a non-revenue sport. However, I don’t see that as persuasive. There is nothing that will prevent a college from giving such a student regular financial aid if the student has academic potential as well. Alternatively, the school could take the money that would have gone for the athletic grant-in-aid and instead give it to an equally needy student with even greater academic potential.

This proposal could be implemented by voluntary action on the part of colleges and universities, either under the umbrella of the NCAA or outside of it. It could also be legislated into existence by Congress. However adopted, this proposal would benefit both athletics and higher education.

Continue ReadingReturning College Athletics to College Students

Why Did the Washington Redskins Choose the Name “Redskins” in the First Place, Rather than Some Other Native American Name?

[This is a continuation of an earlier post, “Why the Redskins are Called the Redskins.”] 

In a recently “discovered” Associated Press story of July 5, 1933, owner George Preston Marshall of the National Football League’s Boston franchise is quoted as saying that he was changing the team’s name from “Braves” to “Redskins” to avoid confusion with Boston’s baseball Braves. This bit of evidence has been proclaimed to disprove the contemporary Washington Redskins’ claim that the name change was to honor the team’s newly appointed Indian coach, William Lone Star Dietz.

However, that is not necessarily the case. All the quote really establishes is that Marshall felt he had to change the team’s name before the 1933 season began; it does not necessarily explain why he chose the name “Redskins” as the replacement name. The name change was apparently necessary because Marshall had entered into an agreement for his team to play in Fenway Park in 1933, rather than in Braves Park, as it had done in 1932.

The story of how the team came to choose the name “Redskins” is a complicated one and for which the evidence is somewhat sketchy.

One thing that is clear is that several months before July 1933, Marshall had decided that he was going to bring “Indian football” back to the National Football League. Indian football was a wide open brand of early twentieth century football, usually played by Native American teams, that featured lots of passing and trick plays. It was most strongly associated with the college teams fielded by the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania between 1893 and 1917, and during the 1920’s with the Haskell Indian Institute teams from Lawrence, Kansas. For two years, 1922 and 1923, the National Football League had also featured the Oorang Indians, an all-Native American team based in Larue, Ohio, that featured player-coach Jim Thorpe.

It is likely that the availability of Coach Deitz, a well-known figure in college football who had been a teammate of Thorpe at the Carlisle Indian School and had taken teams to two Rose Bowl games, figured into this decision. At the time of his hiring by Marshall, Dietz was the coach at the Haskell Indian Institute and was famous for the “trick” plays and unconventional formations deployed by his teams. While it is true that Marshall had long been fascinated by certain aspects of Native American history, it seems likely that the availability of Dietz, combined with the resignation of previous Head Coach Lud Wray, led him to embrace the idea of reviving Indian football when he did.

Although Marshall’s team had begun play in the NFL as the Boston Braves in 1932, little effort was made that first year to exploit the Native American connection. Unlike the Boston Braves baseball team, which was the first American sports team to wear an Indian insignia on its uniforms, the 1932 football Braves deployed no such imagery. In 1933, in contrast, Marshall planned to fully exploit the Native American connection. An Indian head symbol was adopted as the team’s logo and placed on the front of the players’ jerseys, and Marshall encouraged Dietz to recruit some Indian players for the team. (At least six Native Americans, most of whom had played for Dietz at Haskell, had tryouts with the team, and four made the final roster.)

In marketing the team before the 1933 season, Marshall had Dietz and some of the Indian players photographed in full Native American regalia, and during the first home game of the 1933 season the players, Indian and non-Indian alike, were required to wear war paint on their faces. Dietz stalking the sidelines wearing his Sioux headdress was also a regular sight at the team’s games, and the team’s new playbook had a clear Indian football slant. (Whether Dietz’s plays would work in the NFL was a different question.)

The original plan was to play in 1933, as in 1932, under the name Boston Braves, but with a much greater “Indian” emphasis. The decision to relocate to Fenway Park necessitated giving up the name Braves, but Marshall’s commitment to Indian football required that the team’s new name also refer in some way to Native Americans.

But why did Marshall choose “Redskins,” rather than some other name that would reflect the team’s inspiration? Why not “Indians,” or “Warriors,” or “Chiefs”?

In the American sporting landscape of 1933, there were only a handful of examples of Native American names attached to sports teams. For example, during the 1932 and 1933 seasons, there were 14 teams in Major and Minor Baseball that had Native American nicknames. “Indians” was by far the most popular, paired with the city name of teams in Cleveland, Indianapolis, Seattle (also called the Rainiers), Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and Quincy, Illinois, and Keokuk, Iowa.

In addition, three teams used the name “Chiefs” (located in Worcester, Massachusetts, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and Muskogee, Oklahoma); two used “Braves” (Boston and Pueblo, Colorado); and the Mobile, Alabama team in the short-lived Southeastern League was called the “Red Warriors.” One team, the Memphis “Chickasaws” of the Southern Association, used a tribal name associated with its region. In college football, there were several teams with Native American names, but most, like Stanford, Dartmouth, and William and Mary used “Indians.” On the other hand, there were two schools–the University of Utah and Miami University of Ohio–that used “Redskins” as their nicknames.

Consequently, if he wanted to use a Native American team name that was somewhat familiar, Marshall’s options were limited. “Braves” was out, of course, and there was an unwritten rule in the National Football League in that era that nicknames used by major league baseball teams were reserved for the NFL teams that played in the same city. (“Braves” had been reserved for the Boston team in 1932 under this same principle.) As a result, “Indians” was also not available to Marshall. Teams with the name Cleveland Indians had played in the NFL in 1921, 1923, and 1931, and in 1933, it probably seemed likely that a new Cleveland Indians team would enter the league at some point in the future.

For all practical purposes, the list of familiar Native American team names that was available was limited to “Warriors,” “Chiefs,” and “Redskins,” unless Marshall chose to adopt a tribal name, as the baseball team the Memphis Chickasaws had done. Unfortunately, none of the tribal names associated with Boston or eastern Massachusetts—Wampanoag, Massachusett, Nauset, Nantucket, Pennacook, Pokanoket, or Pocasset—were particularly evocative, or recognizable, or even pronounceable.

The decision to choose “Redskins” may have been based, as I have argued earlier, on the phonic similarities between “Redskins” and “Red Sox,” the other team using Fenway Park in 1933. Moreover, at that time there was a certain novelty to the name “Redskins.” Although their meaning was different, the two names sounded alike, and it would be easy for fans to link the two names together. Moreover, there was an element of novelty to the name. Although the term “Redskins” was familiar to sports fans–sportswriters had regularly used “Redskins” as a synonym for “Indians” or “Braves” for years when writing about the baseball teams in Cleveland and Boston, or the football team in Cleveland–no team in the NFL had ever been officially called the “Redskins.”

Nor had there ever been a Redskins team in Major League Baseball. In fact, only once had a minor league baseball team used the name “Redskins.” That team, based in Muscogee [Muskogee], Oklahoma, played under the name “Redskins” in the Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas League in 1907, the Oklahoma-Kansas League in 1908, and the Western Association in 1911. In an era where team nicknames were quite fluid, the Muscogee team, which existed from 1905 to 1911, also played under the names “Reds” (1905); “Indians” (1906); and “Navigators” (1910-11).

While the name “Redskins” was used by at least two college teams in 1933, neither was a national powerhouse, so when the New England sporting public was presented with the new name in 1933, it probably sounded new and distinctive, but at the same time, not unfamiliar.

In addition, there are two other factors that may have influenced Marshall’s choice of “Redskins.”

One relates to the 1929 movie, Redskin, which, while not particularly well remembered today, contained one of the most sympathetic portrayals of Native Americans in the silent film era and is well-known to film historians. Redskin is the story of a young Navaho male named Wing Foot who unwillingly attends a government-operated Indian boarding school. After a period of adjustment, he does well at the school and later wins a scholarship to a prestigious eastern college where he wins great honor as a student and as an athlete. Nevertheless, his accomplishments are undercut when Wing Foot eventually discovers that he will eventually denied entry into white society because of his race. Moreover, when he returns to the Navajo as an educated man, he is rejected because of his white ways. Wing Foot finds himself trapped between the two cultures, no longer fitting into either one.

The movie was highly praised at the time for its sensitive portrayal of the plight of the Native American, and in 1930, the white actor Richard Dix, who had played Wing Foot in the film, was made an honorary member of the Kaw Indian tribe based on his supposedly realistic portrayal of a Native American in the film. The ruggedly handsome Dix had been a star athlete in his youth and in some accounts had briefly played football at the University of Minnesota. In the 1920’s he seemed to specialize in sports-related movies, portraying football and baseball players, amateur and professional boxers, auto racers, and aviators in a variety of films. Prior to his performance in Redskin, he also had won plaudits for his portrayal of a Native American character in the equally well-regarded 1925 film, The Vanishing American.

While it is hard to know precisely what Marshall thought of the film, he was certainly aware of it, given his personal connections to Dix and to Louise Brooks, who was also involved in the making of the film. Marshall had been an acquaintance of Dix (then known as Ernest “Pete” Brimmer), when the two men were young actors affiliated with the Morosco Theater in New York in the late 1910’s. Although his own career as a an actor ended when he took over the family laundry business following his father’s unexpected death in 1918, he remained fascinated with Broadway and Hollywood, and he regularly socialized with show business people and eventually married silent film star Corrine Griffith. In this context, he seems likely to have followed Dix’s film career, particularly his roles in movies involving sports, which was also a long standing passion of Marshall.

Moreover, actress Louise Brooks, with whom Marshall had a highly publicized love affair in the late 1920’s, was originally cast in Redskin as Corn Flower, Wing Foot’s Pueblo Indian love interest. Since this casting occurred during the Marshall-Brooks relationship, Marshall surely was aware of the movie, even before it went into production. (Brooks was eventually pulled from the cast so that she could star with William Powell and Jean Arthur in her first talking role in The Canary Murder Case, so she does not actually appear in Redskin.)

Given these connections, one possibility is that the name “Redskins” appealed to Marshall because it allowed him to envision a team of Richard Dix-like athletes—even to the point of most of them being white men portraying Native Americans. Another possibility is that Marshall was sensitive enough to see a connection between the character of Wing Foot in Redskin and Coach Dietz and the Indian players to be recruited for the team, all of whom, like Wing Foot, had presumably have been “Americanized” by Indian schools and team sports like football.

It is also possible that the hiring of Lone Star Dietz did affect Marshall’s decision to call the team “Redskins.” It is hard to track linguistic changes with precision, but over the course of the Twentieth Century, the meaning of the term “Redskin” shifted from a generic synonym for “Indian” or “Native American,” to a term that suggested a particular type of Indian—i.e., a war-like Plains Indian from the 1870’s or 1880’s. This, of course, was the time and place in which the vast majority of American western novels and movies of the mid-Twentieth Century were set. The continued usage of the term ”Redskins” in western movies and western fiction, and later in western television shows, combined with the gradual disappearance of the term from general usage, led to a change in meaning of word for many Americans. However, the extent to which this shift in meaning had occurred by 1933, and to what extent it had occurred with George Preston Marshall by that year, is hard to gauge.

However, it may be that the presence of Lone Star Dietz, who claimed to be a member of the Sioux Tribe, did affect Marshall’s thinking. William Dietz was one of the great imposters in American sports history. Although it is possible that his birth mother was Native-American (possibly an Ojibwa), he was raised by two German-American parents in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, and did not begin to present himself to the world as a Native American until he was nearly 20 years old. Often claiming to be a half-breed child of a Sioux woman and a German-American engineer who had grown up on an Indian reservation in South Dakota with the name Lone Star, Dietz was extraordinarily successful in convincing Native Americans that he was one of them.

Also a gifted artist who focused on Native American subjects, Dietz managed to talk his way into the Carlisle Indian School where he was a student and an instructor, as well as a star lineman on the football team. His first wife, Angel Decora, a noted Indian artist, believed he was a Native American, as did all of his Carlisle teammates and the players, Indian and non-Indian, that he coached at Washington State, the Mare Island Marine Base, Purdue, Wyoming, Louisiana Tech, and Haskell. Although the accuracy of his heritage claims was occasionally challenged, Dietz lived his entirely adult life successfully holding himself out to be Native American.

In retrospect, it is easy to disparage both Marshall and Dietz as frauds. Both inhabited personas of their own design. However, at the time of Dietz’s hiring, Marshall clearly believed that his new coach was a Sioux Indian. And, thanks to the legacy of the Dakota War of 1862, Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, no tribe, except possibly the Apaches of the Southwest, better exemplified the warlike Native Americans of western movies who were increasingly associated with the term “Redskins” (and who were often depicted as members of the Sioux Tribe).

It is possible, then, that Marshall chose to rename his team “Redskins” because he thought that the nickname was particularly appropriate for a team coached by an actual Sioux Indian. If that is what happened, then it may be true that the name was actual chosen to “honor” Lone Star Dietz.

We will never know for certain exactly why George Preston Marshall chose the name “Redskins” in the summer of 1933. As a general rule, Marshall was usually closed-mouth about his motivations, and he left little in the way of letters or diaries that might reveal his real thoughts. Most likely his decision to select the “Redskins” name was a result of all of the factors discussed above.

Whatever the explanation for the selection of “Redskins,” the significance of the change has probably been exaggerated, thanks to the shift in meaning that has occurred in regard to the word “Redskins” since 1933, and especially since the 1970’s, during which time the word “Redskin” has become widely perceived to be an ethnic slur, something that was not originally the case.

The Associated Press story regarding the name change mentioned above also ran in the Salt Lake City Tribune on July 6, 1933. That newspaper, which closely covered the University of Utah Redskins during the football season, ran the story under the title, “Boston Pro Grid Team Alters Name.” Not “changes” name, but merely “alters” name. In 1933, at least, the difference between “Braves” and “Redskins” seemed pretty insignificant to most American sports fans.

The legitimacy of non-Native Americans using Native American signifiers as sports team nicknames is an important part of the ongoing discussion concerning the proper use of racially-oriented vocabulary in American culture. Whether the use of Indian nicknames by non-Indian sports teams represents the improper appropriation of someone else’s cultural property, or whether it is a permissible use of materials properly in the public domain, is an important issue about which well-meaning people clearly disagree. However, the continued squabbling over the name “Redskins,” usually with very little attention to the complex history of the name, contributes very little to this important debate.

Continue ReadingWhy Did the Washington Redskins Choose the Name “Redskins” in the First Place, Rather than Some Other Native American Name?