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John Tortes Chief Meyers: A Baseball…

John Tortes "Chief" Meyers: A Baseball Biography (2012)

by William A. Young

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a biography of a little known American Indian star of the early days of baseball. Catcher Meyers appeared in four World Series and was the battery mate of Christy Mathewson. This is a well-rounded biography and describes life off the diamond for Meyers in addition to telling of his on field exploits. Author Young also provides insight into major league baseball in the early 1900s. I found this book an enjoyable read. ( )
  EMYeak | Jul 24, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is a baseball biography and also serves as a brief history of the struggles of Native Americans since the end of the Civil War. John Tortes Meyers was a key component on some of the best teams in the Deadball Era. On the New York Giants teams of the early 20th century he was among more famous stars like Christy Mathewson, Larry Doyle, Fred Snodgrass, Fred Merkle and his manager John McGraw. This biography sheds light on the lesser known catcher on those great clubs. Meyers fought all his life to escape racial stereotypes associated with Native Americans, but he also embraced his heritage. He was a complex person as well as a fantastic ball player. The author does a great job weaving the story of Meyers life with the concurrent story of the struggles of Native Americans during his lifetime (1880-1971). William Young recounts the baseball games with a sportswriters touch and the cultural struggles of Native Americans with an Historian's eye. Another good book from McFarland about a forgotten baseball great. ( )
  SethAndrew | Apr 6, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
McFarland & Company Publishers has made a commitment to publishing books about baseball greats of the past who have been neglected. Many of the authors in this set of books have been academics who have written their book for the love of baseball. William Young is no exception. An emeritus professor of religious studies at Westminster College, he has chosen to research John Tortes Meyers, catcher with the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers during the era before World War I. A Cahuilla Indian, Jack (as he preferred to be called) played baseball in California and for several teams until he came to the notice of McGraw. As a 28 year old rookie, he learned the game under the tutelage of McGraw, his coaches and fellow catcher Roger Bresnahan. Over the years, he caught Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson and Rube Marquard. He played in four World Series, three with the Giants and one with the Dodgers, where two of his teammates were Casey Stengel and Jim Thorpe. In 1917, his last year in the majors, he played for Brooklyn and Boston. After his brief time in the military, he came back to baseball where he played and managed with some minor league teams.

Being a Native American, Jack dealt with prejudice during his career. He was called “Chief” as were several other Indian players of the day and subject to racial stereotypes but handled these mostly with grace and a wry sense of humor. He was as proud of his heritage as he was of his brief year at Dartmouth College. After baseball, he moved back to California and became involved in the affairs of the Santa Rosa Calhuilla. In later years he appeared at Old Timer’s events with other great players of earlier years. In spite of his stats, including a lifetime batting average of .291 and on-base percentage of .367, he is not in the Hall of Fame, although catchers with less impressive numbers have been inducted. Neglected by the committee was his inclusion in many lists of best players of his era and best catchers of all time. His election to the Hall of Fame is long overdue.

Unusual for a book by an academic author, the book is written in an easy to read and enjoyable style. In addition to consulting standard materials and clippings from Dartmouth College, the Hall of Fame Library and other archives, he has interviewed members of the Meyers family. For those that wish to follow the research, there are extensive endnotes and a bibliography along with an excellent index. Dr. Young has included photographs as well.

As the only full length book on John Tortes Meyers, this is an important look at baseball in the “deadball era” and one of its remarkable players and should be read by anyone interested in the history of those times. ( )
  fdholt | Apr 1, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Many baseball (and non baseball fans) are aware of the difficulty that black ball players had breaking into the big leagues. But how many are familiar with the story of Native American ballplayers? I would guess rather few...I didn't become aware of their story into college when a librarian, who was researching the history of a local team, began telling me stories about these early ballplayers. And this book reminds me of some of those stories.

William Young provides the reader with a wealth of information, not just on John Meyers career in baseball, but helping us set his story into the historical perspective. He provides information on Meyer's tribe, the Cahuilla, and historical accounts on the prejudices and troubles that tribes had during that time period to give the reader a greater perspective on the accomplishment of Meyers. Young brings Meyers to life, helping us to understand his wit and character, and the stories that Meyers told through his life. Meyers is a player that caught for two of the greatest pitchers ever in Christy Mathewson's and Walter "Big Train" Johnson, played for the legendary John McGraw.

Overall this is a fantastic look at a catcher and ball player who has gotten lost amongst today's stars. young does an excellent job of bringing Meyers character and sense of humor to life. ( )
  zzshupinga | Feb 7, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
“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.
  EverettWiggins | Feb 4, 2013 |
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"Shortly before the end of the 1965 season 85-year old former major leaguer John Tortes Meyers stood proudly at home plate in Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets."
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