Cherokee Heritage Center exhibit focuses on Native major leaguers
The “American Indians in Professional Baseball: The First Fifty Years” exhibit can be viewed by the public through March 28 at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill. COURTESY
Rob Daugherty, left, prepares to speak at the opening of an exhibit of his baseball memorabilia collection, “American Indians in Professional Baseball: The First Fifty Years” at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill. D. SEAN ROWLEY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Numerous photographs and baseball cards in the Cherokee Heritage Center exhibit “American Indians in Professional Baseball: The First Fifty Years” focus on 28 Native players who played in Major League Baseball. D. SEAN ROWLEY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Vintage baseballs and gloves are also included among the memorabilia in the Cherokee Heritage Center exhibit “American Indians in Professional Baseball: The First Fifty Years.” D. SEAN ROWLEY/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
PARK HILL – An exhibit showcasing the impact of Native Americans in Major League Baseball between 1897 and 1947 is on display at the Cherokee Heritage Center.
“American Indians in Professional Baseball: The First Fifty Years” can be viewed by the public through March 28.
“The idea and plan for the whole exhibit came from a conversation with (Cherokee Nation citizen) Rob Daugherty,” CHC Executive Director Charles Gourd, Ph.D., said.
“Since he was 10 years old, he has been collecting baseball cards and memorabilia pertaining to American Indians playing the game at the professional level,” Gourd said. “He has certified that each was a tribal citizen. The range of stuff he has is incredible. The Baseball Hall of Fame, for example, claimed only to have heard of some of his items, but had never seen examples of them. They’re very impressed with it. Rob has had parts of it out on exhibit to different organizations, and I suggested holding an exhibit with all of it. This is a labor of love for him.”
The exhibit puts a spotlight on the biographies of 28 Native American baseball players and a collection of baseball cards on loan from Daugherty. The collection has earned national recognition as one of the more extensive and complete accumulations of cards and memorabilia directly related to Native Americans. Included in the display are authentic and time-period equipment and photographs.
“I had no choice,” Daugherty said. “When you’re born and raised up around Jay, it’s baseball. I went through little league baseball all the way up through college baseball. The collecting was just a part of it. I realized in the last 15 years that what I’d amassed so far was something that maybe no one else has.”
Of the 28 featured players, 18 were born and reared in Oklahoma, including six Cherokees: Paddy Mayes, John Vann, Jim Bluejacket, Ben Tincup and brothers Bob and Roy Johnson.
Other notable players in the exhibit are Jim Thorpe, Sac and Fox Nation; Euel Moore, Chickasaw Nation; Allie Reynolds, Muscogee (Creek) Nation; and Albert Bender, White Earth Chippewa.
“I follow one era from 1897 to 1947, and I stop there for a reason,” Daugherty said. “That is when Jackie Robinson signed for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Media still refer to him rightly as the first person to break the color barrier (for African Americans) in Major League Baseball. Lord knows how badly he was treated. However, 50 years before, there were Native Americans playing Major League Baseball, and nobody is telling their story, and I just decided to do that. I wanted the sports world and the media to be aware of that. Upstairs here, there is memorabilia associated with those 28 ballplayers.”
Gourd said the exhibit will provide Daugherty with some infrastructure for future exhibits.
“The brochures, displays and panels on the walls for this exhibit are of a permanent nature,” Gourd said. “So Rob can take these and set up the whole exhibit, or parts of it. This makes a statement that American Indians really broke a color barrier in baseball and played at the professional levels since their inception.”
There are few criteria for inclusion in the exhibit. All the players were on major league rosters and had at least one at-bat. Daugherty has not started a collection of modern Native major leaguers.
“I would be up to a lot, very fast,” he said. “My wish would be that everyone here who is not aware of these baseball players – that they leave with a little higher step than when they come in. They can see that our people were playing baseball, and we were very good at it.”
Among the exhibit’s sponsors are the Oklahoma Humanities Council, Cherokee Nation Businesses and the CN. The CHC is located at 21192 S. Keeler Drive.