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October 9, 1910: Chief Chouneau

"Chief Chouneau" as he would come to be identified in baseball record books, had a less-than-usual introduction to the game of baseball. He was born William "Nitche" Cadreau in Northeastern Minnesota and was raised on the Fond du Lac Ojibwe reservation in the 1880s and 1890s. He was a descendent, likely the grandson, of Chief Joseph Naganub, who negotiated many treaties in Washington, D.C. on behalf of his people.

Cadreau's generation was enamored with baseball with many teams forming on the reservation. Eventually, a baseball field was built on the reservation, though it's unlikely a formal one was built during Cadreau's formative years at Fond du Lac. By 1910, before he had yet turned 22, Cadreau started playing baseball more seriously, eventually ending up in Ashland, Wisconsin.

According to the Cloquet Pine Knot, Cadreau had a string of three straight starts where he struck out 50 batters and in the last of those starts, he struck out 17 and walked nobody. Apparently, that outing alone was enough to convince the Chicago White Sox that he had what it took to crack into the major leagues. They signed him and joined by Charles Comiskey's agent, J.B. Carlin, he made his way to Chicago to appear in a late-season showdown against the Detroit Tigers.

On this day, 109 years ago, Cadreau started on the mound for the White Sox and pitched really well. He worked through the first five innings allowing just three hits and no runs. Against a Tigers team with Ty Cobb (who didn't play) and Sam Crawford, it was truly impressive. So impressive, in fact, that Chicago Daily Tribune writer I.E. Sanborn gushed about his early performance:

"Chief Bill looked the part of a promising pitcher, after he has acquired the beef and experience necessary to enable him to go the route."

Sanborn very clearly thought he was looking at a future member of the White Sox rotation. Had he been correct, the eventual 1919 Black Sox team may have looked very different and Cadreau may even have been on the starting pitching staff. He did falter in the sixth inning, though.

The legendary Sam Crawford tripled (one of 309 in his career, the highest total in major league history) and scored on a Jay Kirke single. Later, a George Mullin double scored another run and the White Sox trailed 2-1. Cadreau was pulled from the game with one out in the inning, giving him a line of 5.1 innings, seven hits, two runs, one strikeout, no walks. He had faced 24 batters and then his day was done.

4,000 fans came to White Sox Park to watch the final game of the season as Detroit held on 2-1 and sent the White Sox to 68-85 on the year. Chief Chouneau was tagged with the loss.

It certainly appeared this would get him another shot with the White Sox, but he disappeared after the 1910 season only to resurface in the Western Canada League. Stats from that league are not available, but he did appear in the 1912 season pitching for the Spokane Indians of the Northwest League. There, he went 21-11 with a 3.23 ERA in 309 innings. The following season, he went 15-15 split between Spokane and Vancouver in 259 innings. He kept his reputation as a control pitcher, walking just 123 batters in 568 innings.

For the next three years, Cadreau did not appear for any organized baseball team as a pitcher. According to records, he was on the Duluth White Sox in 1915, but registered no hitting or pitching statistics. Interestingly, in 1917 he pitched for the Chicago Union Giants, a Negro League team nearly lost to history. The Union Giants (known simply as the Unions until 1905) played just 57 games in 15 seasons spread between 1894 and 1917.

Of course, Cadreau was not of African-American descent, but many former Negro League players, including pitcher "Cyclone" Joe Williams, were rumored to be Native American. Cadreau appeared in one game for the Union Giants (one of three they played in 1917, their final season) and tossed a complete game, allowing three earned runs. He nabbed the win, good enough to place him tied for fifth on the Union Giants' all-time wins list. The game in which he pitched was the only one the Union Giants won that season and ended up being the final win in the team's history.

It was also the last win of Cadreau's career. He went to fight in World War I as a private and never stepped onto a professional baseball field again. He made it all the way through World War II and died shortly after on September 17, 1946 of liver cirrhosis. He is buried in LaPrairie Cemetery in Cloquet, the same town he was born in and that is where he rests to this day.

Much of this story would not have been possible without SABR researcher Stew Thornley. To read his full description of the life and times of Chief Choneau, click here.


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