Bender, for many years the only American Indian elected to the Hall of Fame, boldly created his own opportunities in a world still basically hostile toward his race. His father was a German settler in Minnesota, his mother a Chippewa. He grew up on a reservation, and was sent to a church-run school in Philadelphia when he was eight. After being returned to his mother, he bolted the reservation at 13 to attend the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.
He accepted his Indian identity, stoically doffing his cap to cheers for “The Chief,” but signed autographs “Charley Bender.” Being an Indian gave him separate glamour among the sons of white immigrants with whom he played, and small boys whooped their admiration. But it was his pitching skills that made him stand out.
Bender’s career with the Athletics included two seasons as league leader in winning percentage (1910: 23-5; 1914: 17-3). He pitched a no-hitter against Cleveland in 1910. In the 1905 World Series, in which every game was a shutout, Bender blanked the Giants 3-0 in Game Two, the only game Connie Mack‘s club won. Christy Mathewson dominated the Series with three shutouts, and Joe McGinnity added his. Bender’s 6-4 career WS record included nine complete games, three coming in 1911 when he twice came up against Mathewson, and defeated him once. Bender jumped to the outlaw Federal League for its final, 1915 season, and experienced his most dismal record (4-16).
An all-around player, Bender appeared in several games in the infield and outfield and pinch hit 29 times. He was an expert sign stealer, practicing his art from the coaching box between starts. He steered clear of temptations which wrecked others’ careers, such as that of the briefly phenomenal Louis Sockalexis, whose disastrous misadventures were used to deny opportunity to other Native Americans. After his playing career effectively ended with the Phillies in 1917, Bender managed in the minors and coached in the majors. He maintained a solid family life in Philadelphia, based on values adopted while living on a Quaker farm during his school boy summers.