Chief Yellowhorse

Born 109 years ago today, Moses “Chief” Yellowhorse was one of the first full-blooded Native Americans to play major league baseball. He first caught scouts’ attention as the ace pitcher for the Chilocco Indian School. After signing his first professional contract in 1920, he joined the Pittsburgh Pirates the following season at age 23 and showed excellent potential in the ten games he pitched. Kid Elberfeld supposed claimed that Yellowhorse threw nearly as hard as Walter Johnson, although Yellowhorse’s slightly above league-average strikeout totals don’t indicate that. However, his hits allowed ratio was 20% below league average and his 3.00 rookie season e.r.a. stood 78 points below the major league norm. He finished the season 5-3 and his Pirate teammates awarded him with a World Series share, albeit grudgingly. On October 7, 1921, as our own Jim Charlton has noted in our Baseball Chronology, “Commissioner Landis orders the Pirates to pay a full share from the WS pool to Tony Brottem and to Chief Yellowhorse. Yellowhorse started well but was injured much of the latter season while Brottem joined the team in July. The Bucs had voted Brottem $200 and Yellowhorse a 2/3rd share.”
The arm woes the Chronology refers to, eventually curtailed Yellowhorse’s major league career. After going 3-1 with league average peripherals in limited duty during the 1922 season, Yellowhorse returned to the minor leagues. A revival appeared in the offing. Pitching for Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League, Yellowhorse went 22-13 and his 3.68 e.r.a. tied for fourth in the league. Unfortunately, he injured his elbow and shoulder the following season, went 1-4 with a 6.07 e.r.a. and disappeared from the professional ranks. It is rumored that he later served as the model for Chester Gould’s famous comic strip character, Dick Tracy, but that story may be apocryphal.