The winningest manager in baseball history saw his share of outstanding big-game pitchers. But when Connie Mack had everything on the line, Charles Albert Bender was his guy.
“If everything depended on one game, I just used Albert – the greatest money pitcher of all time,” said Mack of Charles Albert Bender, a full-blooded Ojibwa Indian often called "Chief" who pitched for Mack for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1903-14. “I’d tell Albert when I planned to use him in a crucial series. Then I relaxed. He never let me down.”
Born Charles Albert Bender on May 5, 1884 in Crow Wing County, Minn., Bender prepped at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. While pitching indoor batting practice at the age of 16, he caught the eye of Glenn “Pop” Warner, an innovative coach in the young sport of football. Warner was also Carlisle’s baseball coach – and upon witnessing Bender’s talent immediately assigned the lanky right-hander to the varsity squad.
In 1902 while playing for a semi-pro team down the road from Carlisle in Harrisburg, Pa., Bender caught Mack’s eye after beating the Chicago Cubs in an exhibition game. By 1903, Bender was in the major leagues.
As a 19-year-old rookie, Bender went 17-14 with 29 complete games and a 3.07 earned-run average. Two years later, Bender was 18-11 with the pennant-winning A’s, capturing Philadelphia’s only victory in that year’s World Series while losing his other start in the Fall Classic to Christy Mathewson.
Bender continued to improve over the next few years, peaking in 1910 with a 23-5 record and 1.58 ERA – the eighth season in a row where he lowered his ERA from the previous campaign. The A’s won the World Series in 1910, 1911 and 1913, with Bender winning five of his seven Fall Classic starts in that stretch.
In 1914, Bender went 17-3 – leading the AL in winning percentage for the third time in five seasons. But the A’s lost to the Boston Braves in that World Series, and soon after Mack dismantled his dynasty in the face of surging salaries brought on by competition with the new Federal League.
Bender jumped to the Baltimore Terrapins of the FL in 1915, but went 4-16 with a 3.99 ERA. He returned to Philadelphia to pitch for the Phillies in 1916 and 1917, then made his last big league appearance in 1925 with the White Sox.
Bender retired with a career record of 212-127, good for a .625 winning percentage.
Bender was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953. He passed away on May 22, 1954.