- 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Baseball collided with Jim Thorpe’s Olympic achievements and the result was heartbreakingly unjust. A new exhibit now on display at Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory acknowledges how baseball was used by officials to unfairly strip Thorpe of the gold medals he earned at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics for the pentathalon and decathalon. The exhibit is entitled, Triumph & Tragedy: The Greatness of Jim Thorpe, and runs through February 20, 2022. The special show marks the 100th Anniversary of Thorpe signing a contract with Hillerich & Bradsby Co. to make his Louisville Slugger bats, and coincides with this summer’s Olympic Games.
Less than six months after Thorpe won the 1912 Olympic gold medals, he was illegally stripped of his trophies and titles when news broke that he played semi-professional class D baseball during the summers of 1909-1910, which put his amateur status into question. The technicality was noticed after the required deadline, but his Olympic achievements were wiped away – one of many difficulties and injustices he faced over his lifetime.
Born in 1887, Thorpe was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma and a descendent of the Thunder group of Black Hawk. He received the name Wa-tha-sko-huk, meaning Light After the Lightning or Bright Path. In school, the Olympics, and professionally, Thorpe competed in baseball, football, track and field, and basketball. He was part of the first class inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Tragedy struck Thorpe at a young age. His twin brother and best friend, Charlie, died at the age of nine. Two years later his father sent him away to school in Kansas. By the age of 16 he was orphaned and attending school in Pennsylvania at Carlisle Indian Industrial School – more than 1,200 miles from his home. The school’s mission was to “reform” its students from the cultures of their unique Native American nations and tribes into “assimilated whites.”
Through these tragedies and in the face of racism, Thorpe persevered and excelled at crafting his athletic abilities. Fans around the globe marveled at the talents of “The World’s Greatest Athlete.” While some protested how he was treated, others used his Native American heritage to spread racist stereotypes. The Sac and Fox Nation was an ongoing source of pride and support and he advocated for the rights of Native Americans throughout his life.
Even though baseball was used by officials as an excuse to erase his Olympic achievements, it was one of the sports he eventually played professionally. The display includes reproductions of the Louisville Slugger baseball bat contract Thorpe signed with Hillerich & Bradsby Co. on June 21, 1921. The 100th Anniversary of that contract was the initial inspiration for the exhibit.
“We were so excited to discover a microfilm copy of Jim Thorpe’s contract in our archives, and further digging uncovered a number of his actual bat orders in our historic ledgers. We’ve been honored to work with Thorpe’s family and the Sac and Fox Nation to help share the story of his life. We hope our guests gain a deeper understanding of the tragedies and injustices Thorpe faced as a Native American, and celebrate his remarkable achievements with new appreciation,” said Bailey Mazik, curator of the exhibit for Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.
For decades, activists petitioned the Amateur Athletic Union and the International Olympic Committee to restore Thorpe’s Olympic status. In 1983, 30 years after Thorpe’s death and 70 years after he earned his Olympic gold medals, replicas were presented to his children, and one of those sets is included in the exhibit, along with a striking Olympic blazer actually worn by Thorpe. The International Olympic Committee has yet to officially restore his standing as sole champion. He is currently listed as “co-champion.”
Triumph & Tragedy: The Greatness of Jim Thorpe is included with regular admission to Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. Advance tickets are recommended and can be purchased at tickets.sluggermuseum.com.