Sol White Recalls Baseball’s Greatest Days

Sol White's 1907 History of Colored Baseball

History of Colored Baseball

Sol White wasn’t just a sure-handed, line-drive-hitting infielder in black baseball of the nineteenth century; he was one of its founding fathers, and its historian. White and Philadelphia sportswriter Walter Schlichter founded the Philadelphia Giants in 1902, and this was the most powerful black club of the time. According to the records, they played 680 games from 1902 through 1906 and won 507 of them. In 1903 they played the “Cuban X-Giants” in the first-ever “Colored Championship of the World.” A young pitcher named Rube Foster won four games for the Cuban X-Giants to upset White’s team. The next year Foster came over to pitch on White’s side, and they won. Although there was no formal league structure, in 1905 the Philadelphia Giants won 134 games and lost just 21. They challenged what they thought was the second best black team to a World Series; the opponents never showed. After going 108-31 in 1906 they issued a challenge to play the winner of the white World Series to see who was truly best. No one answered then, either.

White’s 1907 book The History of Colored Baseball (with a rare 1908 supplement) is both a work of history and advocacy; in it White cautions black players that their skills are more valuable than showboating or clowning. He looks forward to the day when black and white players will be able to play together. “An honest effort of his great ability will open the avenue in the near future wherein [the black player] may walk hand in hand with the opposite race in the greatest of all American games—baseball.” Born just three years after the Civil War, White lived to see his dream come true. After his active involvement with baseball ceased in 1926, he continued to write about the game for The New York Amsterdam NewsThis article/interview is from The Pittsburgh Courier, March 12, 1927:

Sol White Recalls Baseball’s Greatest Days

Early Struggles of Those Who Made Game Possible Is Reviewed

By Floyd J. Calvin

NEW YORK, March 10—If you were asked to name who you considered the greatest figures in colored baseball history, could you give an intelligent answer? I put this question to Sol White, organizer and manager of the Philadelphia Giants from 1902 to 1908, and this is his answer:

Old Timers

Cos Govern, Cuban Giants

J.M. Bright, Cuban Giants

Walter Schlichter, Phila. Giants

Ambrose Davis, N. Y. Gorhams

Nat Strong, Promoter

J.W. Connors, Brooklyn Royal Giants.

Great Modernists

Rube Foster, American Giants

C. I. Taylor, Indianapolis A. B. C.’s

Jess & Eddie McMahon, Lincoln Giants

Jim Keenan, Lincoln Giants

Ed Bolden, Hillsdale.

That’s Sol White’s list. Sol, once famous figure on the diamond and veteran manager, is now retired, living at 207 W. 140th street. He has been close to the game since its beginnings in 1885 and he hardly talks about anything else. The Courier representative was glad to find somebody who really knew the history of the game and was willing to talk. Sol has even written a history of the game. His “Sol White’s History of Colored Baseball” appeared so long ago that there are ads in the back reading like this: “For A Bottle of Good 50c Whiskey Go to McGettigan’s, 700 South 11th street, Philadelphia, Pa., Golden Age Whiskey a Specialty.” That “50c” sounds like ancient history in these parts.

1887 Wheeling with Sol White

1887 Wheeling with Sol White

Sol White (King Solomon White) was born at Bellaire, Ohio, June 27, 1868. His professional baseball career began in 1887 when he went with the Keystones of Pittsburgh, then In the Colored National League. Other clubs in the league at that time were the Resolutes of Boston, Lord Baltimore of Baltimore, Gorhams of New York, Washingtonians of Washington, Pythians of Philadelphia and the Louisvilles of Louisville.This was the first colored league in the United States and Walter Brown of Pittsburgh was president and secretary.

After a season with the Pitts­burgh Keystones Sol joined the white Keystones of Wheeling, W. Va., as left field and later played second base. Next he went with the Wheel­ings, another white club of the Ohio League, then the Tri-State League, as third baseman. At the end of the season they drew the color line and that was the end of his career on big league white teams.

Bellaire, Ohio, where Sol was born, had three white teams, the Lilies, the Browns, and the Globes. As a boy Sol hung around the Globes and there came the time when the Globes had an engagement with the Marietta team. One of the Globe players got his finger smashed and since they all knew Sol, the captain pushed him into the game. Sol will always remember that game for the captain and second baseman of the Marietta team was none other than Ban B. Johnson, in later years president of the American League and a leading sportsman of the West. Sol takes pride in having played against Ban when he was an obscure captain of a hick town club.

In 1888 the rule barring colored players in the Tri-State League was rescinded and Sol was sent to Lima to Join the Wheeling team, then on the road, but the manager refused to use him. He then went back to the Pittsburgh Keystones and came to New York for the first time to compete for the silver ball offered by J. M. Bright, owner of the Cuban Giants. The teams competing were Hoboken, Long Island City, Norfolk Red Stockings, Gorhams and Cuban Giants of New York as well as the Keystones.

Now we may begin a chronologi­cal story of So! white’s baseball career.

1889—With New York Gorhams as catcher, first and second base. Salary $10 per week and expenses.

1890—With J. M. Bright’s Cuban Giants as left fielder part of season, then went with J. Monroe Kreider’s York, Pa., team as second basemen.

1891—Back with Cuban Giants, behind in salary. Went with Big Gorhams of New York, owned by Ambrose Davidson (also owner of regular Gorhams), both Gorhams that year managed by Cos Govern.

1892—Started with revived Pittsburgh Keystones awhile—dull year. Went to Hotel Champlain at Bluff Point, N. Y., under same headwaiter who  started Cuban Giants (Frank P. Thompson) and played on Hotel Team.

1893—From first of season to June with Boston Monarchs, A1 Jup­iter, manager, then back with Cuban Giants, New York.

1894—With Cuban Giants.

1895—With Fort Wayne, Ind., Western Inter-State League team (white) as second baseman, $80 per month. League disbanded in June; joined Paige [sic; should be Page] Fence Giants, Adrian, Mich., $75 per month and expenses (a colored team) as second baseman. The name “Paige Fence” was from man who invented wire fences for farms.

Page Fence Giants

Page Fence Giants, with Sol White second from left.

1896—With Cuban Giants.

1897—With Cuban X Giants. These players broke away from J. M. Bright’s Cuban Giants because they didn’t like his methods. They got a Frenchman, E. B. LeMar, to act as manager. LeMar was not a sportsman, but merely a follower. His job was principally that of book­keeping. The men were guaranteed $80 per month on the cooperative plan. Sol played second base. The “Co” plan (as the cooperative plan was popularly known) was a system whereby all expenses were deducted from the gross receipts and the balance evenly distributed between the players.

1898, 1899, with Cuban XGiants.

1900—Short stop with Columbia Giants, Chicago, John Patterson, manager.

1901—Back to New York with Cuban X Giants.

1902—Organized the Philadelphia Giants and was captain and manager. Was associated in this venture with Walter Schlichter (white) sports editor of the Philadelphia Item, a daily paper, who was book­er. First year on cooperative plan. Cuban X Giants main rivals. Played in Pennsylvania and New York. Uneventful season.

1903—Reorganized Giants and put men on salary; used big league plan and paid from $60 to $90 per month. Brought in Harry Buckner, Chicago, William Binga, John Patterson, Bob Foot. Branched out and got into At­lantic City for games where Cuban X Giants had kept them out season before. Got in Independent League composed of Harrisburg, Williamsport, Altoona, Lancaster (all white clubs) and Cuban X Giants. Made good and paid well. Sol played shortstop first year and second base second year. In 1903 Rube Foster was on rivals, Cuban X Giants.

1904—Changed personnel. Got Andrew Rube Foster and paid $90 per month as pitcher. Played white teams at 136th street and Fifth avenue, New York, brought by McMahon brothers (Eddie and Jesse). Also played Ridg[e]wood and Long Is­land clubs at Brighten oval.

1905—Changed line-up to strongest organization of the time. Kept Robe Foster and brought in “Home Run” Johnson as shortstop. White clubs of the Indpendent joined organized baseball. This year the Philadelphia Giants played several games in New England against the New England League (white) and never lost a game. Also played the Newark International League Team, then under the management of Ed. Barrow, now secretary of the New York Yankees. Beat the International Leaguers four games straight.

Philadelphia Giants 1905-06, Rube Foster and Sol White in back row

Philadelphia Giants 1905, Rube Foster and Sol White in back row

1906—Changes. “Home Run” left to manage Brooklyn Royal Giants for John W. Connors. Jesse McMahon started Philadelphia Quaker Giants and raided Philadelphia Giants and got Will Monroe and Chappy Johnson. Nat Harris of Chi­cago took “Home Run’s” place as shortstop and Bill Francis took Monroe’s place on third base.

1907—Got John Henry Lloyd, Wil­lie James, Bruce Petway, Geo. Washington (pitcher), G. A. Rabbit and Ashby Dunbar to replace old men who left.

1908—Got Duncan, fielder, Fisher, pitcher, Hayman, pitcher. This was the last season of the club under Sol. Schlichter took club over.

1909—Philadelphia Quaker Giants under McMahon disbanded. Sol strung along with his old team.

1910—Managed Connor’s Brooklyn Royal Giants.

1911—Organized Lincoln Giants for McMahon brothers, and took job as manager. Left early in season.

1912—Organized Boston Giants in New York. Went thru season, but business was dull. Went home to Bellaire, O., late in season and re­tired from same until 1920.

1920—Got Rube Foster to put team in Columbus, O., in Western League. Was secretary of the “Buck­eyes” of Columbus to 1924.

1924—Managed Cleveland Browns in Western League. Disbanded same season.

1926—Assisted Andrew Harris coach Newark team.

Sol White Plaque, Baseball Hall of Fame

Sol White Plaque, Baseball Hall of Fame

Although the game in many respects treated him rough, Sol has only the best of wishes for it. He admits that in the heydey of his glory, in 1905, 06, and 07 (the latter year the one in which he published his history) he was high strung, still he is a calm, quiet man now who likes to go to the library and read good books when he is not at work. His object in telling his story is to let some of the younger fellows know something of what is behind them—something of the struggles that have made possible the improved conditions of the present. He is one man who has given his life, unselfishly, to the game purely for the love of it. He can tell of many times when his men were on the “co” plan how he gave up all of his money in order to keep his play­ers together. Some others went into the game to make money, and made it, but Sol takes greater pride in having watched the game develop to where it is today, although he has no money to show for it. He has a new book he would like to publish, a kind of second edition to his old one, bringing the game from 1907 down to date, and if there is any­body anywhere in sports circles who thinks enough of what has gone be­fore to help Sol print his record, he will be glad; to hear from them. Without a doubt this record will prove valuable in years to come. Sol’s personal copy of his own book is the only one he knows about and it would be a historical tragedy if this should be lost.

***

White died penniless on Long Island in 1955, and he is buried in an unmarked grave in Frederick Douglass Cemetery in the Oakwood neighborhood of Staten Island, NY.  A surviving copy of “History of Colored Baseball” sold in the September, 1997 Christie’s auction for $18,400. 

Sol White was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. 

1 Comment

Really great stuff here. Back, about seven years ago, shortly before White’s election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame I began some research into White’s death and possible descendents. I actually spoke with the then 88 year old retired funeral director who buried in 1955 buried White in Frederick Douglas Memorial Cemetery on my Native Staten Island. The former funeral director, living in Queens, New York had no memory what-so-ever of that burial, nor was he able to tell me if he had any funeral records remaining that might still be examined.

White did die pennyless, as mentioned. He died in a State Hospital. The cemetery records contains some mention of a family in Philadelphia, a woman named (Campbell? I don’t have my notes in front of me). Unfortunately, my cursory investigation of locating her was an extremely short one. Now that Pennsylvania has relaxed its rules on geneology inquires there may be a chance of tracking down a Sol White descendent. Obviously, this would be too late for his 2006 Hall of Fame induction, but, perhaps, not too late for the dedication of the beautiful headstone that already rests on his grave thanks to the efforts of Larry Lester, Jeremy Krock and the rest of SABR’s Negro Leagues Committee. The dedication is tentatively schedules for the Spring of 2013.

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