Author Archive

Sol White’s Family, Lost and Found

Sol White, 1909I concluded an earlier column in this space, about the dedication of Sol White’s grave marker, with: “While no family came to Sol’s aid in his last years, his burial record listed his marital state as “separated” … so further research may yet reveal whether he was survived at death by his wife or any children.” Talking about this state of affairs on that day with baseball historian Jim Overmyer, I was hoping that he would pick up the baton, and he has done so, splendidly, in the article below. This was preceded by his haring some of his genealogical finds with me via email. Jim is the author of two books and a contributor to several others on Negro League baseball.  He was a member of the special committee which elected Sol White and 16 other black baseball players and executives to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.  He is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and its Negro League and Nineteenth Century committees.

Sol White, the nineteenth century black player who became a manager and front office executive in the Negro Leagues, received a long overdue honor on May 10 when a headstone on his previously unmarked grave was dedicated in an African-American cemetery in New York City. White, the last deceased member of the Baseball Hall of Fame to have a gravestone, was remembered for his exploits on the playing field and the dugout, but also for his writing. He was black baseball’s first historian.  Sol White’s History of Colored Baseball, published in 1907, is the starting point for black baseball scholars following his path.

Later a baseball columnist for African-American newspapers, White’s body of work tells much about the black part of professional baseball. Despite all his writing, he left precious little behind when he died in 1955 about his 86-year personal life. The praise he received on May 10 was almost completely about his baseball career. He somehow managed to avoid being enumerated in the U.S. Census between 1900 and 1930, although he may have been counted in 1920, and family information was mostly limited to the scraps in his obituary and what has been discovered about his early years in his hometown of Bellaire, Ohio.

White's burial record.

Sol White’s burial record.

But hardly anyone remains anonymous in the Internet age, even if he has been dead for almost 59 years. King Solomon White (he always seems to have gone by his middle name) left a clue behind: his death certificate states that, although “separated,” he had a wife, Florence Fields. Running that clue through genealogical websites and online historical African-American newspapers has turned up the outlines of White’s domestic life, although in truth it doesn’t seem to have been very domestic, and had its unhappy episodes.

White was 37 and managing the Philadelphia Giants, a premier black team in the era before the Negro Leagues were founded, when he and Florence went the short distance from Philadelphia to Delaware, probably Wilmington, to get married on Thursday, March 15, 1906. Florence was 19 and a Philadelphia native (she lived with her parents, George and Joanna). It’s not clear why Sol and Florence would have gone to Delaware to get married, but she was three months pregnant at the time with their first child, and it’s possible, though speculative, that relations with George and Joanna might not have been completely cordial. The Fields residence at 854 Watt Street was where the family lived in April 1908, however, when the child, Paran Walter White (named after one of Sol’s brothers), died of kidney disease, at the age of a year and a half.  His death followed the passing in August 1907 of a baby boy who had only lived two days.

Sol White Marriage Record, Delaware

Sol White Marriage Record, Delaware

A daughter, Marion, was born in 1909 and survived to adulthood, outliving her father. She and her mother were still living with the Fields family in April 1910 when that census was taken. Sol might well have been residing in New York City at point, having been hired to manage the Brooklyn Royal Giants that season. But Florence and Marion are counted again with Mr. and Mrs. Fields in the 1920 census, and then with Mr. Fields in 1930 (his wife having died). Sol never appears in the household, and in 1930 Florence is identified as a “widow,” although her husband would live for 25 years more. White by then had spent several summers in the baseball business, from the Eastern Seaboard to Ohio, and Florence White was pretty likely a “baseball widow,” a spouse given short shrift by her husband in favor of his occupation. But informing a census taker is like filing an official report. Possibly Florence’s attitude was that her wandering husband was “dead to me.”

There is little information about even White’s professional whereabouts between 1912, when he left his last Eastern team, and  1921, when he successfully lobbied for a Negro National League team in Columbus, Ohio. While the accuracy of census and other information about him is not as definitive as the Philadelphia information about his family, it appears that White was living in Columbus at least a few years earlier than the creation of his Columbus Buckeyes in 1921. As early as February 1918 the black newspaper the Chicago Defender wrote about Sol’s desire to run a team in Columbus. In 1919 he was writing a regular baseball column for the black Cleveland Advocate, openly pushing for a major black team in Columbus and writing about a game there on July 4 between a visiting black team and a local white squad in such detail that it seemed that he must have been there.

Philadelphia Giants 1905-06 with Sol White, top center.

1904 Philadelphia Giants with Sol White, top center.

He probably was. The 1920 Columbus census has only one White named Sol, or Solomon, for that matter, living in the city. This man was a light-skinned Negro (Mulatto was the census-taking term, and that was a good physical description for Sol) employed as a house servant in a well-off white household. This would seem to be quite a comedown for a leading black baseball figure, but remember that White had been out of that business for awhile and undoubtedly wasn’t making much money writing a sports column for an African-American weekly. The Sol White in the census was 49 when the headcount was taken in January, while the baseball Sol would have been 51, but genealogists who use census reports know that through reporting or recording errors, small discrepancies over facts such as age aren’t unusual. The Columbus Sol White lists his parents as having been born in West Virginia, though, while the 1870 census of the White family taken when Sol was only two says his mother, the head of the family then, was born in Virginia. This seeming discrepancy might not be one, however. The Whites lived on the Ohio side of the Ohio River, across from Wheeling, West Virginia. Wheeling, of course, was in Virginia when Julia White was born in 1838, but changed states, without moving an inch, when the western half of the state split off to remain in the Union at the time of the Civil War.

The William D. Brickell in whose house the Columbus Sol lived was owner of a brick-making company, but this was his second career. He had been a newspaperman, owner of the Columbus daily paper, the Dispatch, until 1910. There he was credited with launching the career of Ralph W. Tyler, an aspiring reporter who became one of the leading black journalists in the Midwest in the years before and after World War I. Tyler was the editor of the Cleveland Advocate, the paper that published White’s baseball columns in 1919. It’s not too much of a stretch to conceive of a relationship among the three men, most likely centering on Tyler’s friendship with both, that could lead to Sol living in the Brickell household.

There is at least a possibility that White and Tyler traveled together to Chicago in June 1920 to attend the Republican national convention at which Ohio favorite son Warren G. Harding was nominated for the Presidency. It’s clear they both attended. Tyler was there to cover the events. And the Defender’s Cleveland correspondent noted in his June 12 report that “Sol White of Columbus passed through the city Friday en route to the convention in Chicago.” The facts supporting the Columbus information on White don’t come as neatly wrapped up as those from Philadelphia that document the life of Florence Fields. But the circumstantial evidence, as it accumulates, is strong.

Charles Augustus Ewell, Pennsylvania Veteran Compensation Application, from page one.

Charles Augustus Ewell, Pennsylvania Veteran Compensation Application, from page one.

This is also the case with the later threads of the Philadelphia portion of the story, which continues on at the same time. In the 1940 census Florence White, her father now also apparently passed on, (and still calling herself a widow) is a lodger in someone else’s house in Philadelphia, working as a “tassel maker” in a factory that makes decorative fringe. Another lodger there is a black restaurant worker named Charles Ewell. Ewell, at 32, is 21 years younger than Florence, and presumably of no particular interest to her. But, she’s still got a daughter, now 31. Marion isn’t with her mother in 1940, and doesn’t show up in the Philadelphia census. But, over in Harrisburg resides a Marian White, of the correct race and age, working as a government stenographer. This might not be Sol’s daughter, but it’s certainly possible that she might have adopted the more usual feminine form of her first name. And she is the only female African-American Marian (or Marion) White of approximately the correct age recorded in Pennsylvania in this census who isn’t either a wife of a man named White or the daughter of different parents.

Charles Augustus Ewell, Pennsylvania Veteran Compensation Application. from page two.

Charles Augustus Ewell, Pennsylvania Veteran Compensation Application, from page two.

Wherever she was in 1940, by 1955 Sol White’s daughter may well have been married to Florence’s fellow lodger. Sol’s obituary in the New York Amsterdam News listed a daughter, “Mrs. Charles Ewell,” among the survivors. A Charles Ewell served in the military during World War II, making him eligible for a postwar bonus from the State of Pennsylvania. His 1950 application for the money identifies his beneficiary as “Marian V. Ewell” of 1603 Oxford Street in Philadelphia. Subsequent phone and city directories have the couple at the same address into the 1990s. Then, the Social Security Death Index, which records the particulars of recipients who have received their last monthly government check (when they died, in other words), notes the passing of a Marian V. Ewell, born in 1909, in Pittsburgh in September 1992.

Marian V. Ewell, note address

Marian V. Ewell: note address

Is this the same Marian Ewell? Who knows, at this point. And if it is, what’s she doing in Pittsburgh, rather than Philadelphia? That’s another good question. The resolution of these points are important, because when Sol White was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006, he had no known descendants. Commissioner Selig accepted the plaque on the family’s behalf. If the group of researchers working to uncover White’s genealogical details find that the Pittsburgh Marian Ewell is, in fact, his daughter (or that there was a different Marian Ewell who may have never left Philadelphia), there is a chance that grandchildren or great-grandchildren may be located. Already Ralph Carhart, a Society for American Baseball Research member from New York who spoke about White’s baseball accomplishments at the cemetery, has been on the telephone contacting people named Ewell in the Pittsburgh phonebook, and recruiting a few to do some further digging for him there. Stay tuned.

Picture Portfolio No. 5: Wide World of Sports

Sport matters. So do the individuals or teams of high character and winning ways whose exploits may move multitudes to raise them to the level of heroes, and in the process stand a bit taller themselves. But in the cult of celebrity that grips us now, the routine activities of ordinary men are more amply analyzed than the greatest feats in all the world’s history of sport.

The big four American team sports, plus tennis, golf, NASCAR, and other individual pursuits, have not always been the focus of this nation’s ardor, let alone the world’s. (We will set to one side for this column British cigarette cards celebrating stars of cricket, soccer, tennis, etc.) Only a century ago, when trading cards were given away with cigarettes rather than with candy or bubble gum — and never sold by themselves — football, hockey, golf, and tennis  were barely represented and basketball not at all. Baseball was dominant, but card sets to then had featured champions of billiards, boxing, sharpshooting, pedestrianism, sculling, bowling, and horseracing.

Before the turn of the century, champion walker Edward Weston or sharpshooter Annie Oakley, jockey Isaac Murphy or oarsman Ned Hanlan were culture heroes of a greater magnitude than any baseball or football player. And boxer John L. Sullivan was the most famous man in North America in any field of endeavor. Collegiate football was becoming a national obsession by the late 1880s, but aside from an 1894 set of 36 players from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, the only football player depicted in a card set was Captain Henry Beecher of Yale in the 1888 Goodwin Champions, a 50-card set containing only eight baseball players.

Forty-five years later the Goudey Gum Company issued a 48-card “Sport Kings” set that spoke to the country’s changed tastes while honoring stars of the past, too. The checklist includes the first basketball cards ever (Nat Holman, Ed Wachter, Joe Lapchick, Eddie Burke); the first pro football cards (Red Grange and Jim Thorpe, although both were honored more for their amateur accomplishments); the first U.S. issued hockey cards (Eddie Shore, Howie Morenz, Ace Bailey, Ching Johnson); swimmers Helene Madison, Johnny Weissmuller, and Duke Kahanamoku; skater Irving Jaffee and hurdler Babe Didrickson. There were tennis players, aviators, jockeys, cyclists, wrestlers, golfers, billiardists, skiers, even a speedboat racer and a dogsled champion.

If the world of bygone sports has a compact model, this card set is it. Today’s arena of sport stars seems impoverished by comparison. Think of how one might compose a 48-card set of today’s North American “sport kings” and queens … and then there are the sports the rest of the world plays! Here’s a quick test of your world-sports acumen. Match the athlete with his or her sport and nation. Answers will be found at the bottom of the page, upside down.


A World Sports Hall of Fame may just be what we need now. There are halls of fame for baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and almost any other sport you can name … but until now none for the world of sport. Why, one might ask, do we need another? This quiz may provide an answer: the guess here is that you will have fallen far short of a perfect score.


Baseball Remembers Sol White

Sol White's new headstone

Sol White’s new headstone

On Saturday, May 10, at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park on Staten Island, Sol White’s gravesite, unmarked since his death in 1955, received a new headstone. The effort was funded by SABR’s Negro Leagues Baseball Grave Marker Project, led by Dr. Jeremy Krock since 2003, when it place a monument above the final resting place of the great Jimmie Crutchfield. To date, this noble effort has produced thirty markers, including one other member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Frank Grant. Today it can be said that no member of the Baseball Hall of Fame lies in an unmarked grave.

In a ceremony that ran for two hours or so, Sol’s place in baseball history was noted by several speakers and celebrated with song, instrumental accompaniment, and a drum corps from St. Philips Baptist Church. Patricia Willis, CEO of Friends of Frederick Douglass, presided over the ceremony; state and city government officials offered their remarks and support.

I attended on behalf of Major League Baseball and Commissioner Selig, for whom history matters. Below is my brief declamation, followed by a biography prepared by Peter Mancuso and Ralph Carhart of the Society for American Baseball Research, and recited by the latter.

Sol White card, 1/50 by Ars Longa

Sol White card, 1/50 by Ars Longa

I am pleased to be here in my official role as historian for Major League Baseball, tending the respects of the Commissioner and all those who work and play in this great game. In no other sport does the past matter the way it does in baseball—linked by its players, its teams, its statistics, its unending stories … enriching generation after generation. Baseball provides a family album filled with snapshots of fervently remembered players, an extended family that connects the living with the long bygone.

Sol White had seemed to be on the outside looking in, a faintly recalled figure of such antiquity that his footprints were no longer visible on baseball’s long road. Bud Fowler had been another such figure, but his memory was recently revived in Cooperstown with a special day and a special way named in his honor. Fowler did not enter the Baseball Hall of Fame with the great Class of 2006, but Sol White did, alongside fellow forgotten luminary and teammate Frank Grant, by all accounts the greatest black player of the nineteenth century.

Born in Massachusetts, Grant died in New York City in 1937, but for reasons hard to reconstruct he was buried in a pauper’s grave in Clifton, New Jersey. One of Grant’s pallbearers was Sol White, who would last another eighteen years only to have his remains, like those of Frank Grant, interred in an unmarked grave in a place in which he had never lived.

Sol White card, 1/50 by Ars Longa

Sol White card, 1/50 by Ars Longa

When Sol White wrote his History of Colored Baseball, it was later said of him, “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.” White’s invaluable history, like the efforts of those here today to erect a lasting memorial to him, commits us to understand the past on its own terms, and to preserve it as a useful living heritage.

Like Lady Liberty, baseball lifts a lamp to the entire world. It is a meritocracy more nearly perfect than the nation whose pastime it is, and as such can be both inspiration and scold. “Second only to death as a leveler,” wrote Alan Sangree of baseball in 1907, the year of Sol White’s book.

Twenty years ago I wrote: “America, independent and separate, is a lonely nation in which culture, class, ideology, and creed fail to unite us; baseball is the tie that binds. While the imperative for Americans has always been to forge ahead, in search of the new, baseball has always been about the past. In this land of opportunity, a man must venture forth to make his own way. Baseball is about coming home.”

Today Sol White is at last safe at home.

His biography, as offered at the ceremony: 

King Solomon White – better known as Sol White – was born in Bellaire, Ohio, very near West Virginia, on June 12, 1868, three years and two months after Lee surrendered to Grant to end the Civil War. His mother, Judith, was born in Virginia, as were four older siblings, all before or during the War.  With Emancipation, Judith took the children to Ohio and Sol became the first member of his family to be born on free soil.

According to Jay Hurd, who wrote White’s biographical profile for SABR’s Bioproject: “Bellaire, Ohio, had three white teams, the Lilies, the Browns, and the Globes. As a boy Sol hung around the Globes and then in 1883 when they had an engagement with the Marietta, Ohio team one of the Globe players got his finger smashed, and since they all knew Sol, the captain pushed him into the game.” [quotation from a newspaper piece in the Pittsburgh Courier of March 12, 1927 by Floyd J. Calvin; see:]

Just to enhance the storybook quality of fifteen-year-old Sol’s entrance into baseball, the captain of the Marietta team was Ban Johnson, who would later become founder and president of the American League. As an older man, Sol took pride in telling the tale of having played against Johnson when Ban was an obscure captain of a small town club.

1887 Wheeling with Sol White

1887 Wheeling with Sol White

Sol White’s professional career began in 1886 after three years barnstorming with the Globes. After a season with the York Monarchs of Pennsylvania, White joined the Wheeling Green Stockings, an integrated team in West Virginia, the same season that baseball first started to institute the tragic color line. White would manage to play on integrated teams for five years, during which he never hit lower than .324; in 159 minor league games he hit .356, scored 174 runs, and stole 54 bases.

Although primarily an infielder, at 5’9”, 170 pounds, White could play nearly any position. During the twenty-four years he played the game he traveled across this country hundreds of times, playing for more teams than this speech can contain, so we’ve provided you a chronology to help you understand just how many miles on the train Sol traveled for his beloved game. [e.g. see:]

But Sol was more than than a player. As Major League Baseball’s Official Historian, John Thorn has noted, “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 also stood apart from many of his contemporaries for another reason. As biographer Jay Hurd states, “Sol White was known to be an intelligent and insightful man, using his mental acuity as well as his physical ability.”

From 1896-1900 Sol White split time between classes at Wilberforce College (now Wilberforce University) in Xenia, Ohio, as a theology major while playing for the Cuban X Giants. He received high grades while he was there and it’s this academic side to Sol that perhaps contributes to his greatest legacy.

Sol White's 1907 History of Colored Baseball

1907 History of Colored Baseball, a.k.a. Official Base Ball Guide.

It was in the early twentieth century, while with the Philadelphia Giants as player/manager and executive, that White published his “Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide.” The Guide was copyrighted in 1907 by Sol and H. Walter Schlichter, White’s Philadelphia Giants business partner. It is the first record of the black game before 1900 and White’s first-person accounts have been invaluable to our understanding of that world. It is this publication which helps to define Sol White, the ball player, the historian, and the man.

In his Guide, Sol states, “Base ball is a legitimate profession.  As much so as any other vocation, and should be fostered by owners and players alike. It is immune from attacks from all critics. From a scientific standpoint, it outclasses all other American games. It should be taken seriously by the colored player, as honest efforts with his great ability will open an avenue in the near future wherein he may walk hand-in-hand with the opposite race in the greatest of all American games – base ball.”

In 1927, when no longer directly involved in playing or managing the game, White moved to Manhattan’s Harlem community during its famous Renaissance, and remained there through the Great Depression, World War II, and beyond while maintaining his connection to baseball by writing columns for the local Amsterdam News and the Philadelphia Item. He lived at 145 West 132nd Street until 1952 when his advancing age and illness required him to be hospitalized.

As highly regarded historians and SABR members Frank Ceresi (recently deceased) and Carol McMains note in their May 2006 Baseball Almanac article “Renaissance Man: Sol White”: “What quiet pride Sol must have felt when, as an old man living alone in Harlem, he saw Jackie Robinson break down the blight on the game we now, quite antiseptically, refer to simply as the ‘color barrier.’”

Sol White, old-timers' game

Sol White, old-timers’ game

White died at the age of 87 on August 26, 1955 at the New York State Hospital in Central Islip, Long Island, penniless. He was buried here at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park on September 1. He is, to date, the only Baseball Hall of Famer buried on Staten Island.

Sol was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. His plaque in the Hall identifies him as an “outstanding player and manager” of the “Pre-Negro Leagues, 1887-1912” and the “Negro Leagues, 1920-1926”. The plaque also recognizes “Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide of early black baseball teams, players, and playing conditions.”

Prior to his election, the name of Sol White was known to only a few. Even now, he is not one of the more famous names to have played the game. But you here today, you now know a little about the man, if you didn’t before. And I hope that what you’ve learned inspires you to go home and learn even more. Because Sol White, with Rube Foster and others, in the words of writer John Holway, “held black baseball together throughout 60 years of apartheid, making Jackie Robinson’s debut possible.” We honor him today not just for what he represented to the game, but for what he did for his race and for the advancement of mankind. Thank you, Sol.

Sol White's burial record: one of five buried on this site in September 1955.

Sol White’s burial record: one of five buried on this site in September 1955.

Now that Sol has been rescued from unmerited obscurity, the public-spirited might turn to the cemetery in which he resides. Frederick Douglass Memorial Park fell on hard times several years ago, overwhelmed by debt, financial scandal, and declining burials.  It has been a struggle for its slim staff–one office worker and two groundskeepers–to maintain the grounds and the records. Solvency seems a distant prospect.

In a disquieting note, cemetery ledgers (there is no computer, let alone computerized records) revealed that Sol White was not the only pauper buried in this particular grave. He was the first, but eight other unrelated indigents followed, piling upon him in turn to form a vertical nine in the deep communal plot. Four poor souls were buried within days of White in 1955, and four others followed in December 1988.

Sol White's resting place at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park

Sol White’s resting place at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park

While no family came to Sol’s aid in his last years, his burial record listed his marital state as “separated” … so further research may yet reveal whether he was survived at death by his wife or any children.

Picture Portfolio No. 4: Baseball in the 1880s


Having launched this miniseries with Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and then Women in Baseball, I’d like to offer here the first of a decade series on the old ball game. Chronology may be God’s way of telling a story–and thus an unassailable organizing principle–but the seat of my pants tells me to start with the booming 1880s. This is an era of plentiful baseball cards, gorgeous chromolithography, and the dawn of action photography. My self-imposed limit if 15 images truly chafes. Backdrop:

On February 2, 1876, in a meeting at the Grand Central Hotel in New York, William A. Hulbert, Albert G. Spalding, and the Western faction of owners had left the National Association (NA) and created a new National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (NL). As it would turn out, the new league won the war, sending the NA into instant oblivion, but not the peace. The remaining years of the 1870s were dicey indeed.

Once both were eliminated from the 1876 pennant race, dominated by Hulbert’s new powerhouse White Stockings, their concluding Western swing of the season portended nothing but losses at the gate. Anticipating no consequence to their action, the Mutuals of New York and the Athletics of Philadelphia declined to fulfill their remaining schedule; after all, in the NA such conduct had been tolerated–and the Mutuals and Athletics had been accustomed to determining their own fortunes. Not only were they among the original National Association franchises of 1871, they had been playing ball under their own banners since the 1850s.

The Mutuals, who did not play fourteen of their scheduled seventy games in 1876, and the Athletics, who canceled eleven contests, were by no means the only financially straitened clubs in the NL ’s inaugural campaign; in fact only Chicago was in the black (a state of affairs that would endure all the way up to 1880, as the economic effects of the Panic of 1873 lingered in a long recession rivaling the current one).

At the league meetings in December 1876, despite the financial implications of losing the nation’s two biggest markets and having to limp along with only six entrants in the upcoming season, Hulbert expelled the two franchises. The NL would not return to New York or Philadelphia for six years.

In 1880 Hulbert expelled the Cincinnati franchise for selling “spirituous and malt liquors” on the grounds, which in truth violated neither his sensibilities nor league statute. With this heavy-handed action Hulbert, the former firebrand, sparked an insurrection: a rival league, the American Association (AA) of 1882, centered in the fun-loving, hard-drinking, and now deeply resentful city of Cincinnati. The rival circuit may also have sprung into being because its organizers saw that the NL had at last begun to stop bleeding money.

The AA soon became known as not Alcoholics Anonymous but the Beer and Whisky League, and by charging only twenty-five cents admission while occupying some of the very population centers the NL had abandoned, it gave the league a good run for its money for a decade. This competition, against which the NL had railed, ultimately saved baseball and created a groundswell of enthusiasm that propelled the two major leagues into seemingly permanent status, while giving rise to two one-year rivals as well: the Union Association of 1884 and the Players League of of 1890.

When the NL succeeded, after the 1891 season, in removing all rivals to its supremacy, it found itself once again sliding into disfavor, a condition from which another pretender–Ban Johnson’s American League–rescued it at the dawn of the 20th century. Here are fifteen images from Major League Baseball’s first era of prosperity, what Mark Twain termed the “outward and visible expression of the drive, and push, and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century.”


Baseball as One Word or Two: More

1885 Base Ball ABC, McLoughlin

1885 Base Ball ABC, McLoughlin

On August 16, 2012, I ran a column called “Baseball or Base Ball?” ( For those who recall the story or prefer not to follow the link, here are some highlights of that anonymous scribble in the Trenton Evening Times of November 13, 1915.

A small but influential minority con­tinue to adhere to the old notion that baseball isn’t baseball at all, but base ball. That is, that it is not one word, but two…. In the early days of the game “base ball” was universal. After a time, as the game increased in popu­larity, many publications adopted the hyphenated form, and it became “base-ball.” At a still later period along in the ’80s, as nearly as can be discovered—the newspapers began to drop the hyphen, and “base­ball” came into use.

With the aid of modern online databases and applications, plus some good old-fashioned ingenuity, we can bring data to the question of “Baseball or Base Ball?” My estimable friend Bruce Allardice searched the extensive newspaper set at for each word in each yera from 1859 to 1900, and then 1905 and 1910 as a confirmation of the trend by which baseball superseded “base ball” forevermore.  Bruce writes:

Base Ball for Beginners, 1921

The general trends are clear. The exact numbers for any year depend on the vagaries of the OCR reads, and the OCR handling of the hyphenated (due to a line break) “base-ball.”

What strikes me is that the two-word “base ball” usage lasted far longer than previous scholars have thought. 1896-97 marks the time when baseball came to be used more often than base ball.

The chart below also illustrates the rise of newspaper reporting of the game. Note that the GenBank search process generally counts the hyphenated form, “base-ball,” as two words (i.e., as “base ball”).

Hits in GenBank Newspapers, by year

Year  “Base Ball”       “Baseball”  Total  1-Word %

1859  328                   26          354      7.3

1860  600                   32          632      5.0

1861  193                   23          216      10.6

1862  268                   14          282      5.0

1863  214                   11          225      4.9

1864  395                   34          429      7.9

1865  1544                 107         1651     6.5

1866  3354                 196         3550     5.5

1867  5656                 557         6213     9.0

1868  4559                 419         4978     8.4

1869  4840                 577         5417     10.6

1870  5926                 827         6753     12.2

1871  5126                 809         5935     13.6

1872  3445                 422         3867     10.9

1873  3355                 952         4307     22.1

1874  6567                1124        7691     14.6

1875  8029                1180        9209     12.8

1876  6530                 983         7513     13.1

1877  4941                 908         5849     15.5

1878  4779                1152        5931     19.4

1879  5444                1086        6530     16.6

1880  3740                 886         4626     19.1

1881  4512                 991         5503     18.0

1882  6307                1848        8155     22.7

1883  8307                2716        11023    24.6

1884  8847                3129        11976    26.1

1885  9207                3864        13071    29.6

1886  11681               4328        16009    27.0

1887  15605               6744        22349    30.2

1888  16057               9648        25705    37.5

1889  18973               8370        27243    30.7

1890  18654               9032        27686    32.6

1891  17555               9363        26918    34.8

1892  12821               9517        22338    42.6

1893  11932               8796        20728    42.4

1894  13722              10779       24501    44.0

1895  15762              14411       30173    47.8

1896  15763              15046       30809    48.8

1897  16135              20866       37001    56.4

1898  13165              15322       28487    53.8

1899  14728              18565       33293    55.8

1900  12194              21157       33351    63.4





1905  16384              43989       60373    72.9





1910  16180              78295       94475    82.9

An additional test may be run through Google’s marvelous Ngram Viewer, which graphs the appearances of baseball vs. those of “base ball” across all the books published (and digitized) from 1800 to 2000. []. You may view the disparity at intervals, or jog the results year by year.




Outsiders in the Ragtime Era

Outsider Baseball, Scott Simkus

Outsider Baseball, Scott Simkus

This guest column is by Scott Simkus, author of the new Outsider Baseball: The Weird World of Hardball on the Fringe, 1876-1950, available at all booksellers. If it is not at your local bookstore, become irate. As I say on the back of Scott’s dustjacket, “This is the best baseball book you will read this year.”

The early morning phone call wasn’t much of a surprise. Inebriated, the star first baseman stumbled into a downtown Chicago theater, where he attempted to accost his wife backstage. Handlers gained control before the situation unraveled, and had the 29-year-old slugger ushered into a taxi cab.

At four o’clock in the morning, James “Nixey” Callahan, manager of the semipro Logan Squares club, sauntered across the cobblestones of 34th street, bailing his man out of the local police station. His man was none other than Mike Donlin, one of the most feared hitters during the deadball era, and a world-class carouser off the field. Eight years earlier, Donlin was actually locked up in a northern California prison when he first learned he’d been signed to a major league contract, and he’d spend several more times behind bars before his career was over. Truly, the only surprising thing for manager Callahan on that muggy August day was the fact Mike Donlin had made it almost five consecutive months without a major incident.

Just two years earlier, in 1905, Donlin had had the best year of his career, when he batted .356 (third highest in the NL, just a few points behind Honus Wagner) with 16 triples and 33 stolen bases. His 1906 campaign began exactly where it had left off the previous season: Donlin was leading all National League batters with a .364 mark before breaking his ankle during a game in Cincinnati. He’d eventually return near the end of the year, and while playing with a noticeable limp, managed only 1-for-14 in mostly pinch-hitting situations, lowering his overall batting average to .314 in 37 games.

Mike Donlin and Mabel Hite, 1908

Mike Donlin and Mabel Hite, 1908

The outfielder fully recovered over the winter, then began a spirited public contract negotiation with his employer. Seventy years before free agency, a reserve clause ballplayer didn’t really have much in his arsenal, in terms of dickering over compensation. The Giants were offering $3300, the same figure Donlin had been paid the previous two seasons, even though he’d been injured. Donlin wanted a clause added, effectively having both parties wager on his off-the-field behavior. If he could stay out of trouble during the championship season, Mike wanted New York to pay him an extra $600 bonus, bringing his total salary to $3900. If he fell off the wagon, he would be docked $600 by mutual agreement, lowering his annual compensation to $2,700. The Giants balked.

Donlin threatened to join the theater, if the Giants didn’t agree to his terms. His pretty young wife, Mabel Hite, was a nationally known actress, and Mike had already performed with her on the vaudeville circuit. Reporters wondered if Donlin was upset over how he had been treated when injured the previous season; although he admitted that he had paid the $75 medical bills from his own pocket, he wasn’t the sort of fellow to hold a grudge over such a small dollar figure. The Giants officially rejected Donlin’s proposal on February 13, and two days later, reports surfaced that the outfielder was entertaining offers from Chicago-area semipro teams, where Donlin had been spending his offseason.

Mike Donlin

Mike Donlin

With spring camp just around the corner, New York Giants ballplayers living in the Midwest were instructed to meet in Chicago, where they would connect with John McGraw and the rest of the team, on their way to Los Angeles. Roger Bresnahan was the first to arrive, where he joined Donlin, who was hoping to hammer out a deal before heading out west. Sammy Strang, Cecil Ferguson, Frank Bowerman and a couple of rookies arrived shortly thereafter. Within a couple days, Donlin had convinced everybody (with the exception of Bresnahan) to hold out for more money. He was trying to drag one quarter of the club into his own contract negotiation. When McGraw and the rest of the Giants arrived, the miniature player rebellion almost immediately collapsed. Everybody got on the L.A.-bound train, with the exception of Donlin and Bowerman, who were both being offered $400 a month to play for a Kewanee, Illinois semipro outfit.

The newspapers sizzled with conflicting reports on March 11. One story claimed Donlin and his wife had purchased the St. Joseph franchise in the Western League and that he’d run the club from the bench. On the same day, another report said Donlin and McGraw had worked out their differences and that Mike would be rejoining the Giants in the near future. Both were erroneous.

On April 4, after meeting with McGraw in Louisville, Mike Donlin officially ended negotiations and accepted a deal to stay in Chicago, where he’d play baseball for the independent Logan Squares during the day, then work nights at the Whitney  Opera House. He’d kept in shape by exercising at the Bartlett Gymnasium on the University of Chicago campus and was ready to go. His wife was the female lead in a musical comedy called “A Knight for a Day,” and had signed a 62-week contract with the Whitney Opera House, reportedly worth $1,400 per month. Her husband was being kept on retainer by the theater, being paid $50 a week to stay in town. Sometimes he collected tickets at the theatre door, other times he appeared on stage during the performance, and still other times he’d simply show up drunk and try to start fights with his wife.

My Cinderella Girl starring William Norris, not Mabel Hite, was a 1910 hit in Chicago.

My Cinderella Girl starring William Norris, not Mabel Hite, was a 1910 hit at the Whitney.

During the day, he was playing first base for Nixey Callahan’s team in what was arguably the most controversial baseball league in the country. For his services, Donlin was collecting an annual salary of $1500, on top of his $50 weekly stipend from the theater. For the remaining 39 weeks of 1907, he could see an income of $3450 from his two jobs, slightly higher than the $3300 offered by the New York Giants. His wife was scheduled to earn $13,728 thru December 31. Combined, the Donlin–Hite team would earn more $17,000, or twice what the highest-paid baseball players, such as Napoleon Lajoie and Honus Wagner, were making at the time.

Mike Donlin’s manager with the Logan Squares, Nixey Callahan, had broken into the major leagues in 1894, then became player-manager of the Chicago White Sox in 1903, at the tender age of 29. The next year, Callahan resigned his post as manager in midseason to focus on his role as an everyday ballplayer. Then after 1905, Callahan surprised White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey by quitting altogether. He was going to build his own ballpark on the city’s north side, joining the ranks of the independent professionals. At 32 years old, he was still a productive ballplayer when he walked away, and the National Commission blacklisted him. During his first season at the helm of the Logan Squares, Callahan claimed to have earned $12,000 for his efforts, probably three times what he would have earned had he stayed with the White Sox.

Callahan, 1907 Logan Squares

Callahan, 1907 Logan Squares

By the time Mike Donlin joined the Logan Squares in 1907, they were performing in what was more a loosely organized coalition of ball clubs than an actual league, but the talent in Chicago was legitimate and the money green. Callahan and Donlin’s arch rivals during the summer were Rube Foster’s Leland Giants, the “colored” champions of the Midwest, and the Havana Stars, featuring the best baseball players from Cuba. The other local clubs, such as the Gunthers and West Ends, featured former and future big leaguers. Cap Anson even had a team in the circuit. A teammate with Callahan and Donlin was former major leaguer Harry “Moose” McCormick. McCormick played under an alias (“Harrison”), then returned to the big leagues in 1908, becoming a central figure in the famous “Merkle Boner” incident late in the season.

Another rogue free agent who signed with the Chicago City League, rather than play in the majors, was Jake Stahl, who’d served as player-manager of the Washington Senators the previous year. Callahan, Donlin, McCormick, and Stahl all suited up for the same all-star team in a heated championship series with Rube Foster’s Leland Giants. The all-star team’s line-up was comprised almost entirely of former and future major leaguers, but lost their hotly contested set with the Leland Giants.

On the field, Mike Donlin was dominant. After a slow start, he turned on the afterburners, smoking line drives throughout the summer. In 50 surviving box scores, Donlin batted .419 with 27 doubles and 3 home runs. He was one of the best players in the world, performing in a baseball environment on par with a high minor league. Against the black teams, Donlin’s average was .321 in eight games played. Callahan batted about .339 in 62 games in 1907, including a .303 mark versus the Cuban and black clubs.

Slide, Kelly, Slide (1927) featured an aging Donlin

Donlin in Slide, Kelly, Slide (1927)

This is what free agency looked like in the ragtime era: active major leaguers carving out niche opportunities in large cities such as Chicago, where the population’s thirst for baseball far outstripped the ability of its two existing major league clubs to service it. And at the neighborhood level, the game was colorblind. Even Cap Anson, the so-called architect of professional baseball’s color line, suited up once and played against the Leland Giants. (He went hitless.)

Callahan, Donlin, McCormick, and Stahl all paid heavy fines, but eventually returned to the big league ranks. Mike Donlin and Mabel Hite patched up their differences and together had another successful theatre run later on, but the actress tragically succumbed to stomach cancer in 1912, after a twelve-month struggle. She was only 29 years old. Donlin remarried, but never really changed his partygoer ways. After his playing days were over, he forged a decent career as a film actor in Hollywood, but squandered much of his earnings. He passed away in 1933, virtually penniless.


Opening Day

Ruth leads mates, first Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, April 18, 1923.

Ruth leads mates, first Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, April 18, 1923.

According to Horace Traubel in With Walt Whitman in Camden (March 28-July 14, 1888), published in 1906, Whitman said to him, “I like your interest in sports–ball, chiefest of all–baseball particularly: baseball is our game: the American game: I connect it with our national character. Sports  take people out of doors, get them filled with oxygen–generate some of the brutal customs (so-called brutal customs) which, after all, tend to habituate people to a necessary physical stoicism. We are some ways a dyspeptic, nervous set: anything which will repair such losses may be regarded as a blessing to the race.”

This remark is generally paraphrased by those wishing to quote the juicy phrases. Maybe we can blame Douglass Wallop for first “helping” Whitman. Annie Savoy and Ken Burns are among the legions who have followed down this path. The famous “‘snap, go, fling” quote also came from the Traubel: “Well – it’s our game; that’s the chief fact in connection with it; America’s game; it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions; fits into them as significantly as our Constitution’s laws; is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.”

Here’s another Whitman anthem for Opening Day. Truncated, it is today famous as the opening lines of Ken Burns’s Baseball (1994). Here is the young Whitman’s full commentary, from the Brooklyn Eagle, Thursday, July 23, 1846.


“Brooklyn Young Men.—Athletic exercises.—In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing “base,” a certain game of ball. We wish such sights were more common among us. In the practice of athletic and manly sports, the young men of nearly all our American cities are very deficient—perhaps more so than those of any other country that could be mentioned. Clerks are shut up from early morning till nine or ten o’clock at night—apprentices, after their days’ works, either go to bed, or lounge about in places where they benefit neither body or mind—and all classes seem to act as though there were no commendable objects of pursuit in the world except making money and tenaciously sticking to one’s trade or occupation. Now, as the fault is so generally of this kind, we can do little harm in hinting to people that, after all, there may be no necessity for such a drudge system among men. Let us enjoy life a little. Has God made this beautiful earth—the sun to shine—all the sweet influences of nature to operate—and planted in man a wish for their delights—and all for nothing? Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave of our close rooms, and the dust and corruption of stagnant places, and taste some of the good things Providence has scattered around so liberally.

The Good Gray Poet

The Good Gray Poet

“We would that all the young fellows about Brooklyn were daily in the habit of spending an hour or two in some out-door game or recreation. The body and mind would both be benefitted by it. There would be fewer attenuated forms and shrunken limbs and pallid faces in our streets. The game of ball is glorious—that of quoits is invigorating—so are leaping, running, wrestling, etc. etc. To any person having the least knowledge of physiology, it were superfluous to enter into any argument to prove the use and benefit of exercise. We have far too little of it in this country, among the “genteel” classes. Both women and men, particularly the younger ones, should be careful to pass no day of their lives without a portion of out-door exercise.”

Why stop here, when the game of ball is glorious? Below, other literary sentiments about our game, in no particular order.

PHILIP ROTH: For someone whose roots in America were strong but only inches deep, and who had no experience, such as a Catholic child might, of an awesome hierarchy that was real and felt, baseball was a kind of secular church that reached into every class and region of the nation and bound millions upon millions of us together in common concerns, loyalties, rituals, enthusiasms, and antagonisms. Baseball made me understand what patriotism was about, at its best.

ROBERT COOVER: There were things about the games I liked. The crowds, for example. I felt like I was part of something there, you know, like in church, except it was more real than any church, and I joined in the scorekeeping, hollering, the eating of hot dogs and drinking of Cokes and beer, and for a while I even had the idea that ball stadiums, and not European churches were the real American holy places.

DAVID HALBERSTAM: By and large it is the sport that a foreigner is least likely to take to. You have to grow up playing it, you have to accept the lore of the bubble-gum card, and believe that if the answer to the Mays-Snider-Mantle question is found, then the universe will be a simpler and more ordered place.

DONALD HALL: Baseball is continuous, like nothing else among American things, an endless game of repeated summers, joining the long generations of all the fathers and all the sons.

Popular Magazine, April 17, 1917.

Popular Magazine, April 7, 1917.

JIMMY CANNON: He was a parade all by himself, a burst of dazzle and jingle. Santa Claus drinking his whiskey straight and groaning with a bellyache caused by gluttony….Babe Ruth made the music that his joyous years danced to in a continuous party….What Babe Ruth is comes down, one generation handing it to the next, as a national heirloom.

PHILIP K. WRIGLEY: Baseball is too much of a sport to be called a business, and too much of a business to be called a sport.

JACQUES BARZUN: Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: What is both surprising and delightful is that the spectators are allowed, and even expected, to join in the vocal part of the game. I do not see why this feature should not be introduced into cricket. There is no reason why the field should not try to put the batsman off his stroke at the critical moment by neatly timed disparagements of his wife’s fidelity and his mother’s respectability.


These are the saddest of possible words: “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Trio of bear cubs and fleeters than birds, “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,

Making a Giant hit into a double–

Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble: “Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

THOMAS WOLFE : Is there anything that can evoke spring–the first fine days of April–better than the sound of the ball smacking into the pocket of the big mill, the sound of the bat as it hits the horsehide…? And is there anything that can tell more about an American summer than, say, the smell of the wooden bleachers in a small-town baseball park, that resinous, sultry, and exciting smell of old dry wood.

JIM BOUTON: You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.

Lance Richbourg paints Roy Campanella; OK Harris Gallery

Lance Richbourg paints Roy Campanella; O.K. Harris Gallery

ERNIE HARWELL: Baseball is cigar smoke, hot-roasted peanuts, The Sporting News, Ladies’ Day, Down in Front, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, the seventh-Inning Stretch and the Star-Spangled Banner. Baseball is a highly paid Brooklyn catcher telling the nation’s business leaders: “You have to be a man to be a big leaguer, but you have to have a lot of little boy in you too.” This is a game for America–this baseball. A game for boys and for men.

BRUCE CATTON: Baseball is conservative. What was good enough in Cap Anson’s day is good enough now, and a populace that could stand unmoved while the Federal Constitution was amended would protest with vehemence at any tampering with the formalities of baseball.

A. BARTLETT GIAMATTI: Baseball breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the Chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.

ARTHUR “BUGS” BAER, describing Ping Bodie’s attempt to steal second base in 1917, when he was thrown out by several yards: “His head was full of larceny, but his feet were honest.”

BERNARD MALAMUD: The whole history of baseball has the quality of mythology.

Nap Lajoie at League Park, Opening Day, 1908

Nap Lajoie at League Park, Opening Day, 1908

DONALD HALL: Baseball connects generations. When you are small you may not discuss politics or union dues or profit margins with your father’s cigar-smoking friends when your father has gone out for a six-pack; but you may discuss baseball. It is all you have in common, because your father’s friend does not wish to discuss the Assistant Principal or Alice Bisbee Morgan. About the season’s moment you know as much as he does; both of you may shake your heads over Lefty’s wildness or the rookie who was called out last Saturday when he tried to steal home with two outs in the ninth inning down by one.


Oh! somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;

But there is no joy in Mudville–mighty Casey has struck out.

PHILIP ROTH: You can’t imagine how truly glorious it is out there, so alone in all that space….Do you know baseball at all? Because center field is like some observation post, a kind of control tower, where you are able to see everything and everyone, to understand what’s happening the instant it happens, not only by the sound of the struck bat but by the spark of movement that goes through the infielders in the first second that the ball comes flying at them; and once it gets beyond them, “It’s mine,” you call, “it’s mine,” and then after it you go. For in center field, if you can get to it, it is yours. Oh, how unlike my home it is to be in center field, where no one will appropriate unto himself anything that I say is mine!

Live Oak Polka, 1860

Live Oak Polka, 1860

ERIC ROLFE GREENBERG: To be a pitcher! I thought. A pitcher, standing at the axis of event, or a catcher with the God-view of the play all before him; to be a shortstop, lord of the infield, or a center fielder with unchallenged claim to all the territory one’s speed and skill could command; to perform the spontaneous acrobatics of the third baseman or the practiced ballet of the man at second, or to run and throw with the absolute commitment of the outfielder! And to live in a world without grays, where all decisions were final: ball or strike, safe or out, the game won or lost beyond question or appeal.

EDNA FERBER: Any man who can look handsome in a dirty baseball suit is an Adonis. There is something about the baggy pants, and the Micawber-shaped collar, and the skull-fitting cap, and the foot or so of tan, or blue, or pink undershirt sleeve sticking out at the arms, that just naturally kills a man’s best points. Then too, a baseball suit requires so much in the matter of leg. Therefore, when I say that Rudie Schlachweiler was a dream even in his baseball uniform, with a dirty brown streak right up the side of his pants where he had slid for base, you may know that the girls camped on the grounds during the season.

W.P. KINSELLA: As I look around the empty park, almost Greek in its starkness, I feel an awesome inarticulate love for this very stadium and the game it represents. I am reminded of the story about the baseball fans of Milwaukee, and what they did on a warm fall afternoon, the day after it was announced that Milwaukee was to have a major-league team the next season. According to the story, 10,000 people went to County Stadium that afternoon and sat in the seats and smiled out at the empty playing field-sat in silence, in awe, in wonder, in anticipation, in joy–just knowing that soon the field would come alive with the chatter of infielders, bright as bird chirps.

Opening Day, New York  vs Brooklyn, Polo Grounds, April 17, 1903.

Opening Day, New York vs Brooklyn, Polo Grounds, April 17, 1903.

THOMAS WOLFE: In the memory of almost every one of us, is there anything, that can evoke spring–the first fine days of April–better than the sound of the ball smacking into the pocket of the big mitt, the sound of the bat as it hits the horsehide: for me, at any rate, and I am being literal and not rhetorical–almost everything I know about spring is in it–the first leaf, the jonquil, the maple tree, the smell of grass upon your hands and knees, the coming into flower of April.

ALAN LELCHUK: After a great victory in war, there was a feeling that merit would be recognized. It was like coming into a bright light. The feeling that not only had we made it through, we, children of immigrants, were on the way up.

RED SMITH (after Bobby Thomson’s home run): The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.

THOMAS WOLFE: Baseball has been not merely “the great national game” but really a part of the whole weather of our lives, of the thing that is our own, of the whole fabric, the million memories of America.






Picture Portfolio No. 3: Women in Baseball

Baseball began in England before the 1740s as a game for young people, and it was played by girls as commonly as it was by boys; often the two played together. Writing in 1798 the novelist Jane Austen—in Northanger Abbey, published posthumously two decades later—has her heroine, Catherine Morland, say that she prefers cricket and baseball to reading—“at least books of information.”

In the United States, beginning in the 1860s, women formed baseball clubs of their own at the Seven Sister colleges of the Northeast. Two nines competed in 1869, at Peterboro, New York, an upstate village some seventy-five miles from Seneca Falls where the women’s suffrage movement was born. The contest was reported in a New York newspaper called Day’s Doings, a sensationalist sex-story journal self-avowedly devoted to “current events of romance, police reports, important trials, and sporting news.” Unsurprisingly, the Police Gazette and the Sporting Times depicted the young baseballists as strumpets.

The following years provided a rich alternative on-field history through novelty nines, barnstorming clubs, and active amateur play. Women were prized as spectators at early matches because it was thought they lent tone and decorum to a game that otherwise might produce, in heated moments, unseemly verbal and physical displays. By the mid-1870s exhibitions of women’s baseball had generally taken the form of Blondes versus Brunettes, with varying geographic modifiers applied to each. These pulchritudinous nines typically used a smaller than regulation ball made only of yarn, played the game on a fifty-foot diamond, and barnstormed their way through a legion of appreciative “bald-headed men,” a code name in theatrical circles for voyeurists of a certain age who liked to sit in the first row.

It was into this tawdry realm of women’s baseball that a Broadway actress, Helen Dauvray, stepped in 1887, leaving a historic mark. She is not only the creator of baseball’s first world championship trophy, but also a woman of several identities and a remarkable life story that I have told in three parts at Our Game. See:

Ladies’ Day had been a popular innovation of the 1880s, though its origins stretched back to the amateur era. In the ’90s women were seen at the ballpark more frequently than they had been in the early 1870s, but the crudeness and violence of the “evolved” game was now deterring their patronage.

If women were becoming disinclined to watch professional baseball, they were still interested in playing it. Bloomer Girls clubs, named for the ridiculed but liberating harem pants invented by Amelia Jenks Bloomer in the 1850s, started up in Boston, New York, and Kansas City and barnstormed successfully for many years. A milestone event occurred on July 5, 1898, when Lizzie (Stroud) Arlington, with the blessings of Atlantic League president Ed Barrow, later famous as the general manager of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, pitched an inning for Reading against Allentown. She gave up two hits but no runs in this first appearance of a woman in Organized Baseball.

Another female baseball pioneer, little noted until now, is Ida Schnall, a formidable athlete of unprecedentedly diverse prowess. The baseball club she formed in 1913, and for which she pitched, was the New York Female Giants. For her outstanding dare-deviltry and sports achievements Ida became the pet of newspapers coast to coast and hobnobbed with the great figures of her day, including Babe Ruth and Al Jolson, in whose Passing Show of 1912 she starred on Broadway.

Much has been written about Jackie Mitchell, the purported flamethrower who fanned Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1931, and the All American Girls Professional Baseball League of 1943-54. Less has been said about Amanda Clement, Alta Weiss, Ruth Engel, Ila Borders, and Justine Siegal, pioneers of the women’s game who share Jane Austen’s vision of baseball as a game that could be played by all.

This portfolio–like the ones on Ruth and Robinson that preceded it–does not pretend to be comprehensive. I simply offer images that may be unfamiliar and pleasing.




The Catcher Who Stopped a Revolution

Hay Wodehouse,  Sporting Life, Oct. 21, 1889

Hay Wodehouse, Sporting Life, Oct. 21, 1889

This guest column is by Bruce Allardice, one of the most active and proficient researchers into early baseball. He is professor of history at South Suburban College near Chicago. He has authored numerous books on the Civil War, and is head of SABR’s Civil War baseball subcommittee. He has also been a contributor to Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game.

Some stories have it all—betrayal, courage, cowardice, a comic-opera kingdom, a drunken monarch, and a government saved by the long right arm of a baseball player. It even has a connection to Alexander Cartwright, one of the founders of baseball.

Up until 1898, the current state of Hawaii remained a separate country, for most of that time ruled by a dynasty of native Hawaiian monarchs. American shipping interests and missionary work brought thousands of American citizens to the islands. And these Americans brought with them the “new” game of baseball. As early as 1866 Hawaii became the second country outside the United States to establish baseball teams.[1] By the 1870s a regular league of amateur baseball teams played in Honolulu, sporting such nicknames as the Whangdoodles, the Stars, the Pacifics, and the Honolulus.

While researching early Hawaiian baseball, I ran across this story in Sporting Life, August 21, 1889:[2]

A Catcher Hero. Revolution Quelled Through the Efforts of a Base Ball Catcher.

One of the incidents of the recent attempted [Wilcox] revolution in Hawaii has a peculiar interest for base ball lovers. A special from San Francisco, under date of Aug. 12, says: 

“Some passengers by the Honolulu steamer who were seen late last night gave interesting accounts of scenes at the recent battle in Honolulu. The day was won, they say, by a base ball catcher, who threw dynamite bombs into the bungalow that formed the headquarters of the insurgents and brought them to terms quicker than rifle or cannon shot. The blue-jackets kept up a disastrous firing all day, and it was finally decided to throw dynamite on the bungalow. Bombs were made, but it was found that there were no guns to fire them.

Bungalow at Iolani Palace

Bungalow at Iolani Palace

“It was a long throw, and in their dilemma the King’s guards secured the services of Hay Wodehouse, catcher of the Honolulu Base Ball Club. Wodehouse took up his position in the Coney Island building, just across a narrow lane, and overlooking the bungalow. No attack was expected from that quarter, and there was nothing to disturb the bomb thrower. Wodehouse stood for a few moments with a bomb in his hand as though he were in the box waiting for a batman. He had to throw over a house to reach the bungalow, which he could not see.

“The first bomb went sailing over the wall, made a down curve, and struck the side of the bungalow about a foot from the roof, and the yell that followed reminded one of a day at the Haight street grounds when good pitchers were in the box. The bomb had reached them and hurt a number of the insurgents. Wodehouse coolly picked out another bomb. Then he took a step back, made a half turn, and sent it whizzing. It lauded on the roof of the bungalow, smashed a hole four men could have dropped through, and scattered old iron among the rebels until they thought they were in a boiler explosion. The base ball pitcher was too much for the rebels.

He threw one more bomb, and Wilcox came out and surrendered.”

Further details can be found in the Maui Times, Oct. 18, 1913:[3]

“I was somewhat surprised last week when I read a short mention of the death of James Hay Wodehouse at the Queen’s Hospital, for Hay was one of the makers of history here twenty-five years ago, and one of the pioneer ball players, for he played during the years when Thurston, Faxon Bishop, Willie Kinney, W. Lucas, the Baldwins and men of lesser note were active on the diamond. Hay was a great catcher in his younger days, and during a season a good many years ago, was a helper in winning the championship for his team, “The Honolulu,” I think it was. But what brought him to the public eye was the stopping of the revolution of 1889 which was led by the late Bob Wilcox. Wodehouse, be it known, was the son of a British Minister resident who, I think, was the dean of the diplomatic corps…. Well, when Wilcox, who had been a ward of the government to the extent of being sent to Italy for his education, made up his mind it was time to break out. He laid plots over the town and shook out seeds of revolution. With his supports, or some of them, he located in the Iolani grounds while the King was down at the boat house. It looked as though Bob would get the whip hand if something was not promptly done to dislodge him. His headquarters, and those of his lieutenants was in the bungalow. Just across Hotel street was the Haalelea or Coney residence behind the stone wall which is now used to keep unruly members of the University Club within and the public without.

“Someone suggested that a stick of dynamite or a bomb should be thrown into the house where Bob was, but there was no one about who could do it, until Hay was thought of and sent for. He could send a ball from the plate to second without an effort, and he believed so strongly that he could land on the bungalow, that he let her go. There was hades a poppin’ in two minutes and Bob was seen to make a rush for the big gasoline tank. A second bomb drove him from that and he was promptly gathered in. The revolution was pau [done] and it had been stopped by a ball tosser in the beginning.

“Being the son of a distinguished diplomat, there was trouble for him and the father was called on to explain what he knew of the affair, but he was innocent enough and the incident closed as far as any official investigation was concerned, but Hay had to answer to his father.”

The earliest contemporary account of the incident is in the Honolulu Daily Bulletin, July 31, 1889:[4]

“…Yesterday afternoon the Government decided that it was necessary to dislodge Wilcox from the bungalow into which he had withdrawn his remaining force. Half-past four was fixed as the time for the grand attack, but it was an hour later before preparations were completed. Having no ordnance to bring to bear upon the building the use of giant powder cartridges was resorted to. These were hurled by strong arms from Palace Walk and some from Richards street, and as they exploded the report made people at a distance think the rebels had got the cannon into play again. A terrific fusillade was at the same time begun and kept up with scarcely an intermission for about an hour from all the commanding points of vantage. A galling fire was poured into the lower flat of the bungalow by half a dozen citizen marksmen posted in the Hawaiian Hotel Stables. Then suddenly was heard the commanding shout, “Hold on,” after which only a desultory shot or two was heard from the church, and the explosion of one bomb at the bungalow. The cessation of the fray was caused by the beleaguered rebels displaying a white sheet and calling out their ‘Surrender.’ The gates were thrown open and a force of volunteers entering received the submission of Wilcox and about thirty of his followers. The remainder of them made good their escape over the Palace wall. The thirty who had surrendered to Lieut. Parker in the afternoon were previously sent to the Station under guard. Wilcox and his gang were escorted also to the Station. The rebel chief bore himself sullenly and proudly through the crowded streets, casting looks of disdain to right and left as cries of vengeance were heard, such as ‘String him up,’ etc.


“The interior of the bungalow in the Palace yard, where the rebels were located the greater part of the day, presented a scene of devastation this morning. The roof is damaged very considerably by the giant powder cartridges which exploded on it. The rooms upstairs at the Richards street end presented a sorry appearance. Furniture was all smashed to pieces, the floors were strewed with broken glass and bullet holes were seen in the walls in every direction. It was terrible to see what damage had been done. On the matting in several of the rooms were large patches of blood, and many cloths were lying around saturated with blood. On the back verandah down stairs was a long trail of blood looking as if a wounded man had been dragged along. The damage to the lower part of the bungalow was small compared to that on the first floor.”


His majesty here, who is a fine, intelligent fellow, but O, Charles! What a crop for the drink! He carries it, too, like a mountain with a sparrow on its shoulders.–Robert Louis Stevenson to Charles Baxter, Feb. 8, 1889[5]

Stevenson was writing of his good friend and drinking companion, King David Kalakaua of Hawaii, whose troubled reign gave rise to the 1889 uprising.

King David Kalakaua

King David Kalakaua

Elected monarch in 1874 by the Hawaiian legislature, after the death of the last of the dynasty of King Kamehameha the Great, David Kalakaua faced opposition from both “native” Hawaiians (many of whom preferred his cousin, the former Queen Emma, to be their monarch) and the Caucasian-descended “Haole”[6] merchants who paid most of the kingdom’s taxes. The new king was admitted by all to be personally charming and dignified. He was a huge sports fan,[7] and was the first monarch ever to attend a baseball game. His palace staff even sponsored a baseball club. But Kalakaua’s notorious drinking bouts, his spendthrift habits, his expensive (and largely unsuccessful) poker playing, and his impractical schemes for a “Pacific empire” bankrupted his own finances and the finances of his tiny kingdom. The improvident monarch gave over government of the kingdom to shady adventurers such as Cesar Moreno and Walter Gibson who promised, in return for power, to get the elected legislature to pay off the king’s mounting debts.

For the Haole taxpayers (and most others), the final straw came when Kalakaua took a $71,000 bribe from a Chinese businessman to license the import of opium into the kingdom. Greedy for more money, the king didn’t issue the license, then promptly took a second bribe from another Chinese merchant and gave him the license instead![8] In 1887 the mostly Caucasian Honolulu merchants organized a volunteer militia, marched on the royal Iolani Palace (another expensive extravagance, in their minds) and coerced the king into signing the so-called “Bayonet Constitution” which stripped the monarch of most of his powers, giving those powers to an elected cabinet.

Kalakaua resented his new restrictions. So did many natives, appalled that the man they viewed as their tribal chief now had to act as an English-style Constitutional monarch, co-signing the laws passed by the Haole-dominated Reform Party government. A former favorite of Kalakaua’s, young Robert Wilcox, vowed to do something about it. Of mostly native descent, the hot-headed Wilcox planned to raise a revolt, but word of his plotting (though not the exact details) leaked out all over Honolulu. The king heard of Wilcox’s plans (Wilcox held his planning meetings at the home of the Queen’s sister) and acquiesced, promising to allow himself to be captured by the rebels when they seized the palace, dismiss the government, and promulgate the new constitution Wilcox had written.[9]

Robert W. Wilcox

Robert W. Wilcox

On the night of July 30, 1889, Wilcox gathered together a ragtag bunch of about 150 rebels, all but a few of whom were natives, and set off to seize the government. However, Kalakaua heard a rumor that night that Wilcox (known to be untrustworthy)[10] also intended to depose the king and put his sister Liliuokalani (thought to be firmer against Haole domination) on the throne.

Frightened, the king double-crossed Wilcox. He left Iolani Palace to hide out at the royal boathouse, ordering the commander of the dozen palace guards, Captain Robert Waipu Parker[11] (himself first baseman of a local baseball club), to defend the palace by force. So when the rebels arrived at the palace grounds, they found no king, and no entrance to the palace. Wilcox had no plan B—or even a step 2 in his original plan. He made little or no effort to seize the members of the government. His men milled around in confusion on the palace grounds, discouraged and demoralized by the king’s betrayal.

The government reacted quickly. By early morning the palace grounds were surrounded by members of Honolulu’s volunteer militia and Haole volunteers. From the Opera House across the street from the palace grounds, and from the historic stone church a block away, they poured fire on the rebels. The rebels had seized the only four cannon in the kingdom, but the rifle fire prevented them from firing the cannon accurately at the government forces. The rebels retreated to the royal bungalow in the northwest corner of the palace grounds. There they made their stand. The grounds were surrounded by an eight-foot coral wall, and the rebels had a clear field of fire on the grounds and onto the surrounding streets.

Old Iolani Palace grounds[Below is a modern map of the Iolani Palace grounds. The Opera House was where the modern Post office is located. The bungalow is just to the left, and above, of the palace. Wodehouse threw his bombs from the Coney residence, just above the bungalow. At the left is a map from the Rocky Mountain News, August 20, 1889, which shows the same area. The bungalow is marked “B.” The Coney residence is marked “G” and is located just above the bungalow.]

By late afternoon many of the discouraged rebels had surrendered. But the fire from the bungalow continued. The government forces feared that Wilcox might hold out long enough, or create enough of a stir, that the king would change his mind again and back the rebels.[12] Wilcox hoped this too. Wilcox also hoped that he could escape in the coming darkness and raise the natives (who had thus far remained mostly neutral) in a mass revolt. Artillery was needed to batter down the bungalow walls, but no cannon were available.

Modern Iolani Palace grounds

Modern Iolani Palace grounds

Contemporary author Stephen Dando-Collins says Wodehouse thought up the idea for throwing the bombs, constructed them, and enlisted Arthur C. Turton (a ship’s purser and baseball player himself) as a helper. The pair crept along the palace walls, up Richards Street which border the western side of the palace grounds. When they reached a close point—some sources claim on the street behind the wall, others say they climbed the Coney residence on Hotel Street—Turton lighted the fuse and handed the dynamite bombs to Wodehouse. The bombs were wrapped around nails or spikes so that when thrown onto the bungalow roof, they wouldn’t roll down. The dynamite, lobbed onto the bungalow roof, did the trick. The rebellion ended—the only rebellion in history ever put down by a baseball player.[13]

The Rest of the Story.

Hawaiian-born James Hay Wodehouse Jr. (1861-1913) was the son of the longtime British Consul to Hawaii, James Hay Wodehouse Sr. The Wodehouses counted the Earl of Errol and the novelist P. G. Wodehouse among their relatives. Wodehouse Sr. had served as president of the local cricket club, and his two sons James and Ernest became enthusiastic players on the local baseball clubs. Ernest pitched for the Stars and James (labeled “the fleet-footed Mercury of the League”) caught for the Honolulus.[14] At the time of the rebellion James was a salesman for one of the local British-based merchant companies.

James later married King Kalakaua’s step-niece. He died in Hawaii in 1913.[15]

Hawaiian born Arthur Campbell “Jack” Turton (1867-1890) was scion of one of the wealthiest planter families in the kingdom. He’d played baseball while attending Punahou School. Shortly after the rebellion, Turton caught a fever while on a visit to the U.S., and died in San Francisco. He was buried in that city’s Masonic Cemetery.[16]

King David Kalakaua (1836-1891), the “Merry Monarch,” died two years after the rebellions. His sister, Liliuokalani (“Queen Lil”, 1838-1917), was deposed two years later when she unilaterally tried to revoke the 1887 Constitution. The new government proclaimed Hawaii an independent Republic. In 1898 Hawaii was annexed to the United States.

Robert William Kalanihiupo Wilcox (1855-1903) was tried for treason. But a clause in the Hawaiian Constitution provided that natives be tried by an all-native jury, and despite his obvious guilt, the jury acquitted him and all the native rebels. The only rebel punished was a stray Belgian who joined the fight. In 1895 the “unconquerable” Wilcox again tried (and failed) to overthrow the government and restore the monarchy. Wilcox remained popular among the natives, who later elected the former rebel the new Territory’s delegate to the U.S. Congress!

And in perhaps the ultimate irony to this affair, Wilcox, whose revolution has been thwarted by two baseball players, married Theresa La’anui, whose first husband was the son of Alexander Joy Cartwright, considered by many the founder of Baseball![17]


[1]The king feared that he would be deposed by the winners, whichever side won.

[2]Sources for this narrative of the Wilcox Revolt include the first and freshest account: “Unsuccessful Attempt at Revolution!”, Honolulu Daily Bulletin, July 31, 1889. The Bulletin from Aug. 1st through 6th has more articles on the revolt. See also “A Rebellion,” San Francisco Bulletin, Aug. 10, 1889; “Fatal Hawaiian Revolt,” Daily Alta California, Aug. 10, 1889; “The Hawaiian Revolt,” Daily Alta California, Aug. 11, 1889; “The Honolulu Insurgents,” Fresno Republican, Aug. 13, 1889; “Kalakaua’s Kingdom,” Los Angeles Daily Herald, Aug. 10, 1889; “Insurrection!”, Hawaiian Gazette, Aug. 6, 1889. Perhaps the fullest eyewitness account is “An Incipient Revolt,” in the Denver Rocky Mountain News, Aug. 20, 1889, written by William D. Westervelt, later president of the Hawaiian Historical Society. Another good account is “The Wilcox Insurrection,” The Friend, Aug. 1889, pp 66-67. Seven rebels lost their lives in the revolt. On the government side, only one man (Captain Parker of the Palace Guard) was wounded.

The books cited in the bibliography all discuss the Wilcox revolt, trying to make sense of the varying accounts.

Ralph S. Kuykendall, the dean of historians of Hawaii, observes:

“As for Wilcox’s objectives, however, there can be no doubt  that two of them were: (1) to replace the Constitution of 1887 with one similar to that of 1864; and (2) to get rid of the Reform cabinet. The uncertainties have to do with the relationship of King Kalakaua and his sister Liliuokalani to the movement.” See Kuykendall, p. 424.

[3] “Baseball. The Stars win the 1889 Season Championship,” Hawaiian Gazette, Sept. 17, 1889.

[4] “James H. Wodehouse will be laid to rest this afternoon,” Honolulu Bulletin, Oct. 9, 1913.

[5] “Death of A. C. Turton”, Honolulu Bulletin, Nov. 24, 1890. See also San Francisco Call, Nov. 9, 1890.

[6] Cartwright was a staunch supporter of the bayonet constitution government. Perhaps fortunately, he didn’t live to see his daughter-in-law marry the premier Hawaiian rebel.

[7]Queen Lil later wrote that Wilcox’s “enthusiasm was great, but was not supported by good judgment or proper discretion.” Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s Story, p. 201.

[8]Aka Robert Parker Waipu.

[9] Haole is a native Hawaiian term an ancient origin. Under Hawaiian law, anyone born in the islands became a Hawaiian subject, even if their parents were “foreign.” Thus, under Hawaiian law, haoles such as James Hay Wodehouse were just as much “Hawaiian” as the “natives”.

[10] Cf. “Kalakaua a Crank,” New York Herald, Dec. 12, 1889 (using the slang word “crank” to signify a baseball fan). See also Honolulu Bulletin, Sept. 23, 1889, for the king attending a party honoring the Honolulu champion baseball team. Only months after this rebellion was quelled, the king hosted the Spalding baseball world tour and hosted a luau for the players.

[11] The disappointed Chinese merchant sued the king, and the whole messy affair became public knowledge.

[12] Wilcox testified at his trial that the king knew of his plans and promised to sign Wilcox’s new Constitution.

[13] “Unsuccessful Attempt at Revolution!”, Honolulu Daily Bulletin, July 31, 1889.

[14] Stevenson, Robert Louis (A. Grove Day, ed.), Travels in Hawaii (U. of Hawaii Press, 1991), p. 94.

[15] “James Hay Wodehouse Made History Once,” Maui News, Oct. 18, 1913.

[16] “Death of A. C. Turton”, Honolulu Bulletin, Nov. 24, 1890. See also San Francisco Call, Nov. 9, 1890.

[17] Cartwright was a staunch supporter of the bayonet constitution government. Perhaps fortunately, he didn’t live to see his daughter-in-law marry the premier Hawaiian rebel.

Picture Portfolio No. 2: Jackie Robinson

If Babe Ruth was the first in this projected series of picture portfolios, Jackie Robinson must be the second. Ruth was the game’s greatest player; Robinson was its most important. Both were American heroes whose exploits and character transcended the game. Here’s what Alan Schwarz and I wrote ten years ago, in Total Baseball, about Ruth and Robinson. We wrote a longish entry titled “Baseball’s 100 Most Important People.”

Now, a word about No. 1. It came down to two people—Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson—who ascended above everyone else for reasons about which you soon will read. But choosing between them for the top spot was an excruciating decision, extending beyond baseball to the United States at large. In fact, it was only after recognizing the breadth of the argument that we finally chose Ruth. Babe Ruth, by virtue of his talent and charisma, carried baseball from the depths of the Black Sox scandal into modern eminence; who changed the mindset of the sport from speed to slugging; and who was, lest we forget, baseball’s best all-around talent ever. Jackie Robinson too holds a monumental place in the game’s history, a spectacular player who, by virtue of breaking baseball’s longstanding color barrier and carrying himself with unwavering mettle afterward, receives credit for helping spark the modern civil-rights movement. 

We also wrote a capsule biography of Robinson, about whom it might be said that, like Lincoln, we think we have read it all before. But then somebody comes up with some new and surprising facts, some fresh, unique perspective. I suspect we will keep talking about Lincoln and Robinson all our lives, for while heroes are forever, our view of them continually evolves.


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