Memories & Dreams: Sol White

By Marty Appel

Sol White wasn’t the first sportswriter in the Hall of Fame.

That would have been British-born Henry Chadwick, who made it into the big room on his own merits. This was long before the Spink Award was established (1962) to annually honor journalists.

Chadwick, who invented the box score while reporting on games and baseball’s developments, earned a plaque in 1938, and remained the only writer in the Hall of Fame until 2006, when King Solomon White (his real name) was among the 17 people selected by the Committee of African-American Baseball. Six of the 17 were from the “pre-Negro Leagues” era, and White, who was a player, a manager, and a journalist, was one of those six.

White played from 1887-1912 (when he was 44), and then managed. But whether standing on the field (mostly at second base), or pacing the dugout, he was always observant of the bigger picture in the game, and his writings emerged as the best chronicle of early black baseball’s development.

In 1907, he produced a 128-page booklet called “Sol White’s History of Colored Baseball,” of which few original copies survive. The book was an account of the best colored players of the time – men who were barred from Organized Baseball – including Fleet Walker, George Stovey, Frank Grant and Bud Fowler. White recounted games that were cancelled “for no other reason than objections being raised by a Southern ball player, who refuses to play against a colored ball club.” (We also learn in the booklet of a 22-strikeout game by Stovey in 1886, which he lost).

He used the term “color line” and documents Cap Anson was the principal agitator, and also names good players “held back because of the small number of colored teams.”

When the booklet was published, White was playing for the Philadelphia Giants, and it appears to have been strictly intended as a local publication, as it is filled with advertisements for Philadelphia businesses.

White also cites Babylon, Long Island, as having “the distinction of being the birth-place of the first professional Colored Base Ball team in the world…{when in 1885}, Frank P. Thompson, head-waiter of the Argyle Hotel, chose the best ball players from among his waiters, and organized a base ball club to play as an attraction for the guests of the hotel.

“The caliber of ball displayed by the men,” he wrote, “led Thompson to start them on the road as professionals.”

There is an interesting conversation recreated in the booklet in which Ned Williamson, a star infielder on Anson’s White Stockings, claimed that feet first sliding (spikes up), was originated to take out Negro infielders.

After his retirement, White seemed to lose interest in his writing career, or perhaps the opportunities weren’t there. It was a sad development during his retirement to Harlem, where he apparently struggled financially. There is no record of his reaction to Jackie Robinson’s debut in 1947, or whether he ever met Jackie. Although there was a thriving black press, he didn’t latch on to say, the Amsterdam News.

He died in a state run hospital in Long Island in 1955 and was buried in an unmarked grave at Frederick Douglas Memorial Park in Staten Island, where a headstone has been arranged for by the SABR Negro Leagues Committee, citing his Hall of Fame selection.

As for his booklet, it has been reprinted twice – in 1984 and in 1995 – which makes it look more like a book and grants it the special importance it deserves as well.