Sports Collectors Digest: Sol White

By Marty Appel

So King Solomon White is in the Baseball Hall of Fame!

What do you know! I was thinking of doing a column on Sol White’s “History of Colored Baseball” one of these days, and bang, he becomes one of the 17 with Negro League roots to go into the Hall of Fame! So I’m glad I waited. He’s suddenly more interesting. And yes, that is apparently his full name.

Although Sol White was also a player, a manager and an organizer, it is of special interest that he was a serious writer – not a player who put out a ghost-written autobiography, but a scholar of the game who thus becomes the second writer in the Hall of Fame. Not a Spink Award winner, in the so-called “writer’s wing,” but the real deal, placed in the great hall of plaques itself. Besides his book, he was a journalist, writing for Negro newspapers like the New York Amsterdam News, the Pittsburgh Courier, the New York Age and the Cleveland Advocate.

The other writer in the Hall is Henry Chadwick, who invented the box score, chronicled the game from its earliest days, and became known as “Father” Chadwick as he grew older and was respected as a true elder statesman of base ball. (The box score was a pretty good contribution to society, was it?)

So Sol White is in good company.

“Sol White’s History of Colored Baseball” was a remarkable piece of work, and while few original copies survive – some think fewer than a dozen are out there – the mere fact that we have a book about the days before there were the Negro Leagues we have come to know about – says much about the importance of his book. In a summary at the end, White writes:

“It was clearly demonstrated that colored players possessed major league qualifications when such a players as Fleet Walker, Geo. Stovey, Frank Grant and Bud Fowler as members of the International League back in the eighties, were stars of a class “A” organization. All of these men would have been drafted by the National League or the American Association had they been of the opposite complexion. When Stovey and Walker were paired as a battery, they were considered the stars of the country. Grant and Fowler, as infielders, had no equals in the International League.

“In naming a few of the many colored players of Major League caliber, we are not unmindful of those who are yet to come and are held back because of the small number of colored teams.”

Prophetic and to the point.

He uses the term “color line” and cites Cap Anson as the principal agitator, one of the earliest documentations of the belief we have come to accept today. He writes of “no less than twenty colored ball players scattered among the different smaller leagues of the county” in 1887, and then “All the leagues, during the Winter of 1887 and 1888, drew the color line.

“The colored players are not only barred from playing on white clubs,” he writes, “but at times games are cancelled for no other reason than objections being raised by a Southern ball player, who refuses to play against a colored ball club.”

In White’s book, we see that the Negro game paralleled the beginnings of “Organized Baseball,” with court cases to rule over conflicting claims to a certain player, tight pennant races, and great on-field feats. There are pictures of early players, the “Casey at the Bat” poem, pitching tips from Rube Foster, and advertisements for Philadelphia businesses. (White was playing for the Philadelphia Giants when the book was published, and it thus was probably only available there. His own picture is on the book’s cover).

We learn that Babylon, Long Island, “has the distinction of being the birth-place of the first professional Colored Base Ball team in the world… 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, led Thompson to start them on the road as professionals.”

The book informs us of a 22-strikeout game by George Stovy {sic} in 1886, (he lost the game), and a look at the business opportunity base ball represented for a young colored player. We are told that there were 150 players in 1906 (“the banner year for colored base ball”) and they earned an average of $466 per man. “The disparity in the salary of a major league player and a colored player is enormous,” he wrote, “especially when it is taken into consideration that, were it not for color, many would be playing in the big league for $2,000 or more per season.”

After the book, White continued to co-own, to manage and to play the game, going on to the Brooklyn Royal Giants, the New York Lincoln Giants, the Columbus Buckeyes, the Cleveland Browns and the Newark Stars, where he finished up in 1926. He died in Central Islip, Long Island in 1955 at the age of 87.

In 1984, Camden House put out a small, hardcover reprint, slightly enlarging the original type, but still producing a hard-to-read volume. They called it “Sol White’s Base Ball Guide,” but it was the same book, the “History of Colored Baseball.” Bison Books, the publishing arm of the University of Nebraska, reset the type and put out a readable edition with an index and additional historic documents in 1995. (One of the documents recreates a conversation with the White Stockings’ Ned Williamson, who claimed that feet first sliding was originated to deal with Negro infielders). At $6, it’s a better value than an original copy, which is valued today at nearly $20,000, perhaps even more with White’s election to the Hall of Fame.