White key to black baseball history

Unheralded White key to black baseball history

He preceded the color barrier, a fact often forgotten when people look at the history of blacks in baseball. It is a history that goes back deep into the 1800s, and Sol White, a black player, was a part of that history.

His part in that history has White poised for possible induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, as he is one of 39 players and executives from black baseball who are under consideration for a spot in Cooperstown.

Their fate will be determined when the list of inductees is announced Feb. 27 in Tampa.

Those charged with making the selections will be putting White's career, which predated the Negro Leagues, under a microscope. They should like what they see.

White's career began in 1887 as a 19-year-old second baseman for the Pittsburgh Keystones, a team in the League of Colored Baseball Clubs. When the league folded, White went to play for the Wheeling Green Stockings, a white team in the Ohio State League.

"From this first experience, White continued to play in organized white leagues, either as an individual player, as he did in 1895 ... or as a member of a black team representing a host city in an otherwise all-white league," baseball historian James A. Riley wrote in The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues.

"In addition to playing in the white leagues, he made significant contributions to black baseball, playing with many of the premier teams of the era," Riley added.

White not only contributed greatly to black baseball on the playing field, he also played a large role in putting together the historical information that exists on black baseball before the 20th century.

His Official Baseball Guide chronicled black baseball history through the 1906 season. White's work was ahead of its time, and his book included team-by-team analysis of black baseball.

In the preface of his book, White wrote: "Since the advent of the colored man in base ball, this is the first book ever published wherein the pages have been given exclusively to the doings of the players and base ball teams."

His book began to chronicle blacks in baseball with the 1887 season, which White called "a banner year for colored talent in the white leagues." Unfortunately, it was also the year in which baseball began formulating an unofficial color line, which no black man crossed until Jackie Robinson did so in 1947.

"In no other profession has the color line been drawn more rigidly than in baseball," White wrote. He placed the blame squarely on Hall of Famer Cap Anson, who demanded the removal from professional baseball of any black player.

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Even before the line, black players found no warm welcome, White said. His book highlighted the difficulties blacks faced on white teams, and he took pains to be specific.

"The colored player suffers a great inconvenience at times while traveling," White wrote. "All the hotels are generally filled from the cellar to the garret when they strike a town. It's a common occurrence for them to arrive in a city late at night and walk around for several hours before getting a place to lodge."

His book also included pointers from the game's best. A chapter on hitting from Grant "Home Run" Johnson, also a candidate for induction, urged hitters to wait for a good pitch to hit; an enlightening chapter on pitching from Rube Foster, a Hall of Famer, focused on the mental side of the game. Foster urged pitchers in a jam to smile and act unaffected.

"This seems to unnerve them," White quoted Foster as saying. "Waste a few balls (out of the strike zone) and try his nerve; he'll swing at a wide one."

During his career as a player, White played on the Cuban Giants, Cuban X-Giants, Page Fence Giants and the Columbia Giants. In 1902, white sportswriter H. Walter Schlichter and White collaborated to form the Philadelphia Giants. White managed and played shortstop.

White's Giants won four consecutive Eastern championships, and he stayed with Philadelphia until the 1909 season, after which he signed on with the Brooklyn Royal Giants. In 1911, he became the first manager of the New York Lincoln Giants, only to be replaced by John Henry Lloyd.

After the following season, White retired as a player.

He returned to black baseball when Foster established the Negro National League in 1920. White became secretary of the Columbus Buckeyes, and he remained in that position until taking the managerial reigns of the newly formed Cleveland Browns in 1924. He ended his career as a coach for the Newark Stars in 1926.

His career, though impressive, paled in comparison to his role as a baseball historian. Nearly a century later, reprints of White's book have preserved an era that might otherwise have been lost forever.

"Along with a handful of other men -- Foster, J.L, Wilkinson, Cum Posey, and others -- White had held black baseball together throughout 60 years of apartheid, making Robinson's debut possible," author John B. Holway wrote in his book Blackball Stars: Negro League Pioneers.

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. Staff member Brian Wilson contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.