Posts Tagged ‘Sol White’

The Pride of Chicago

February 7, 2019

Chicago American Giants logo

Although baseball as we know it begins on the East Coast, Chicago has traditional standing as one of the earliest hotbeds of the sport. William Hulbert, founder of the National League lived in Chicago. His team, the White Stockings (now the Cubs) won the first ever National League pennant. But the Windy City was also the home of a number of Black Americans who liked the game as much as their white counterparts. If the Cubs were White Chicago’s team, the American Giants were Black Chicago’s team.

In 1887 the Chicago Unions were formed by Abe Jones, a local catcher and William S. Peters, a local black business owner and first baseman. Peters managed the team. The team was successful, being one of only two black teams to survive the economic downturn in 1893 (the “Panic of ’93” to historians). In 1899, the Unions were joined by the Chicago Columbia Giants. The Columbia Giants were the lineal descendants of the Page Fence Giants (a story for a later time) and included such stars as William Patterson and Sol White (who is now a Hall of Famer). They defeated the Unions in a championship match.

Frank Leland

By 1898, Frank Leland gained control of the Unions, and in 1901 worked a merger of the two clubs which he renamed the Union Giants. They were immediately successful. In 1907, Leland renamed them after himself, the Leland Giants. They were easily the finest black team in the upper Midwest. With the name change, came a bevy of stars from Black Baseball that made the Leland’s even more formidable. Pete Hill took over in center field, “Big” Bill Gatewood was on the mound, but the greatest find was pitcher Andrew “Rube” Foster. To Leland’s dismay, Foster had big plans and wanted to found his own team.

Rube Foster (with the team logo on the uniform behind him)

By 1910, Foster made his move. He claimed control of the team (and the team name) and renamed the team the Chicago American Giants. Leland hung on to a handful of the players and continued games as the Chicago Giants. But Foster had the big names, John Henry Lloyd, Pete Hill, Bruce Petway, and Frank Wickware.

The team was as successful as ever, but Foster dreamed of creating a black league to rival the Major Leagues. In 1920, he created the Negro National League with the American Giants as a founding member. They were, for most of the period of the NNL’s existence, the best team, winning pennants in 1920, 1921, and ’22. In 1926, with Foster’s failing health, and questions of his favoritism as league president toward the American Giants, Dave Malarcher took over the team and led it to pennants in 1926 and 1927. By that point, the NNL had a rival, the Eastern Colored League. The two leagues staged the Negro World Series which the American Giants won in both 1926 and 1927. In 1928, the ECL folded.

Economic crisis once again afflicted Black Baseball in the 1930s as the Great Depression caused the folding of the NNL. The American Giants remained viable and transferred to the Negro Southern League in 1932, winning the pennant before the NSL also collapsed. That began a period of transition for both the American Giants and Black Baseball in general.

A new Negro National League was formed in 1933, which the American Giants joined. They were good, but the Pittsburgh Crawfords were an all-time team and the Giants were unable to capture a pennant. In 1936, they played as an independent team, barnstorming games as they could find them. By 1938, they’d joined the newly formed Negro American League, but were never able to compete with the Kansas City Monarchs as the NAL’s top team.

With the admission of Jackie Robinson and other players to the Major Leagues, the Negro Leagues went into decline. The American Giants hung on through 1956, when they finally folded. By that point they were hiring white players and had lost much of their Negro League identity. But early on, the American Giants were one of Black Baseball’s premier teams.


The Lincolns

February 16, 2017
Lincoln Giants jersey from 1910

Lincoln Giants jersey from 1910

When we think of Negro League teams, most think of the later Negro League teams such as the Crawfords, the Grays, or the Eagles. But way back before the founding of the first of the famous Negro Leagues, the Negro National League of the 1920s, there were other leagues and other teams. One of the more dominant of the early 20th Century teams was the Lincoln Giants of New York.

There is a bit of question about their origins. Their Wikipedia page indicates that an ancestry can be traced back to Nebraska in the 1890s, but doesn’t indicate how they got to New York. More conventional sources indicate that Jess McMahon (of the current WWE wrestling McMahon’s) was a prominent sports promoter in New York with extensive interests in Harlem. In 1911 he joined with Sol White to form the Lincoln Giants. It was a formidable team that immediately began to dominate black baseball in New York. With Hall of Famers John Henry Lloyd, Louis Santop, Smokey Joe Williams, and the likes of Spottswood Poles, Bill Pettus, and Cannonball Dick Redding (God, I love old-time nicknames) they dominated Eastern black baseball into 1914. In 1913 they played an unofficial black championship against the pride of the Midwestern black leagues, the Chicago American Giants, led by Rube Foster. The exact number of games and wins in the series is in some question, but there is agreement that the Lincolns won the series.

the 1911 Lincoln Giants

the 1911 Lincoln Giants

By 1914, McMahon was in financial trouble. He sold the Lincoln Giants, but retained the contracts of several of the big stars. He formed a new team, the Lincoln Stars, and competed directly with his old team. The Stars lasted to 1917, folded, and most of the remaining former Giants went back to their old club.

According to the Seamheads website, the Lincoln Giants were still doing well in the 1914-17 period, but fell off some due to the loss of many of their stars. By this point Smokey Joe Williams was doubling as ace pitcher and manager. It was the height of his Hall of Fame career. But the team ran up against a formidable foe off the diamond. Nat Strong (see my post “The Schedule Man” of 20 August 2015) controlled scheduling for black baseball in New York at the time and the Lincolns wanted to play more games than Strong was willing to schedule. They attempted to schedule some games without going through Strong, and were thrown out of the existing league structure in New York. Barnstorming followed.

With the founding Foster’s Negro National League, the eastern teams found it to their advantage to form their own league, the Eastern Colored League, in 1923. The Lincolns were a significant member of the league. They never won a league championship, finishing as high as third in 1924. By 1928 the ECL was on life support. A changing economy, weak teams, chaos at the top of the league (again another story for another time), and the dominance of Foster’s NNL, caused it to collapse.

The remnants of the ECL formed a new league, the American Negro League in 1929. It lasted one year. The Lincoln Giants held on one more year in a declining economy and finally folded after the 1930 season.

During their existence, the New York Lincoln Giants were dominant in the East. They won unofficial championships most of the decade of the 19-teens and led Strong’s New York league most years (which is why they thought they could challenge him). They provided Eastern black baseball with some of the greatest players of the era in Lloyd, Wood, Santop, Redding, and later Hall of Famer Turkey Stearnes. Not a bad legacy.

the 1911 version of the Lincoln Giants cap

the 1911 version of the Lincoln Giants cap


February 14, 2017
Spottswood Poles

Spottswood Poles

If you ask most people what they know about the Negro Leagues, you’ll probably get, presuming you get anything other than a blank stare, something about the leagues or the teams of the 1930s and 1940s. And if you get that, you’ll probably hear something like “they ran a lot.” That’s true as far as it goes. They also hit for power and pitched and did all the other things baseball players do, but for some reason the speed game has become a centerpiece of Negro League baseball. That’s true back well beyond the 1930s. One of the first great speedsters played in the Deadball Era. He was Spottswood Poles.

Poles was born in Winchester, Virginia (another in Bloggess’ tour of Virginia people) in 1887. It was the height of “Jim Crow” and Poles, who could play baseball well, went North catching on with the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Colored Giants in 1906. Sol White, owner and manager of the Philadelphia Giants saw him and brought him to the more prestigious Philly team in 1909 (age 22). He was an immediate success. He played the outfield (center) and frequently led off games. He was fast, according to legend, he stole 41 bases in 60 games in 1911 (obviously not all of those can be verified).

He stayed with Philadelphia through 1910 then shifted to the Lincoln Giants (of New York) in 1911. As with most Negro League stars of the day, he did a stint in Cuba during the winters. Between 1910 and 1915 he starred for Fe (“faith”) in Cuba. Info available at Baseball shows him hitting ,369 with 21 stolen bases in 25 games with Fe in 1910 (the only season statistics are available). There are references to him hitting .364 in 1912, but I could find no collaboration of that figure. His Wikipedia page credits him with an overall average of .319 in Cuba. The Seamheads site lists the average as .314.

With the Lincoln Giants he became a star. With a short side trip to the Lincoln Stars (an offshoot of the Giants–a story for another time), Spot Poles stayed with the Lincoln Giants until 1917. His numbers vary, but it is obvious he was one of the finer players of the era. Batting averages like .440 and .487 pop up, but Baseball’s best number is .382 in 1914 (over 38 games). Seamheads shows a .375 over 17 games in 1912. All are great numbers but they indicate how difficult it is to pin down Negro League statistics.

With the US entering World War I in 1917, Poles joined the Army. He was part of the 369th Infantry (sometimes known as the “Harlem Hellfighters”) and served in France. His unit, a segregated regiment was attached to the French Army during 1918 and served conspicuously. Poles himself earned a Purple Heart during his service.

Back in the Negro Leagues in 1919 he played with Hilldale (Philadelphia), the Bacharachs (Atlantic City), and again with the Lincoln Giants, remaining a player into 1923. In retirement he ran a taxi service, then worked at an air base. He died in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1962. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Remember, he was a veteran of World War I.

These are his numbers from the research by Seamheads: in 290 documented games his triple slash line reads .307/.385/.380/.765 with  60 stolen bases, 228 runs scored, 350 hits, 51 doubles, four home runs, and 114 RBIs. Not at all bad numbers. In contrast, Baseball gives the following stats: in 165 documented games a triple slash line of .318/.386/.389/.775, 56 stolen bases, 159 runs scored, 245 hits, 35 doubles, two homers, and 61 RBIs. Either set you pick, you have a great ballplayer.

It’s obvious, if you notice the differing stats listed here, that Poles (one of whose nicknames was the equally obvious “Bean”) is a great case of how difficult it is to get a true handle on Negro League players. It’s certain he was good. It’s almost impossible to tell just how good. When I mentioned on an earlier post about my fantasy league team and how it showed me just how much we were only “glimpsing” the Negro League players, Poles (who is on my team) is one of the players I meant.

In 2006 the Hall of Fame formed a committee to look over and choose Negro League players for Hall enshrinement. Poles was one of the players on the list. He made it through the first round and to the final cut, but did not make it into the Hall of Fame. It will be interesting to see if the new Veteran’s Committee tasked with looking at pre-integration players takes another look at either him or other Negro League players.

Poles grave in Arlington

Poles grave in Arlington


A Dozen Things You Should Know About Pete Hill

February 9, 2017
Pete Hill batting about 1911

Pete Hill batting about 1911

1. John Preston Hill was born in 1882 in Culpeper County, Virginia. There is some evidence that his family was owned during slavery by the family of later Confederate General A. P. Hill. The family lived in Culpeper County. Even that basic statistical information is in dispute. Although the information in the first sentence is the most commonly accepted information, some sources indicate his name was Joseph Preston Hill and he was born in Pittsburgh in 1880. All sources seem to agree his birthday was 12 October.

2, By 1899 he was playing outfield for the Pittsburgh Keystones. The 1900 US Census shows him living in Pittsburgh which is possibly where the confusion about his birthplace occurs.

3. He spent most of the first half of the first decade of the 20th Century playing center field for the Philadelphia Giants (led by Hall of Famer Sol White) and the Cuban X-Giants (which weren’t Cuban but worked out of Trenton). He did spend much of the same period playing winter ball in Cuba, leading the league in hitting in the winter of 1910-11.

4. He joined the Leland Giants in 1908 and teamed with Rube Foster to dominate teams in the Chicago area.

5. When Foster formed the American Giants (also of Chicago) in 1911, Hill became both his primary offensive weapon and the team field captain. He is supposed to have gotten at least one hit in 115 games in 1911. The team played 116 games. The feat is not well documented and may be apocryphal. What little statistical information available shows batting averages of .400 and .357 for 1911 and 1912. Again those numbers are in dispute.

6. In 1919, Hill joined the Detroit Stars as player-manager. In his last year with Detroit, 1921, he hit .388 at age 39.

7. He remained a player and a player-manager through 1925 when he retired.

8. In retirement he ran the Buffalo, NY Red Caps and also worked for Ford Motors.

9. Pete Hill died in Buffalo in 1951.

10. Incomplete numbers at Baseball show Hill with a .328 batting average, a .481 slugging percentage, 818 hits in 692 documented games, 513 runs scored, 47 triples, 48 home runs, and 455 RBIs. For 1911 and 1912 the information at Baseball gives him batting averages of .365 and .399 as opposed to the numbers listed in point five above. Of the 116 games played in 1911 (of which he’s supposed to have gotten a hit in 115) only 26 are documented (and show 35 hits).

11. In 2006, Pete Hill was elected to the Hall of Fame.

12. For years Hill’s grave was unmarked. The Negro Leagues Grave Marker Project has discovered the site.

Marker from Find a Grave memorial

Marker from Find a Grave memorial


My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1924

February 2, 2016

It’s time for this month’s addition of My Own Little Hall of Fame. As it’s also the beginning of black history month in the US, we’ll put the two things together while introducing the Class of 1924. I admit it’s a somewhat strange class.

George Davis

George Davis

Between 1890 and 1909, George Davis was a premier player. Moving between shortstop, the outfield, and third base he was considered an excellent defensive player. He led the National League in RBIs in 1897 while playing with the New York Giants. Later he joined the Chicago White Sox and helped lead them to a World’s Championship in 1906, hitting .306 in the World Series and driving in six runs.

Sol White

Sol White

King Solomon “Sol” White was a noted second baseman in 19th Century black baseball. Later he managed several teams in various segregated leagues and won a pennant in 1906 in the integrated International League. In 1907 he published History of Colored Base Ball the first compendium of black baseball in the United States.

Now the usual commentary:

1. What took so long with George Davis? As mentioned before, Davis was incredibly obscure in the period of the 1920s. It’s like he didn’t ever play ball. Even the guides don’t mention him except if it’s appropriate in a statistical list. After his retirement he spent several years coaching the Amherst College baseball team. In 1924 I found a reference indicating he’d been gone from Amherst for five years. I decided that this single reference was enough to bring his name back and I took the opportunity to add him to a Hall of Fame to which he clearly belongs. OK, it’s a stretch, a long stretch, a very long stretch, but I took it because I believe George Davis is a Hall of Famer. Because that’s true, I’ve broken one of my own rules. But, then, it’s my rule.

2. Sol White has the same problem every other Negro League player or executive has who I’ve added to my personal Hall of Fame, he’s black in an era where that wasn’t seen by most of the US as a good thing (to put it mildly). But when I set this Hall up I decided I would add black players despite the prevailing attitudes of the 1901-1934 era and White is certainly someone who should be a member. His book is the only major source for black professional baseball all the way to the 1960s. That alone gives him space. He could, in fact, have gone in earlier, but I wanted to hold him for black history month (February).

3. The 1925 class is going to be somewhat like this one. There are no just “have to” players (either everyday types or pitchers) coming up in 1925. I do have to look at someone who, the totality of his career being considered, is a person that may make it. At the same time that individual’s performance isn’t necessarily Hall-worthy if his playing or managing or contributions are looked at in isolation. There are three or four of those coming up and I’ll have to determine which, if any, are going into a 1925 era Hall of Fame and who isn’t.

4. Here’s the preliminary list of everyday players available in 1925: Jack Barry, Cupid Childs, Harry Davis, Mike Donlin, Jack Doyle, Elmer Flick, Hughie Jennings, Bill Lange, Tommy Leach, Herman Long, Bobby Lowe, Sherry Magee, Tommy McCarthy, Dave Orr, Hardy Richardson, Wildfire Schulte, Cy Seymour, Roy Thomas, Mike Tiernan, Joe Tinker, George Van Haltren.

5. The pitchers: Bob Carruthers, Jack Chesbro, Dave Foutz, Brickyard Kennedy, Sam Leever, Tony Mullane, Deacon Phillippe, Jesse Tannehill, Doc White.

6. The contributors: Bob Emslie, Hank O’Day, and Tim Hurst (umpires and Hurst was a manager for a while); Hughie Jennings and George Stallings (managers); Cal McVey and Lip Pike (early players); Ben Shibe and Clark Griffith (owners); Henry C. Pulliam (NL President); William R. Wheaton (pre-Civil War pioneer).

7. And 1926 (April) is the year I have to make a final decision on the Black Sox players. Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, and Eddie Cicotte are the only three that I have to realistically consider. I don’t think any of the others (Felsch, McMillan, Gandil, Williams, Risberg) have any chance of making it.


Only the Ball Was White: A Review

February 12, 2015
Only the Ball Was White (my copy has this cover)

Only the Ball Was White (my copy has this cover)

Back when I was working on my PhD in history the big book that was causing a stir was Time on the Cross, a book that was hugely controversial and was  supposed to use new statistical methods, later called “cliometrics” (Clio was the Greek Muse of history), to revolutionize how we viewed the institution of slavery. Well, it didn’t actually end up doing that, but it did introduce “cliometrics” and statistical analysis to the study of history in a big way (try being a social historian today without it) and that changed how history was studied.

In January 1970 Robert Peterson did something like that when he published Only the Ball Was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All Black Professional Teams, generally known by the first five words of the title. It told America about the Negro Leagues at a time when the Negro Leagues were almost entirely forgotten by the general public and by baseball fans. What little was known was more myth than reality. Peterson’s book began a trend of looking at the reality of Negro League baseball. There were stories, an historical narrative, some thoughts on individual players. All were researched in newspapers, team papers (such as were available), and interviews with surviving players and associated people. It was utterly groundbreaking in both the study of black history and baseball history.

There had been other books, like Sol White’s history, but they were old and generally ignored in 1970. Peterson, following on Ted Williams’ plea for recognition of Negro League players in his Hall of Fame address, wrote a book that tried to place black baseball in the context of its times and in the context of the larger black community. It’s worth noting the book for that reason alone. And it wasn’t stat heavy (unlike Time on the Cross) which made it more acceptable to a general audience.

It’s outdated now. Forty-five years of research will do that to a book. Some of the info turned out to be wrong, much of it is still good. It’s a fine read. It was the first book I ever read on the subject and so it continues to hold a special place in my psyche. Copies are still available (Amazon has a copy for $15.64) and it’s worth reading at least once.

As an aside, Peterson was one of the people chosen for the committee that selected the 2006 Hall of Fame members for Negro League baseball. He died a couple of weeks before the voting, but sent in a copy of his choices. The copy was accepted and he helped elect some deserving members to the Hall of Fame. I think it’s nice that did that for a pioneer who helped rescue the Negro Leagues from oblivion.