Jay Sokol of Black College Nines recently wrote me about this 1899 Chicago Unions promotional calendar, and asked about the player named “Arnett” on the bottom left:
Coincidentally, I had been looking at this same calendar (displayed at The National Pastime Museum) just a few weeks before, and had been wondering about Arnett as well. As an artifact, it’s astonishing, and very unusual for a black team in the nineteenth century. I wonder if its appearance in 1899 marks the heightening of local competition in black baseball circles, as the Columbia Club (an organization of young black businessmen) had purchased the Page Fence Giants and moved them to Chicago to become the Columbia Giants. Maybe the Unions needed to up their publicity game in order to keep fans from defecting to the Columbias and their slugging shortstop, Grant Johnson.
For his part, Jay had connected the “Arnett” of the Chicago Unions to a player named Arnett who appears in this photo of the 1897 Wilberforce University baseball team (a photo that may also show Sol White):
The Arnett here, Jay says, is actually Alphonso T. Arnett, the son of the famous AME Bishop Benjamin Arnett, or possibly Alphonso’s brother Benjamin Arnett Jr. (both were Wilberforce students). Here’s a picture Jay supplied of Alphonso Arnett (on the left), compared to Arnett of the Chicago Unions (on the right):
As it turns out, though, Arnett of the Unions is probably not one of the Arnett brothers, though he may have been related. Here is an article from a couple of years earlier, 1897, with some information about Chicago Unions players:
I don’t have Arnett appearing with the Unions in 1897 (yet); instead, he seems to have become the business manager and outfielder for a team called the Chicago Clippers, to wit:
While he appears not to have actually played for the Unions in 1897, he did eventually suit up for them:
(Inter Ocean, January 24, 1898, p. 4)
Yes, you read that date correctly—the Unions played in January, 1898. But they weren’t freezing in the middle of an Illinois winter. This was a game of indoor baseball, which was quite popular at the time. The Unions fielded a team for several years. Eventually indoor baseball was moved outside and developed into softball.
So far, I haven’t seen Arnett with the Unions during the summer of either 1898 or 1899, though I have hardly undertaken a thorough search. At any rate, it would appear that his baseball career was over fairly quickly. In 1900 he was listed as a waiter, while lodging in the home of one Charles Williams, born in Ohio (a candidate to be the C.E. Williams from Washington Court House, Ohio, who was listed with the ’97 Unions, above). Eventually he became an insurance agent, and seems to have done quite well for himself. He married and had at least two children, both sons. During World War I he travelled to Europe to do some kind of war-related work for the YMCA. His passport photo shows a resemblance to the photo of Arnett with the ’99 Chicago Unions:
There’s one last footnote to the life of P. D. Arnett. Widowed in 1927, he remarried—and his new wife just happened to be Florence B. Price, the first famous African American female composer. Though they separated after only about three years, they apparently never divorced. Price died in 1953, and Arnett passed away in 1957.