adventures in baseball archeology: the negro leagues, latin american baseball, j-ball, the minors, the 19th century, and other hidden, overlooked, or unknown corners of baseball history...with occasional forays into other sports
I’m pleased to announce the publication of a new edition of Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide, with an introduction and notes by yours truly. This pamphlet, packed with photos and tiny print, was originally published in 1907 and sold at Philadelphia Giants games. It was the first book devoted solely to black professional baseball, and remained the only one for more than 60 years. To this day it’s one of only a handful of books on nineteenth-century black baseball.
My introduction goes over Sol White’s life and career, adding some to what’s been published about him. I’ve also written some brief notes on the players, managers, and owners who are pictured in the book’s photos, and identified the players in several of the team photos.
In 2010 Brian McKennaposed this question in the comments on a post about Esteban Bellán, the first Cuban major leaguer and a co-founder of the Habana Base Ball Club. Before becoming a professional, Bellán played for Rose Hill, the baseball club associated with St. John’s College, now Fordham University:
Has anyone ever checked on a college teammate of Stephen Bellan’s named Christadoro (perhaps actually Cristadoro or Cristodoro)? He was signed/enlisted at the same time Bellan was by the Unions of Morrisania in June 1868. Don’t know if he played with the club though.
Brian also included a reference to this item from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (June 29, 1868, p.2), listing recent transfers of players from club to club:
A couple of weeks ago John Thorn wrote to clear up the question of Cristadoro’s identity:
A Joseph Cristadoro (also spelled Christadoro), wigmaker, is listed in the NYC Directory of 1839-40; he advertises a hair dye in farflung papers of the late 1860s, though he is based on Maiden Lane in NYC. A 12-year-old of that name is a student at the “Roman Catholic College” in West Farms (St. John’s, Rose Hill) in 1850. He was born in New York and may be of Italian descent rather than Spanish.
And a bit later, John was able to confirm his hunch about Cristadoro through the passport application of Cristadoro’s father, born in Palermo in 1813:
John also pointed out that another Rose Hill player from 1868, one “Esendoro,” was more likely to be of Latin American origin:
John then steered me to César González Gómez, who figured out several years ago that “Esendero” was really Manuel Escudero, a St. John’s student from Tepic, a city in the state of Nayarit on Mexico’s Pacific coast. He joins a number of other Mexican students in the U.S. who have been documented playing baseball in the 1860s. Although César doesn’t yet know for sure, given that Escudero was a teammate of Esteban Bellán, who played a major role in establishing baseball in Cuba, it seems very possible that Escudero played a similar role in bringing baseball to Mexico.
Mark Anthony Neal suggests that NBA players might respond to the lockout by forming their own league. He also points to the Negro leagues as a possible inspiration, given that 80 percent of NBA players have African heritage. The Negro National League, he writes,
did much more than entertain; it was a logical extension of the Black owned world that Blacks were forced to navigate in the era of State sponsored racial segregation. Ironically, as William C. Rhoden notes in his book Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete, the Negro National League “marked one of the last times that African Americans controlled their own major-league sports organization.” (102)
A basketball Players League would, obviously, be quite different from the historical Negro leagues, for reasons I hope I don’t have to explain. The parallel between the Negro leagues and the proposed league does work to the extent that an ex-NBA league, assuming it really was largely self-financed by players, would certainly involve a lot more input and control by black athletes than any other major sports league since the Negro leagues. However—the Negro leagues were not really self-financed. Yes, a few players or former players—most notably Rube Foster—eventually became owners, and Foster of course founded the Negro National League. But most of the ownership ranks were filled out with non-players, many of whom were white. The Negro leagues were not players’ leagues in any sense.
A better baseball parallel might be the actual Players League of 1890. There were no black players involved, but it was the literal equivalent of what Professor Neal is suggesting. At that time the players collectively commanded much less capital on their own, and so had to seek outside financial backing. This proved the league’s weak point (as I understand it anyway). A. G. Spalding was able to exploit the investors’ lack of commitment and solidarity, and the Players League never played a second season.
Would it happen this way again? Clearly NBA players have greater collective financial resources, although I have no idea whether they have enough clout to finance a league completely by themselves. One suspects some form of outside investment would have to be secured. I really don’t know how practical or likely the whole scheme is—probably not very, but who knows?
The first, very familiar photo shows Bud Fowler (standing in the middle) with the Keokuk team of the Western League in 1885. Fowler, of course, was the first known African American professional baseball player. The second photo, probably not so familiar to most baseball fans, shows Andrew Watson, the first player of mixed race heritage (Scottish/Afro-Caribbean) to play at the highest level of British football.
Fowler, literally isolated, with none of his teammates close by (an effect heightened by the retouching on some of the other players), looks stiff and awkward and uncomfortable. Watson, by contrast, blends in easily with his team. While it would also be easy to read too much into just two photos, clearly in this case their composition fortuitously reflects the real circumstances of their careers, at least at the moments they were taken.
The two men were virtual contemporaries, though from very different backgrounds. Fowler was born John W. Jackson, the son of an African American barber in Fort Plain, New York, on March 16, 1858. Watson was born in British Guiana on May 18, 1857. His father was a wealthy (white) Scottish planter, who saw to it that Watson was university-educated.
Fowler had become a professional ballplayer, and had adopted his nom de guerre, at least by 1878. He played in organized baseball, mostly as an infielder, before the color line was solidly drawn, off and on from 1878 to 1892. He bounced from team to team, never having a serious chance to make the major leagues, but playing at the highest level of the minors. Late in his career he helped to found the Page Fence Giants, one of the earliest black teams of the Jim Crow era and a precursor of the great Negro league teams.
Fowler was a professional; Watson was an (officially) amateur player at a time when the amateur game was still dominant. He played as a full back for various Scottish clubs beginning in the mid 1870s before joining Queen’s Park, the premier club in Scotland and one of the very best in Britain at the time. He played three times for the Scottish national team. Eventually Watson became the first non-English player invited to play for Corinthians, the most prestigious and probably best side in England in the 1880s.
Although Fowler remained active in baseball as a player, manager, and organizer well into his forties, he eventually fell into poverty, and died in 1913 in upstate New York, not far from where he was born, at the early age of 54. Andrew Watson’s post-football circumstances are not well understood, though it is known that he emigrated to Australia and died there in 1902, at age 44.
As a chaser to the last post (about black ballplayers in 1900), here is the only African American I have been able to find in the 1880 census who listed baseball as his occupation: 17-year-old Edward Powell of Fulton, New York. I know absolutely nothing about him otherwise, and have never heard of him outside of his census record.
I’m not sure under what category professional ballplayer would be listed (not the “professions,” which I think would mean mostly medicine, law, education, and the pulpit). Most likely there weren’t any black professional ballplayers in Georgia at the turn of the century. There weren’t that many in the county at large, at best a few dozen, probably—though there would have been many, many semi-professional or amateur players, of course.
In the 1900 U.S. Census, I’ve located a total of nine. I wouldn’t claim that this is anything like a comprehensive accounting, since my research mostly focuses on later eras, and it’s not actually that easy to search my notes for exactly this information. But here are the black men I’ve found in the 1900 census whose occupation is listed as ballplayer:
Sherman Barton (listed as a “Base Ballist,” a phrase that would have sounded antique even in 1900) John Bingey (sic; could be the same as William Binga) Harry Buckner Peter Burns, a key figure in the Tokohama affair Charles Grant, “Tokohama” himself William Holland Grant Johnson John Patterson Solomon White
For whatever reason, all lived in Chicago as of June, 1900, when the census was enumerated, except for Barton, who lived in Normal, Illinois, and Johnson, who appeared in his hometown, Findlay, Ohio. All played for the Columbia Giants or Chicago Unions around this time.
Occupations of Charles Grant and Solomon White as listed in the 1900 U.S. Census.
Walter Ball can be found living in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where he was playing professional ball, but in the census he is listed as a “R. R. Porter.” A couple of guys who might be Bill Monroe can be found in Chicago, but aren’t listed as ballplayers. The 17-year-old Pete Hill, who by some accounts started playing professionally in 1899, is listed as a “day laborer” in Pittsburgh. Many others who were definitely professionals at the time, especially in the East, can’t be found for certain in the census, including nearly the whole roster of the Cuban X Giants (Frank Grant, Clarence Williams, etc.). It seems likely that the Cubans were on the road and were missed by the census takers.
Going beyond the census, I’ve found one official document that lists a black man’s occupation as ballplayer in 1900: the death certificate of Andrew Jackson, who had been for several years the third baseman and captain of the Cuban X Giants. Jackson, who had led his team on a Cuban tour a few months earlier, died of heart failure at the age of 34 in New York City on May 15, 1900. (Apologies for the poor quality of the image.)
In the sideways portion of the form at the bottom we are given Jackson’s profession:
I have to say I know virtually nothing about Andrew Jackson, or for that matter about the Cuban X Giants, which seem to be one of the least written about great teams in African-American baseball history.
The latest issue of Black Ball reprints a short article from the April 2, 1898, issue of Sporting Life. Here it is, courtesy of the LA84 Foundation, which has digitized much of the magazine:
The Acme Colored Giants, representing Celeron (near Jamestown, New York), was the last all-black team of the 19th century to play in an organized, otherwise white league, the Iron and Oil League. They weren’t especially successful, finishing last at 8-41, but several of their players are recognizable, notably Tokohama conspiratorDave Wyatt, who would later become an important sportswriter for a number of black newspapers, and Ed Wilson. Wilson just may be the Ed Wilson who later played for the Cuban X Giants and smashed three home runsin one game off future major leaguer Stoney McGlynn in Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1902.
I didn’t know much about Wilson before, but the Sporting Life piece identifies his hometown as Bellevue, Pennsylvania, a small borough adjacent to Pittsburgh in Allegheny County. Over the years spanning the turn of the century, I was able to find one African-American man named Edward Mathew Wilson of an appropriate age living in Bellevue. There’s no smoking gun linking this Ed Wilson to baseball. He’s listed as a day laborer in the 1900 census, a “general” worker in the 1910 census (his younger brother Charles was a piano player), and as an employee of a steel car company on his World War I card. Still, the Bellevue connection seems like an important clue. The 1900 census lists his birthdate as June 1873, in Pennsylvania; the 1910 census says he was 36, and his World War I card, assuming that it belongs to the same person, has him born on January 3, 1875.
The 1900 and 1910 census entries are clearly for the same person, although so far it seems to me that the same can’t be said for certain of the World War I card. But the Sporting Life article does give us a good lead.
If you have a chance, pick up Jerry Kuntz’s seriously fascinating new book about the Lawson brothers—Alfred Lawson, who was (briefly) a major league pitcher, a baseball promoter who organized outlaw minor leagues and barnstorming tours of Cuba, an important figure in early aviation, and founder of his own religion, called “Lawsonomy”; and his younger brother George, a.k.a. “Andy,” a con man, vaudeville manager, and anti-Klan activist who tried to organize the racially-integrated Continental League in 1921.
While on the subject of black/white gamesin the late 1860s, I should mention one of the most fascinating recent baseball books I’ve picked up: The Early Image of Black Baseball by James Brunson (who comments here on occasion). James includes a lavish selection of illustrations from nineteenth-century publications and quite detailed accounts of the early African American baseball scene in St. Louis, Cleveland, and Chicago.
On September 3, 1869, the Olympic Club of Philadelphia (which dated back to 1832) played a match against the Pythian Club, led by Octavius Catto; the Olympics won, 44 to 23. This marks, as far as I know, the earliest match game between white and black organized clubs. A couple of weeks later (September 16) the Pythians defeated the City Items, a minor, newspaper-sponsored club, 27 to 17, marking the first victory by a black club over a white one. The Pythians, as I understand it, attempted to schedule a game against the Athletics, the best team in Philadelphia and one of the very best in the country, but the challenge was never accepted.
Very shortly after these pioneering interracial clashes, another pair of matches occurred that may be even more significant. Possibly inspired by happenings in Philadelphia, the Alert Club of Washington, D.C., issued a challenge to the Washington Olympics, at that time one of a dozen or so openly professional teams in the country and (along with the Nationals) one of the two leading clubs in Washington—and their challenge was accepted.
(“Letters from Washington,” Baltimore Sun, September 17, 1869)
Reports of the game, played on September 20, 1869, made their way into the Washington dispatches of a number of northeastern newspapers. I haven’t found a box score, but the Washington Star reported the lineups:
(Washington Star, September 20, 1869)
The Olympics featured a number of familiar names, including Davy Force and eventual National League president Nick Young. The figure most associated with the black baseball scene in D.C. at the time, Frederick Douglass’s son Charles, doesn’t appear among the Alerts’ players, and may by that time have moved to the city’s other important black club, the Mutuals.
The game didn’t go well for the Alerts on the field, but the event drew a big crowd, and was generally interpreted as a positive development:
(New York Tribune, September 21, 1869)
(Washington Star, September 21, 1869)
(New York Herald, September 21, 1869)
About three weeks later, on October 12, the Olympics played another match against a black team, the Mutual Club. This time the time the result was much closer:
(Washington Star, October 13, 1869)
I haven’t been able to find any box scores or any other mentions of the Mutuals/Olympics game so far. Nor have I found any evidence that competition between white and black clubs in D.C. continued into the 1870s, although the Mutuals were active for a number of years after this. Still, this means we can trace contests between the top levels of the black and white baseball worlds all the way back to 1869, which is considerably earlier than is usually understood.
Incidentally, the scores for both the Olympics/Alerts game and the Olympics/Mutuals game are reported by Marshall Wright in his book, The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870. He makes no special note of them, however, while mentioning the Pythians’ game against the City Items, so I’m guessing that he didn’t realize they were matches against African American clubs.
UPDATE 5:14 p.m. Charles Douglass had indeed moved on to the Mutual Base Ball Club by September 1869; among the Pythians’ papers is a letter dated September 10, 1869, from Douglass in his capacity as the Mutuals’ corresponding secretary, proposing that the Pythians and Mutuals play a series in Washington.
UPDATE 10/17/2009 I should have remembered that Randall Brown mentioned the Olympics’ 1869 matches against both the Alerts and Mutuals in his excellent article “Blood and Base Ball” in the Spring 2009 issue of Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game.