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.
The first “Negro league,” which I would define as a professional circuit explicitly dedicated to clubs staffed by black players, was the League of Colored Base Ball Clubs, or the National Colored League, of 1887. The NCL was as national in its range as the major leagues of the time, its six clubs including Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Pittsburgh, Lousville, and Baltimore. This proved to be way too ambitious, considering the limited resources available; the league collapsed within a couple of weeks, leaving players stranded in faraway cities. It was fully twenty years before another “Negro league” would emerge, with a very different scope and somewhat reduced ambition: the National Association of Colored Base Ball Clubs of the United States and Cuba. Virtually nothing has ever been written about this league, which seems to have lasted no fewer than three seasons, from 1907 to 1909.
Let me begin, though, the year before this Negro league got started, with a different league that was in important ways its predecessor. In 1906 William Freihofer, who owned a chain of bakeries in the Philadelphia area as well as a white semi-pro club called the Philadelphia Professionals, organized the International League of Independent Professional Base Ball Clubs, which in its original form consisted of two black clubs, two Cuban clubs, and one white team:
(Sporting Life, April 14, 1906, p. 17)
A quick rundown on the International League’s original teams:
•Cuban X Giants, owned/managed by E. B. Lamar; •Philadelphia Quaker Giants, owned by Jess and Eddie McMahon, managers of Olympic Field in Manhattan; •Cuban Stars of Havana (originally called the Cuban Stars of Santiago, though this was quickly dropped), owned by Manuel Camps, a Cuban immigrant and Brooklyn cigar manufacturer, and booked by E. B. Lamar; •Havana Stars (also called the Havana Club or just the Havanas), owned/managed by Alfredo Pastor, a Cuban baseball official, and booked by E. B. Lamar; •Philadelphia Professionals, owned by Freihofer himself and managed by John A. O’Rourke, the league’s secretary/treasurer.
Freihofer also provided a “handsome silver cup” to be awarded to the league champions at season’s end:
(Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide, p. 114)
In some ways, the International League looks to us more like a tournament than what we would consider a league. The original plans were for a five-team league to play an 8-game “season,” with every club playing every other club twice. Needless to say, the league clubs played a number of games against each other that didn’t count officially in the standings, and played many, many games against non-league opponents. The Philadelphia Giants, for example, played a total of 145 games in 1906, but would only play five official International League contests.
The race for the Freihofer Cup claimed several casualties. The Havana Stars were the first to succumb, falling apart in early June, with several of the players being poached by other International clubs. Their place in the league was at first to be taken by the Wilmington (Del.) Giants, a team led by the old Cuban Giants veteran George L. Williams, but league secretary John A. O’Rourke eventually decided to admit the Riverton-Palmyra (N.J.) Athletic Club, another white team, instead (Philadelphia Inquirer, June 24, 1906, Sports, p. 2).
In July the Quaker Giants and the Cuban Stars both failed to make scheduled appearances and were dropped from the league (though they continued to exist), and their places (and records) were taken over by the Philadelphia Giants and the Wilmington Giants (“New Teams in International League,” Trenton Evening Times, July 24, 1906, p. 11). The Philly Giants, inheriting the Quakers’ 3-0 record, were immediately installed as favorites to win the Freihofer Cup (“What the Future Greats Are Doing,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 5, 1906, Sports, p. 2).
On Labor Day, September 3, playing in the Philadelphia Athletics’ Columbia Park, the Philadelphia Giants, behind Rube Foster, defeated the Cuban X-Giants and Harry Buckner 3 to 2, clinching the International League championship. Here are the final standings:
(Philadelphia Inquirer, September 10, 1906, p. 10)
The Inquirer was pretty optimistic about the circuit’s future prospects: “The league despite, several drawbacks, weathered all the storms of the first year and the prospects of a bigger and stronger circuit next summer are indeed encouraging” (ibid.).
As I said, I wouldn’t consider the 1906 International to be a “Negro league,” strictly speaking, due to the presence of the two white teams. But it was the predecessor to a genuine Negro league.
(Trenton Evening Times, October 29, 1906, p. 11)
I used to think that the National Association was an outright continuation of the International League, just with the white clubs dropped; but I no longer think that was the case, given the name change, the absence of Freihofer and his Cup, and the fact that the new league had little to do with Philadelphia (nearly all of the 1907 games between its clubs were played in New York and New Jersey). The key alliance was now between Walter Schlichter of the Philadelphia Giants and Nat C. Strong of New York, who was consolidating his control of independent baseball on the east coast.
Some of the men behind the National Association: Walter Schlichter, John Connor, Nat Strong, John Bright.
Standings for the 1907 National Association were published somewhat more erratically than for the 1906 International League, though they did appear every so often. In the end the Philadelphia Giants were again the champions.
(Trenton Evening Times, October 14, 1907, p. 11)
I haven’t found final published standings for the 1907 National Association, but here’s how each club fared against the other teams in the league:
Philadelphia Giants: 13-7-0 Cuban Giants: 5-5-1 Royal Giants: 10-14-1 Cuban Stars: 2-4-0
The league still existed in 1908, its membership unchanged:
(Indianapolis Freeman, March 21, 1908, p. 6)
It’s unclear exactly when they clinched it, but on September 28 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle asserted that the Royal Giants had already won “the championship for 1908 of the colored League of the United States.”
Here are the records of each club against other league members in 1908. The Royal Giants seemed to have deserved that championship:
Royal Giants: 19-10-1 Philadelphia Giants: 16-15-0 Cuban Giants: 6-12-1 Cuban Stars: 3-7-0
The National Association lasted through the 1909 season:
(Sporting Life, December 19, 1908, p. 8)
There was very little coverage of the 1909 pennant race. According to Nat Strong, the Cuban Stars and Royal Giants were engaged in a series that would decide the championship in late September and early October, and the Royal Giants had won the first two games:
(Indianapolis Freeman, December 18, 1909, p. 7)
I’ve been able to find three games between the Cuban Stars and Royal Giants in September. The Royal Giants beat the Cubans 5 to 3 on September 6 at the Bronx Oval, then won again 2 to 1 on September 12 at Meyerrose Park in Brooklyn. The Cuban Stars turned the tables for a 4 to 2 win at the Bronx Oval on September 21. In a later letter to the Freeman (December 18, 1909), Strong said the Royal Giants had won the championship, and maintained that “the usual colored championship series will be played during the season of 1910.”
Again, the records of each club against the other National Association clubs for 1909:
Royal Giants: 9-3 Cuban Stars: 8-5 Philadelphia Giants: 6-12 Cuban Giants: 0-3
Despite Strong’s confident assertions, in 1910 there’s no hint of the National Association of Colored Base Ball Clubs of the United States and Cuba. If I had to guess I’d say that it was done in by 1) the decline of the Genuine Cuban Giants; 2) the Cuban Stars’ increasing involvement in the Midwestern game as they spent more and more time in and around Chicago and less on the east coast; and 3) Nat Strong’s realization of the money he could make pitting his Royal Giants against white semipro and town teams in both New York City and upstate New York.
In fact, Strong would remain for years the biggest obstacle to organizing the eastern blackball teams, and there would be no eastern league until he was persuaded to lend his (half-hearted) support to the ECL in 1923. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Giants, the first truly great African American baseball team, were strangled by the lack of good opponents in the east, which caused them to take long, expensive, and ultimately unsustainable western jaunts in pursuit of better paydays.
I’ve long been puzzled by two facts of Walter Ball’s biography: he’s commonly listed in reference books as “George Walter Ball,” and given the nickname “The Georgia Rabbit.” Both are problematic:
1) I have never seen a contemporary reference to Walter Ball as anything but Walter Ball, and the few official documents I’ve been able to find (passenger lists, census records, draft cards, death certificate) give his name as…Walter Ball. His World War I draft card gives him a middle name, Thomas. So, as far as I can tell, his name was Walter Thomas Ball—no George involved.
2) And all sources agree that he was born in Detroit, Michigan, had moved to Minnesota by the time he was 14, and played his entire professional career for Northern teams—so why would he have been called “The Georgia Rabbit”?
After looking into it a little, I found a single reference that I believe explains both of these problems. It’s a passage from Sol White’s History of Colored Base Ball, originally published in 1907, toward the very end of the original text (p. 118 in the Jerry Malloy edition):
Here White appears to be calling Ball “George Washington Ball” and giving him the nickname “Georgia Rabbit.” Okay, fair enough—Sol White, after all, was there, and has to be considered the leading authority on this era, plus the book was published right in the middle of Ball’s career.
Except for one curious fact: White calls him George Washington Ball, but historians have apparently chosen to interpret “Washington” as a mistake for “Walter.”
Many years later, in 1931, White wrote a piece for the New York Age about the Philadelphia Giants in which he discussed roster changes forced in 1907 by the defection of the team’s biggest star, Rube Foster:
(New York Age, January 3, 1931, p. 6)
So White is saying here that he signed “the Georgia Rabbit” for the Philadelphia Giants. There’s only one problem with this: Walter Ball never pitched for the Philadelphia Giants. He did suit up for the 1906 Philadelphia Quaker Giants, a team organized by the McMahon brothers to try to cut in on the Philly Giants’ market, but he never did play for Sol White & Walter Schlichter’s club. As for 1907, Ball split the year between two Midwestern teams, the new St. Paul Gophers and the Chicago Leland Giants, and spent 1908 with the Lelands and the Minneapolis Keystones.
Also reprinted in Malloy’s edition of the History of Colored Base Ball is an interview of Sol White by Floyd Calvin, which was originally published in the Pittsburgh Courier, March 12, 1927. Much of it consists of a chronological account of White’s career. Here’s the entry for 1907 (from the original version in the Courier), again about new players on the Philadelphia Giants that year:
(Pittsburgh Courier, March 12, 1927, p. A4)
Taken literally, this seems to imply that White signed a pitcher named George Washington (not “George Washington Ball”) along with someone else called “G. A. Rabbit.”
No one named “Rabbit” ever appeared in a Philadelphia Giants’ box score, to my knowledge. There was, on the other hand, a pitcher named George Washington on Sol White’s team in 1907 and 1908. He didn’t pitch against any black professional teams in 1907, so he doesn’t appear in the Seamheads DB for that year, but he was with the Giants—for example:
(Philadelphia Inquirer, June 14, 1907)
It’s my opinion that “George Walter Ball, the Georgia Rabbit” was born as a result of a lost comma in Sol White’s book.
White was listing pitchers by last name until he got to George Washington, not as well-known as the others. What he meant to write was “McClellan, Bowman, Foster, Holland, Merritt, George Washington (Georgia Rabbit), Ball, Wilson, Davis and Buckner,” but by some mishap the comma after “(Georgia Rabbit)” was omitted, making it look like he was talking about somebody named George Washington Ball, nicknamed Georgia Rabbit. This was, by pure coincidence, compounded by another punctuation mishap 20 years later, the next time (as far as I know) White talked publicly about Washington. Floyd Calvin misread White’s or his own notes, and where White meant to say “George Washington (pitcher, Georgia Rabbit),” Calvin misunderstood it as a separate player named “G. A. Rabbit.”
I don’t know very much about George Washington, but what little I do know includes two facts that seem very relevant here. 1) Unlike Walter Ball, George Washington was from Georgia—he was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1874. And 2), Washington may also have played for the baseball team organized by the Rabbit’s Foot Company, a famous minstrel troupe.
So in the end there’s no reason to think that Walter Ball’s first name was George or that he was ever called “the Georgia Rabbit,” and several good reasons to think that another player’s first name and nickname have been accidentally attached to Ball.
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.
“As for the detailing of the pictured elements, we identify [white sportswriter and Giants owner Walter] Schlichter, and Sol White likely sits to his immediate left. Rube Foster, we believe is the tallest player standing in the back row. The caption, ‘Season 1906’, was not applied to this print but, instead, to the original. This photo is a splendid rendering of a highly successful independent, Black baseball team that only anticipated the coming of the Negro Leagues - and one showcasing the Hall of Famer, Rube Foster, at the peak of his playing career.”
Despite the authoritative prose, nearly everything said here is completely wrong. True, it is the Philadelphia Giants, and that is Schlichter at the center of the photo. But neither Rube Foster nor Sol White is in the photo, which is readily apparent if you’ve ever seen any photos of them. Another star of the ’06 Giants, Pete Hill, is missing, too.
It’s not, however, a photo of complete nobodies. Standing at the far right is Danny McClellan, who played with the Giants through the 1910 season. Standing at the far left is Spottswood Poles, which tells us something. Poles joined the Philadelphia Giants in mid-season 1909, and played the 1910 season with the club, before jumping to the Lincoln Giants in 1911. So we’ve narrowed down the possible years to 1909 and 1910, when McClellan and Poles were on the Philadelphia Giants.
As it happens, I’ve located another photograph that shows a Giants team of a very similar vintage, this time with most of the players identified.
Poles and McClellan are seated to the right of Schlichter. Standing second from left is Bill “Bonehead” Pierce, who played for the Philadelphia Giants only in 1910. Next to him, standing in the center, is Jesse Barber, who played with the Giants in 1909 and 1910 before defecting to the American Giants in 1911. Next is Lee Wade and then Fisher (no first name known), both of whom pitched for the Giants in 1909 and 1910 only.
I can’t match everybody in the two photos for certain, with the exception of Schlichter, Poles, McClellan, Fisher (standing second from left in the first photo), and the two guys in front, who I believe are the same in both pictures: on the left Bill Francis and on the right William “Knucks” James, both of whom left the Giants after the 1910 season.
But there are a couple of interesting differences I’ve left for last. Consider first the guy sitting to the left of Schlichter in the original photo.
I believe he’s Bruce Petway:
Petway played for the Philadelphia Giants in 1908 and 1909.
Next consider the guy standing second from right (between the false Rube Foster and Danny McClellan).
Look anything like this guy?
The regular shortstop on the 1909 Philadelphia Giants was none other than John Henry Lloyd. In 1910 he was signed away by Rube Foster for his Leland Giants, and I don’t believe he is in the second photo.
So my conclusion is that the original photo above was mistakenly identified as the 1906 Philadelphia Giants. In fact, it’s really the 1909 Philadelphia Giants. The second photo, meanwhile, shows the 1910 Giants (note that Knucks James is still wearing his uniform from the previous year).
The first photo absolutely does not include Rube Foster, who was touted by the seller as the photograph’s main selling feature, or Sol White, who at the time of the auction (October 19, 2006) had been Foster’s companion in the Hall of Fame for only a few months. But the photo does show the Hall of Famer John Henry Lloyd, plus noted players Spot Poles and Bruce Petway. So maybe it was worth the price it went for.
Incidentally, here are the actual 1906 Philadelphia Giants, from their manager Sol White’s book: