Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sol White's History Of Colored Base Ball

I just a copy of Sol White's History Of Colored Base Ball in the mail and I'm going to try and get through it in the next day or so. Of course, the first thing I did when it arrived was to go to the index and look for "St. Louis" and, taking a quick first look through the book, I've found a few interesting things.

Left fielder. Wm. Whyte was born in Providence, April 10th, 1860, has played his position with the St. Louis Black Stockings to his great credit; he also played with the Resolutes of Boston, as left fielder and change pitcher, and made some of the finest catches that ever was seen on the Boston grounds. He joined the Cuban Giants in the season of 1885, and traveled through the South with them during the winter season, and now is in excellent condition.

Center fielder. Richmond Robinson was born in Washington, April 1, 1856, has played baseball with all the principal colored teams in the country. With the famous St. Louis Black Stockings in 1883, and '84-'85, with the Altoonas, and he is a general player, good base runner and heavy batter.

The above came from a sketch of the Cuban Giants that White wrote for the Trenton Times in 1886.

There's also a mention of the St. Louis Browns in the book. White wrote in 1930 that the Cuban Giants, during the 1886 and 1887 season, "met every big league club in the country, with the exception of the St. Louis Browns, and held their own with them." Of course, what White failed to mention was that the Browns and Cuban Giants had arranged an exhibition game in 1887 but the Browns' players refused "to play against negroes."

In that same piece from 1930, White wrote "While the East was coming along with its baseball activities, out in the West the old game was only a stride or two behind their eastern brothers. Indeed, if it came to honors being conferred on the first colored team of note, although not a professional club, the Black Diamonds of St. Louis, Mo., would have to be conceded the palm. They were given considerable publicity by the white press of the country as far back as 1884."

While I'm not certain, it's possible that White, writing fifty years after the fact, was confusing the St. Louis Maroons, who were commonly called the Black Diamonds and were formed in 1884, with another club. It's also possible (and, now that I think about it, likely) that this is a reference to the Black Stockings and White just had the names mixed up. This is something that demands a closer look.

The photo at the top of the post is of the 1887 Cuban Giants and William T. White (not to be confused with William E. White) is in the first row at the far left. There's a much better photo of White in the book, which I'm looking forward to reading.


James E. Brunson III said...


While Sol White's work is a good source book, tere are come inaccuracies and glaring oversights. That White didn't mention the Brown's refusal to play the Cuban Giants is not totally surprising. In 1887 the West Virginian was playing with the Pittsburgh Keystones, and the year before with a Louisville club (probably the Louisville Black Stockings of Fall Citys).

On the other hand, I would suggest that the college-educated White and his publishers had an agenda; they constructed a baseball narrative that recognizes the east coast as the home of black ball. However, as you might agree, this narrative is more complicated.

Anyone looking at the St. Louis Black Stockings' numerous rosters particulalry during the period that links William Whyte and Richmond "Black Diamond" Robinson the colored nine has to sort through many of them. When collected and collated these rosters are extensive. At least 22 men played for the team in 1883; in 1884, at least 16 men. Given the lack of complete box scores and game line-ups, I'm sure that there are more players to be discovered... including other line-ups with the names of "Black Diamond" Robinson and Whyte.

While both Whyte and Robinson were recruited by Henry Bridgewater, neither played an entire season. Here are the questions: 1) Did Bridgewater recruit them to play an entire season and they left early? 2) Did the manager hire them to play in highly-lucrative contests or a substitutes for players that were injured? Whyte and Robinson belong to that wave of players that Bridgewater recruited nationally in late 1882 and early 1883.

I have Robinson's name on only one or two 1883 rosters. Whyte's name appears once, and it is after the club had returned from the Upper Canada tour. It seems likely that Whyte the pitcher was "sent for" by Bridgewater when several players (William Davis, especially, who had broken his hand) became injured in Canada. Moreover, the connection between the Black Stockings and Whyte can be traced to the recruitment of several colored baseballists from St. Louis who formed a colored nine in New England (Ansonia, CT) called the Wallace Club.

Finally, both Whyte and Robinson of the Cuban Giants (in 1880, Robinson played for the famed Manhattans and in 1886, for the Gorhmans) must have been proud of their Black Stockings pedigree, proudly listing their tenure with Henry Bridgewater as part of their professional resume. After all, the pedigree that established them in the eyes of contemporaries begins with Bridgewater's Black Stockings. This is something that baseballists who played, even one game with the Cuban Giants, proudly boasted.

James E. Brunson III

Jeffrey Kittel said...

Thanks for the information. I'm enjoying the book and even with my limited knowledge of the subject, I've noticed a few errors of fact. Not too hung up on it, however. With some of the book written fifty years after the fact, this is to be expected. Al Spink's book has the same problem (although to a much larger extent).

As always, you bring up a lot of interesting things that make me stop and think for awhile. I like the point about how playing for the Black Stockings was a point of pride for these guys. That certainly says something about the club and its place in baseball history.