King Solomon White was a forgotten man who played in a segregated league. After he died in Central Islip in 1955, his remains were buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave on Staten Island.
White emerged from obscurity 51 years later when he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
Sol White not only was a central figure at the dawn of Negro League baseball, a game rich with talented players who were denied access to the mainstream of America’s game, but also was a member of what is believed to be the first professional African-American team, formed in Babylon Village on Long Island’s South Shore.
In a career that started in 1887 and ran through 1926, White was an infielder, manager and executive who chronicled history. He nearly became lost in it. But White’s past finally was recognized after a special Negro League committee was formed by the Cooperstown shrine in 2001 to research deserving candidates whose legend did not rise to the likes of those of previously inducted Satchel Paige or Josh Gibson.
“When he died in ’55, everything that we knew about him was secondary,’’ said Larry Lester, a historian and co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. “And so his chances of going into [Cooperstown] were very slim.’’
There was something of a treasure trove waiting to be unearthed about White and his contributions to the game on and off the field. He spent 40 years in baseball and in 1907 chronicled the black players of his time in “Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide. ‘’
“When his book came out, it was considered the bible at the time of black baseball,’’ Lester said. “We learned so much from that book. He identified many of the ballplayers that we had no record of. It was the holy grail, the Rosetta stone of 19th century baseball. It was all right there in one book.’’
White, who went into Cooperstown as an executive, participated in the history he had written about. The first professional black team originated in 1885 at the site of the Argyle Hotel in Babylon Village. The hotel was situated at the northwest corner of Argyle Lake, according to Babylon town historian Mary Cascone. The field where the team played was commemorated with a plaque in 2010.
Stories differ on how the team originated, but White himself wrote that it came about when the head waiter at the Argyle, which was a summer destination on the Long Island Rail Road for visitors from New York City, first recruited interested employees. It later expanded to other areas.
The team was called the Cuban Giants. White wrote in 1938 that the team “passed as foreigners — Cubans, as they finally decided — hoping to conceal the fact that they were just American Negro hotel waiters and talked a gibberish to each other on the field which, they hoped, sounded like Spanish.’’
It is not known when White, who was born in Ohio, joined the team, but he was on the club in 1888 when it won its second straight so-named “World Colored Championship.’’ By that time the team had moved to Trenton, New Jersey.
White participated as a manager in the Negro Leagues from 1920-26. When he left baseball, he wrote for the New York Amsterdam News and New York Age. In reference to African-Americans playing in the majors someday, White wrote, “Some day the bar will drop and some good man will be chosen from out of the colored profession that will be a credit to all, and pave the way for others to follow.” White was 78 when a young former Negro Leaguer named Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
White may very well have been among the last group of Negro League participants to enter Cooperstown.
“In 2006, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum held a special election to consider Negro Leagues candidates,’’ Brad Horn, the Hall’s vice president of communications and education, wrote in an email. “The election was held after the conclusion of a five-year research project designed to explore the Negro Leagues, its players and history, as never before, complete with the most exhaustive statistical analysis to date. At the time, it was announced that the 2006 election would be the final consideration for Negro Leagues players, managers, executives and umpires. That election produced 17 electees. Today, that remains unchanged. Presently, there is not a vehicle for Negro Leagues candidates to earn election to the Hall of Fame.’’
Lyle H. Wilson, an attorney in Washington state and Negro League researcher, said the leagues will remain a powerful reminder of America’s past with stars whose talents equaled those in the major leagues.
“In a better world, these teams would not have existed,’’ Wilson said. “In a better world, there would not have been segregated baseball. This enterprise would not have existed. Frankly, the Negro Leagues grew out of necessity. What do you do when you’re told you’re out? Speaking as a Seattle Mariners fan, I got to see Ken Griffey Jr. play baseball, see him go into the baseball Hall of Fame. So, we kept the game alive in the African-American community.’’
Buck O’Neil, a former player and manager for the Kansas City Monarchs, joined the Chicago Cubs as Major League Baseball’s first African-American coach in 1962 and was a revered historian of the Negro Leagues.
Said Wilson, “When Buck O’Neil would be asked, ‘Did it upset you that you never played in the major leagues? Does it upset you that you never got to play with the best?’ Buck’s response was, ‘Who says I didn’t play in the major leagues? Who said I didn’t play against the best?’ ’’
With the Hall of Fame aware of no known family members of White, commissioner Bud Selig presided over White’s enshrinement in Coopers town. White, who reportedly was separated from his wife, Florence, had lost two sons early in their lives. He had a daughter, Marian, who died in 1992.
After his induction, it was discovered that he had one living relative, William E. Edmondson, 84, of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania. Edmondson said Marian was his aunt by marriage but “I never knew him. When I started visiting my aunt, he was not alive. But I heard by way of just talk that he had been a baseball player.’’
Edmondson was unaware that White was in Cooperstown. “I’m glad there are people that are interested,’’ he said, “because this is part of American history.’’
Little is known about White’s later years. Records indicate he lived in Harlem but spent the last six years of his life at the now-shuttered state hospital in Central Islip. It is not known where or how long he may have lived on Long Island, which produced Hall of Fame players Carl Yastrzemski and Craig Biggio. White was 87 at his death, which was attributed to a pulmonary embolism.
In 2014, White’s grave received a headstone through the efforts of the Grave Marker Project, whose members search for the graves of Negro Leagues players. Illinois anesthesiologist Jeremy Krock, a member of the project, said, “These players played in anonymity and I don’t want them to spend eternity in anonymity in unmarked graves.’’
White is forgotten no longer.
The 26 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame elected by Negro League committees, with their primary team, their start and Negro League finish on the plaques in Cooperstown:
Cool Papa Bell, CF St. Louis Stars 1922-50
Ray Brown, P Homestead Grays 1930-48
Willard Brown, CF Kansas City Monarchs 1935-58
Oscar Charleston, CF Pittsburgh Crawfords 1915-44
Andy Cooper,P Kansas City Monarchs 1920-41
Martin Dihigo, P Cuban Stars 1925-37
Josh Gibson, C Homestead Grays 1930-46
Frank Grant, 2B Cuban Giants 1886-1903
Pete Hill, CF Chicago American Giants 1899-1925
*Monte Irvin, LF Newark Eagles 1937-48
Judy Johnson, 3B Hilldale Daisies 1923-37
Buck Leonard, 1B Homestead Grays 1933-50
Pop Lloyd, SS New York Lincoln Giants 1906-32
Biz Mackey, C Hilldale Giants 1920-47
Jose Mendez, P Cuban Stars 1908-26
*Satchel Paige, P Kansas City Monarchs 1927-47
Luis Santop, C Hilldale Daisies 1909-26
Mule Suttles, 1B Newark Eagles 1923-44
Ben Taylor, 1B Indianapolis ABCs 1908-29
Cristobal Torriente, CF Chicago American Giants 1913-32
Jud Wilson, 3B Philadelphia Stars 1922-45
*Also played in majors.
Effa Manley Newark Eagles 1935-48
Alex Pompez New York Cubans 1916-50
Cum Posey Homestead Grays 1911-46
Sol White Philadelphia Giants 1887-1926
J.L. Wilkinson Kansas City Monarchs 1920-48