March 28, 2011
Offered here is the earliest known baseball photo of Negro League pioneer Sol White: a team photo of the integrated Bellaire Globes taken in 1884. The formal studio photograph pictures all nine members of the club, along with the team's manager, posing together. Each of the players is identified in black fountain pen along the base of the mount. The notation, "Bellaire Globes 1884," is written in black fountain pen along the top of the mount, and the year, "1884," is written along the base of the photo itself. White was just 16 years old at the time of this photo and the Bellaire Globes, a local amateur team from his hometown of Bellaire, Ohio, were the first organized club he ever played with. White was the only black player on the club during this brief period of integration, but his skills on the diamond were obviously sufficient to at least temporarily shield him from the standard backlash of bigotry and prejudice expressed by the public at the time. This extraordinary piece was first introduced to the collecting community in 2008, when it appeared as Lot 1173 in REA's Spring auction (realized $9,400). At the time, it was a newly discovered piece and came with impeccable provenance: It originates from the personal collection of Bob Westlake, who was the catcher on the Bellaire Globes and is pictured in the photo, as is his twin brother, George. (A member of the Westlake family was the original consignor in 2008.) To the best of our knowledge, this is the only original surviving example of this team photograph. Sol White and Bob Westlake later played together again in 1887 with the Wheeling Green Stockings of the Ohio State League (later renamed the Tri-State League), which would be considered a minor-league club today. White joined the club on July 2 on the recommendation of player/manager T. M. Nicholson, who had been White's teammate a few years earlier on the Bellaire Globes. Nicholson knew of White's ability and quickly put him in the starting lineup at third base in the hopes of improving his club's fortunes. White easily justified Nicholson's confidence in him and finished the season with a .381 average.
Unfortunately, at almost the exact same time as White's debut with Wheeling, another incident was taking place in Newark, New Jersey, that would impact his and every other black ballplayer's fate for decades to come. On July 14, 1887, the Chicago White Stockings, managed by Cap Anson, were scheduled to play an exhibition game against Newark, whose members included two black ballplayers, Moses Fleetwood Walker (the first black player in the Major Leagues) and George Stovey. Anson, who was baseball's reigning superstar at the time as well as an affirmed racist, would not allow his team to take the field unless Walker and Stovey were removed from the lineup. Anson's influence at the time was so great that his demands were quickly met by the Newark club. On that same night, perhaps galvanized by Anson's defiant stance, team owners voted to adopt a new resolution that would ban the signing of any new black ballplayers. Organized baseball's "Gentleman's Agreement" to not allow black ballplayers to play in the same leagues as white ballplayers evolved, almost overnight, into an accepted formal policy, supported by the most powerful ruling forces of organized baseball. As a result of that agreement, Sol White was "cut" from the Wheeling roster the following season. White did play with a few less-prominent white ball clubs over the next few years but the era of integration in baseball quickly ended by the early 1890s. Undaunted, White became one of the key early pioneers of black baseball, not just as a player, but also as an organizer, manager, and historian. During the 1890s, White was a member of the top independent black teams, and later, in 1902, he founded the Philadelphia Giants, the top black ball club of the early 1900s, for which he served as player/manager through the 1909 season. In addition to being instrumental in the formation and success of the Negro Leagues, he made yet another great contribution to the game with his 1907 book, Sol White's Official Base Ball Guide. That guide documented the rise and history of black baseball up until that time. It is the earliest and most important manuscript chronicling the early years of black baseball. Much of the early history of black baseball is documented nowhere else and has been preserved by only by this historic work. Even the publishing of this book was a brave expression of civil rights, foreshadowing all that would follow relating to the great future success of the Negro Leagues, and beyond. Sol White lived to witness Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier in 1947, an event further validating his lifelong efforts. He passed away in 1955, but remained a legend and promoter of the game even in the relative obscurity of his final years. White was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
The photo (7.5 x 5.75 inches) displays exceptional clarity and contrast, and is in Excellent to Mint condition overall, with the date "1884" printed in the foreground. The cardboard mount (9 x 7 inches) has various imperfections including team and player identifications, a chip in the bottom right corner, as well as a few minor chips and tears. The mount, in turn, has been affixed to a large piece of paper (from the Westlake family scrapbook), the other side of which displays a cut newspaper article relating to Cy Young's eighty-first birthday celebration (Bob Westlake was a good friend of Cy Young). The Westlake family told us that Bob Westlake often lent his photographs to newspapers for stories, and included is a 1949 Wheeling, Virginia, newspaper article on Sol White, published in the wake of Jackie Robinson's great success in the majors, entitled "Wheeling Club Boasted First Negro in Pro Baseball," which is illustrated by this very photograph provided by Bob Westlake.