Extremely significant Imperial team cabinet photograph picturing the 1887 Wheeling Green Stockings Base Ball Club with Sol White. This is an extremely impressive professional photographer's cabinet card in terms of quality, contrast, and size. Though it does not feature a Major League team, it is nevertheless, without question, one of the most historically significant nineteenth-century baseball team cabinet photographs in existence. This Imperial team cabinet photo features Hall of Fame Negro League pioneer Sol White as a member of the integrated Wheeling Green Stockings Base Ball Club in 1887. The team photo pictures fourteen members of the Wheeling Green Stockings posing together in uniform, in a formal studio setting. Sol White, the only black player on the team, is pictured standing, second player on the left. It is the only original team cabinet photograph featuring Sol White as a player that we have ever seen.
This large-format professional studio cabinet card card was saved for 121 years in the personal collection of Wheeling Green Stockings catcher Bob "Gamey" Westlake. (It was sold at REA in 2008 by Westlake's great-grandson, and has been consigned to this auction directly by the original purchaser at that auction.) Bob Westlake, who is pictured in the photo seated on the far right, was a very accomplished professional ballplayer in the 1880s and 1890s, played on the 1887 Green Stockings of Wheeling, West Virginia, in the Ohio State League, alongside the legendary Sol White, in White's only season on this historic integrated team, just before black ballplayers were banned from professional baseball. In this photo White is captured in the calm before the storm that would propel him to his destiny and life's work.
The Wheeling Green Stockings of the Ohio State League (later renamed the Tri-State League) would be considered a minor league club today. White was just nineteen years old at the time of this photo. He joined the club on July 2nd on the recommendation of player/manager T. M. Nicholson, who had been Sol White's teammate a few years earlier on the Bellaire Globes, an amateur club from White's hometown. 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 Sol 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 se and history of black baseball up until that time. It is the earliest and most important manuscriptstance, team owners voted to adopt a new resolution that would ban the signing of any new black ballplayers. Organized baseball's "Gentlemen'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, History of Colored Baseball
. That book documented the rise and history of black baseball up until that time. It is the earliest and most important work chronicling the early years of black baseball. Much of the early history of black baseball is documented nowhere else and has been preserved 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.
A period matting (not affixed and removable) accompanies the cabinet photograph and bears both the name of the team and the year along the top border ("Wheeling Base Ball Club - 1887"), while each of the players (along with respective position) is identified along the bottom border of the matting: "Nicholson Manager, Baily, C., White 3rd B., Bell 1st B.. Spidel RF, Sullivan P, Stenzel C, Kimber P, Mallory P, Crogan LF, Westlake C, Nichol CF, Smurthwait SS, and Dunn P."
The mounted photograph (8.75 x 6 inches) itself is in Near Mint condition; the green cabinet-card mount (9.75 x 6.75 inches) is blank-backed, has a single small tack hole along the top border, and just a hint of light corner wear. The original red trim along the bevel edge of the thick cabinet-card mount is virtually undisturbed. The photographer's name and city ("Parsons - Wheeling, W.Va.") is printed on the mount along the left border. The word "Imperial" also appears printed on this border, referring to the style of the large-format cabinet-card photograph. The cabinet photograph is in overall Excellent to Mint condition. Reserve $2,500. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $17,625
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