The story of the first black major leaguer. Maybe. Kinda.

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Fascinating article at Slate today about William Edward White, who played a single game for the Providence Grays in 1879. The significance? White was the first black man to play a game in major league baseball.

Or was he? That’s the subject of the article (the fact of White’s lone game has been reported for over a decade). You see, White was born to a white father and a mixed-race mother who, at the time, was his father’s slave in pre-Civil War Georgia. By law and general social rules of the time, that made White black.

But White’s father and mother — who stayed together as a family and raised White — sent him north for his education in the 1870s and, as was often the case for mixed-race people of the time, White passed as white. Indeed, he did so for the rest of his life, being listed as white in his educational records, census records and death certificate. And, one presumes, the Providence Grays — who picked White up from Brown University for his single game — assumed he was white as well.

Which leads to the interesting philosophical/social/historical question of whether or not one should consider White to be the first black baseball player. On the one hand you can say it’s merely a matter of biographical/genetic information: White was partially black and, per the understanding of the times, would be considered black by all who knew his heritage, ergo he was. On the other hand, we don’t laud Jackie Robinson simply because he was able to be slotted into a demographic group when he played. He laud him for his bravery and leadership in breaking a barrier and visibly and forcefully righting a wrong. White wasn’t likely trying to do anything other than live his life and play some baseball. Which he did, based on the available evidence, while thinking of himself as a white man.

There’s a lot of interesting discussion in the linked article from historians and the like. It’s a truly fascinating conversation about identity and race and social convention. And, of course, baseball.

Brewers promote David Stearns from GM to president of baseball operations

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It used to be that the top dog in a team’s baseball operations department was the general manager. That has changed over the past several years with some combination of title inflation, a genuine addition of supervisory layers and, on some level, employe poaching insurance leading to the top dog now being called, usually, a “president of baseball operations.”

Brewers’ general manager David Stearns is the latest to assume that tile, as the club just announced that he has been promoted to Milwaukee’s president of baseball operations. He has also received a contract extension of unknown length.

Not a big shock given how well the Brewers did in 2018, winning the NL Central title and playing in the NLCS. It’s also worth noting — with a nod to that “employee poaching insurance” item above — that Stearns has drawn some interest from other organizations. It’s thus not unfair to see the promotion is both a thanks for a job well done and a means of keeping other teams’ hands off of him, as employees are generally not given permission to interview for lateral moves, but are given permission to interview for promotions.

The Mudville Nine may have wanted to steal him from Milwaukee, but for Stearns to get a promotion from where he is now would require the creation of some other lofty title.