New Book By Famed SCU Baseball Player

Fascinated by the little-known story of William Edward White, a Black man who passed as white to play professional baseball in 1879, Al Strane ’69 wrote a novel about it.

Editor’s note [April 21, 2021] : In the printed version of this story, William Edward White is referred to as the son of a white man and his “servant.” White was the son of a white man and a woman he enslaved—a mixed-race person named Hannah. Calling her his “servant” implies a freedom that she did not have. Any sexual relationship between a person and someone with complete authority over their life, body, and those of their family members cannot be considered consensual. We regret our mistake and that we did not fully explain the racial and social history behind White’s story. We are reviewing our internal processes, while examining our own inherent biases and acknowledging our blind spots. We are sorry, and promise to do better.

Long before 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, there was another Black player who beat him to the plate. In a single game, on a summer day, in 1879. Except for one critical detail. Nineteen-year-old William Edward White, the son of a white man and an enslaved woman from Milner, Georgia, did not identify himself as Black.

That story, published on Jan. 30, 2004 in The Wall Street Journal, stunned Alvin Strane ’69, and his identical twin Albert Strane ’69 when they read it 17 years ago.

The brothers—among the first Black baseball players at SCU—thought they knew their baseball history, especially that of the Negro Leagues.

“I said to myself: ‘Who in the heck is William Edward White?’” Alvin recalls. “And then you follow the storyline, and he just … vanished.”

Work by the Society for American Baseball Research revealed White had been a student and ball player at Brown University.

When the first baseman on the National League’s Providence Grays broke his finger, the team tapped White to fill in for one game on June 21, 1879, which he did with aplomb, according to press reports.

Alvin and Albert Strane with Willie Mays
“Say hey!” Alvin and Albert Strane ’69 pose in their Bronco pinstripes with baseball legend Willie Mays. Photo courtesy SCU Archives.

But at some point, White left the university without graduating, moved to Chicago, settled down, had a family. Apparently for much of his life, the biracial Georgia native had passed as a white man.

Strane’s curiosity about what happened to White—who died in 1937—led him to write a fictional mystery/love story inspired by White’s life. The Jersey was published in July 2020.

The retired General Motors executive suspects White’s secret was a burden. “But it’s what you would have to do,” says Strane, “to stay under the surface” of society.

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