Samuel Lambeth “Sam” White, who played one game at catcher for the 1919 Boston Braves, was born in Greater Preston, Yorkshire, England, on August 23, 1893. White was the last English-born major leaguer born in the nineteenth century. His parents were James and Hannah (Lambeth) White. Little is known about Sam White’s time in England, but US census records indicate that the family immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1904. The elder White found work as a miner in Knox Township, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, while Hannah appears to have been a homemaker. Sam was the oldest of six children and, according the 1910 census, he followed in his father’s footsteps by going to work as a coal miner.
The beginnings of White’s baseball career are not known, but it appears that he began catching for semipro teams in nearby towns such as Rossiter and Ramsey. By 1913, White appears to have been catching for the DuBois semipro team and an independent team from Weston, Pennsylvania. His professional career began in 1914 with the Battle Creek Crickets of the Class C Southern Michigan League. He was signed in February by manager Ed McKernan and was described as one of “Battle Creek’s greatest prospects” by the Kalamazoo Gazette.1 At 6-feet and 185 pounds, young Sam had a catcher’s build. He played in several exhibition games in April, and various reports suggested he was a sure thing to make the team. Somewhat surprisingly, White was released on April 27 on the eve of Opening Day, owing to a lack of experience.2
According to the contract card in White’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, he resumed his professional career in 1916 with the Wellsville (New York) Rainmakers of the Class D Interstate League. The contract card indicates he was released on May 19 and it is unclear if he appeared in any games with the club. There is no record of White playing professionally or semiprofessionally in 1917. Around this time, White and Edna Mae McIntyre, a native of Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, were married. Edna gave birth to the couple’s only child, Carlisle Earl, in 1917. In 1918 White may have been back catching for semipro DuBois. He continued working in the mines through his baseball career, and his 1918 draft registration card lists him as a miner employed with the Clearfield Bituminous Corporation in Rossiter.
White’s entry into the major leagues remains mysterious. There is no record of where he was playing before joining the Boston Braves in September 1919, and no mention of his signing with the club before making his debut on September 8 against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Forbes Field. It appears that White, as a leading semipro player from the region around Pittsburgh, was given a tryout with the Braves. The 1919 season was a rough one for the Braves, who were in sixth place with a 49-68 record when White made his debut subbing for Hank Gowdy in the sixth inning of Boston’s 10-0 loss to Pittsburgh in the first game of a doubleheader. White came to bat in the seventh inning against the Pirates’ Frank Miller, who was in the midst of a five-hit shutout. Sam grounded out to Pirates’ first baseman Charlie Grimm to end the inning. The game took only 1 hour and 22 minutes to complete.
White’s defensive statistics for his major-league debut are the source of some confusion. Official records credit him with a remarkable five assists in two innings of work behind the plate. However, both the box score and the play-by-play account that appeared the next day in the Pittsburgh Daily Post indicate that White had only two assists.3
Regardless, Sam made enough of a positive impression that the Braves signed him to a contract for the 1920 season. The Pittsburgh Daily Post noted that White worked “in the mines of Rossiter, Pa., where he soon became a star among the independents.”4
White left for spring training with the Braves in Columbus, Georgia, in late February of 1920 and was with the club for several weeks until he was sold on March 20 to the Greensboro Patriots of the Class D Piedmont League, which was in its first year of existence. White’s time with Greensboro was brief; he was loaned to the rival Durham Bulls in late April. The burly catcher would prove to be a fan favorite in Durham. In July the Boston Herald noted that he was “making rapid progress as a ball player … (and) should be a good major league prospect next season.”5 White’s feistiness also drew notice; he was fined $8.45 after an argument with an umpire in late July.6 The Bulls finished the season in last place with a record of 53-65. (Greensboro finished in first place.) White led all catchers in the league with 104 games played and hit .224 with one home run. He had a .956 fielding percentage.
White’s first full season in professional baseball closed with a fond farewell from the Durham fans as he and his family left to return to their home in Brookfield, Pennsylvania. The Durham Morning Herald described the scene:
“As the White family prepared to board a train at the Union station, a group of loyal fans presented the hard working catcher with a purse containing $78. The money, the fans told White, was a token of the appreciation and esteem in which he is held locally. Mrs. White cried because she was proud of her baseball playing husband, and Mr. White gulped several times as he thanked the fans. It is problematical whether White will come back to Durham next season, as he is the property of the Boston Braves. He declared before getting on the train, however, that it will not be his fault if he doesn't return.”7
On September 27 White’s rights were returned to pennant-winning Greensboro, who had loaned him to Durham that spring. He was reserved by Greensboro and 1921 looked promising. In a look at the coming season, the Greensboro Daily News spoke glowingly of the backstop:
“With Sam White ... behind the rubber (manager Charlie) Carroll should feel well protected. White, a gigantic man, possesses all the requisites for a good catcher. He hits well, throws accurately and keeps his head up throughout a game. He is, of course young, but he is smart.”8
White was expected to report for spring training in late March, but on April 5 the Greensboro Daily News reported that “Sam White ... has notified the management that he will not report. Nothing is known for certain about White’s plans but it is believed that he will manage an independent club.”9
White’s contract card indicates that he was suspended on April 8 by Greensboro. He was signed by the Wahpeton-Breckenridge Twins of the Class D Dakota League on May 5, but was released by the club on June 7. There is no record of his appearing with the Twins and by July, he appears to have been catching for the Indiana, Pennsylvania, team.
White never played again professionally, and appears to have played for local semipro teams until his premature death at the age of 36. He succumbed on November 11, 1929, to a blood clot in an artery in his foot. White was survived by his wife, Edna, and son, Carlisle. White was buried at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.
1 “Battle Creek Signs White, Will Sell Catcher Nevitt,” Kalamazoo Gazette, February 22, 1914.
2 “Carpenter Ready for Battle Creek Opener,” Adrian (Michigan) Daily Telegram, April 27, 1914.
3 “Buccaneer Bingles,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, September 9, 1919.
4 “Buccaneer Bingles,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, September 10, 1919.
5 “By Bob Dunbar,” Boston Herald, July 29, 1920.
7 “Fans Give Purse to Local Player,” Durham (North Carolina) Morning Herald, September 11, 1920.
8 “Clubs in the Piedmont League Are Assembling Strong Teams for the 1921 Season,” Greensboro (North Carolina) Daily News, March 6, 1921.
9 “Patriots Play Seven Innings of Real Ball,” Greensboro Daily News, April 5, 1921.