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Solomon, Jimmie Lee(1947–) - Baseball executive, Athletics and Academics Pave the Way, From the Playing Field to the Boardroom, Chronology

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Jimmie Lee Solomon established himself as one of the most influential executives in professional sports in the United States. As the executive vice president for baseball operations for Major League Baseball (MLB), Solomon had administrative responsibilities ranging Page 618  from organizing the All-Star game to negotiating legal agreements between the major league franchises and the minor league farming system. Solomon’s stellar college athletic career, law degree from Harvard, and years of experience working in the major leagues assured his success in this position and allowed critics in 2006 to tout him as the next commissioner of MLB.

Jimmie Lee Solomon was born and raised in Thompson, Texas, a small rural community approximately thirty-five miles southwest of Houston, with a population of approximately two hundred people. He and his five siblings grew up under the watchful eye of his father, Jimmie Lee Solomon Sr., his mother, Josephine, and his grandfather, Jeremiah. Solomon’s grandfather, his earliest and most influential role model, was college educated and continually encouraged Jimmie Solomon to excel academically. Solomon’s mother, who worked in the K-Mart in Houston, forty miles away from the family home, also stressed the importance of education. Solomon’s father, however, was a cattle rancher and believed a man’s worth was in what he did with his hands. He expected his sons to follow in his footsteps and become field hands. Bound by the rules of his father’s house, young Solomon and his siblings had to help with the farm. Waking as early as four o’clock in the morning, Solomon would have to put out the hay, pick cotton, and perform other chores. Solomon’s father was a strict disciplinarian and instilled a strong work ethic in his children. However, his experiences in the rural South only made Solomon more determined not to comply with his father’s wishes.

Athletics and Academics Pave the Way

Playing sports became an outlet for the young Solomon. Ironically, baseball was not one of the sports Solomon participated in much as a youngster, despite idolizing sporting legend Willie Mays. Solomon showed great promise as a track athlete and exploited his speed on the football field. By the seventh grade he was already making history in what was still the largely segregated South, becoming the first black to start for the Lamar Junior High School football team; Solomon was their star running back. His success as an athlete continued through high school where he captained both the track and football teams. His prowess on the field was equaled by his performance in the classroom, and these ultimately earned him a scholarship to Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Solomon entered Dartmouth College in 1974 as a history major and graduated with honors, but not before setting a school record for the sixty-meter dash and becoming an All-Ivy sprinter. He also played wide receiver for the football team, catching thirty-seven passes for 420 yards over two seasons. In 1978 when he graduated, Solomon has his sights set on playing professionally in the National Football League (NFL). He was not drafted but got a tryout with the Houston Oilers. To his great disappointment, he was one of the first players cut. Head coach Bum Phillips made it clear that he would have little hope of ever making it to the big league, so Solomon took the coach’s advice and accepted an offer from Harvard to go to law school.

From the Playing Field to the Boardroom

Solomon graduated from Harvard with honors in 1981 and immediately started working for the prestigious law firm Baker and Hostetler, in Washington, D.C. Solomon was the firm’s first black attorney. After eight years at Baker and Hostetler, Solomon became a partner. However, he eventually felt burnt out, so he began looking for another career opportunity, which came in the form of Major League Baseball. At around the same time that Solomon was looking for a new venture, the league was looking to fill the new executive position. While practicing law, Solomon had represented a number of clients in the sporting industry, including the NFL Management Council and some professional athletes and coaches. Solomon’s love of sports had not disappeared, and he even toyed with the idea of becoming a sports agent, so when the offer to interview for the position with the MLB arose, Solomon took it. He applied for the post, was hired as director of minor league operations in 1991, and moved to the MLB’s main offices in New York.


Chronology

1947

Born in Thompson, Texas

1978

Graduates from Dartmouth College

1981

Graduates from Harvard Law School

1982

First black attorney to work for Baker and Hostetler

1990

Makes partner at Baler and Hostetler

1991

Appointed Director of Major League Baseball operations

1995

Promoted to senior vice president of baseball operations

1997

Successfully negotiates contract talks between major and minor leagues

2001

Promoted to executive vice president for baseball operations

2004

Listed number seven in Sports Illustrated’s “101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports”

2005

Listed in Black Enterprise’s “Most Influential Blacks in Sports”

Solomon was responsible for a huge operation, including seventeen minor leagues, with over 170 teams and better than 4,500 players. Upon his appointment, however, Solomon found himself at the center of hostile contract negotiations between the major league franchises and the minor league teams they owned. The minor league teams had traditionally functioned as a farm system for the major league teams, providing a forum where players could be developed and prepared for entry into the majors. Rookies were often brought up to the majors from tryouts with minor league teams. Additionally, athletes recovering from injuries and older athletes who were seeing out the remainder of their contracts found a home in the minor leagues. Before Solomon came on board, there had been contract negotiations in 1990. However, the proceedings had been disastrous and the relationship between the two groups was highly antagonistic.

Solomon set about resolving the conflict and dispelling any concerns the MBL executives had about an African American being able to function effectively when confronted with prejudice in any sectors of the league. Solomon took to the road with the intent of ensuring that major players in baseball could put a face behind the corporate decision-making. He went across the country visiting minor league coaches and managers and their ballparks. With the majority of the key figures in the minor leagues coming from the South or Southwest, Solomon was able to use his own southern background to communicate effectively and engender smooth working relationships.

Back in the office, Solomon was busy scrutinizing the 1990 professional baseball agreement. Solomon’s legal expertise enabled him to iron out the flaws in the agreement that were causing trouble between the groups. Solomon was largely responsible for the successful completion of negotiations in 1997. Issues regarding player contracts, financing, and the renovation of minor league facilities were addressed, and the negotiations were heralded as a groundbreaking event in baseball. Forcing the majors to invest in more state-of-the-art facilities and better-kept arenas attracted an increased number of fans around the country. Indeed, during Solomon’s tenure, attendance at minor league baseball games rose dramatically as did the value of teams and the players’ salaries.

Personal Life Takes New Direction

Solomon never married. His father died of a heart attack in 1997 and his mother was placed in a nursing home in Virginia. However, an unexpected addition to Solomon’s family came to him during a visit back to his former high school in the late 1980s to receive an alumni award. While there, Solomon was introduced to a teenage girl, his daughter. Tricia, who was being raised by her maternal grandmother, was the result of a brief union Solomon had before he left for college. Subsequently, Tricia began spending summer vacations with her father in Washington, D.C., and, in 1992 when she was seventeen, she moved to live with Solomon permanently.

Solomon’s contribution to the MLB continued unfalteringly, and his accomplishments were rewarded. Solomon was promoted to senior vice president of baseball operations in 1995. Essentially every important decision in baseball passed across his desk. He was responsible for major and minor leagues, international baseball operations, the major league scouting bureau, the Arizona Fall League, and other special projects. One of those projects was the rejuvenation of minority participation in baseball, particularly blacks and Latinos. With the number of black players in the major leagues on par with those during the times of the earlier Negro Leagues, the MLB was looking for ways to bring baseball to the inner cities. Solomon oversaw the project, negotiating deals for the major league franchises to invest in their local communities and providing financial support for new facilities and equipment. The Rookie league, for kids twelve and under, and the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) league, for thirteen to eighteen year olds, were launched in cities across the country. However, Solomon’s vision was larger than just new venues. The new developments are designed to provide educational and vocational opportunities, promoting academic success as well as an appreciation for baseball. Launching the Major League Baseball Youth Academy at Compton College in Compton, California in 2005 was a major landmark in Solomon’s efforts.

Solomon continued to demonstrate his business savvy and leadership ability and was promoted again in 2001, this time to executive vice president of baseball operations; in 2006 he became the highest-ranking minority official in MLB. In addition to his other responsibilities he oversees on-field discipline, security, and facilities management. In the early 2000s, Solomon’s accomplishments continued to mount, and many believed he would be the next commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Solomon, Russell M. - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: Russell M. Solomon, Social and Economic Impact [next] [back] Solomon

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