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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 Lee 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. Despite idolizing baseball sporting legend Willie Mays, ironically, baseball was not one of the sports Solomon participated in much as a youngster. 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 individual 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.

JLS-at-DartmouthSolomon entered Dartmouth College in 1974 as a history major and graduated with honors, but not before setting school records for the sixty-yard dash, fifty-five-meter dash, four-by-two-hundred-meter-relay (records which still stand today), 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. When he graduated in 1978, Solomon had 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. as one of the firm’s first African American attorneys. After eight years there, he 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.

He believes that sports help create strong character in people— appreciating hard work and perseverance. Early on Solomon discovered his talent for building bridges. These bridges increased revenues for the organizations he represented and provided solutions to societal issues.  He mentored and managed based on how much accomplishment could come from applying a willingness to learn and succeed.  He demonstrated that building these bridges was only successful when individuals are willing to pursue big ideas, smartly map and remap the steps to connecting people of strength to the programs, and never stopping until results were achieved across the board. As an intelligent man, he knew he had to step up to the plate and be that visionary to deliver results and change.

 

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 Texas. 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. She 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 1991 when she was sixteen, she moved to live with Solomon permanently.

Chronology

1956
Born in Sugarland, Texas

1978
Graduated from Dartmouth College

1981
Graduated from Harvard Law School

1981
First African American attorney to work for Baker and Hostetler

1990
Made partner at Baker and Hostetler

1991
Appointed Director of Minor League Operations of Major League Baseball

1997
Successfully negotiated contract talks between Major and Minor Leagues

2001
Promoted to Major League Baseball Senior VP of Baseball Operations

2004
Listed number seven in Sports Illustrated’s “101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports”

2005
Promoted to Executive VP of Baseball Operations
Listed in Black Enterprise’s “Most Influential Blacks in Sports”

2010
Appointed to Major League Baseball Executive VP of Baseball Development.

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 MLB 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.