On September 16, 1968, Tolia “Tony” Solaita made his Major League debut with the New York Yankees becoming the first (and only) Major Leaguer player born in American Samoa. Though he’d only play in one game that season, Solaita would again make it to the majors after another five years in the minors.
Solaita was born in Nuuuli, American Samoa, on January 15, 1947. Like many American Samoans, Tony and his family moved to Hawaii when Tony was 8 years old. Tony learned how to play baseball in Hawaii (having played cricket in American Samoa). By the time he was in high school, the Solaita family was living in the San Francisco Bay area, and it was there that Tony would be recruited by New York Yankees’ scout Dolph Camilli.
Tony Solaita began his professional baseball career with the Florida Rookie League Yankees in Sarasota, FL, in 1965. The 17-year old Solaita had a .255 batting average in 45 games that year. Over the next three years, Solaita would play for several A-level Yankees teams including the Gulf Coast League Yankees, Greensboro Yankees, Binghamton Triplets, Fort Lauderdale Yankees, and High Point-Thomasville Hi-Toms. Solaita hit 49 home runs for the Hi-Toms in 1968, earning a September call-up. Between 1969 and 1972, Solaita played for AA and AAA teams in Tucson, AZ; Columbus, GA; West Haven, CT; Syracuse, NY; and Charleston, WV. In 1974, Solaita earned his second trip to the majors with the Kansas City Royals. His career later took him to the California Angels (1976-1978), Montreal Expos (1979), Toronto Blue Jays (1979), and Nippon Ham Fighters (1980-1983).
After his retirement, Solaita returned to American Samoa where he focused on developing youth baseball teams. He partnered with his brother Ben who served as a coach for the American Samoa national baseball team and was also the president of the American Samoa Baseball Association. Sadly, Tony Solaita was murdered in February 1990. Ben Solaita died as the result of a stroke in January 2011.
Tony and Ben weren’t the only members of the Solaita family involved in baseball. Before Tony was signed by the Yankees, their older brother Tulafona Solaita, Jr., had been invited to try out for the San Francisco Giants. Both Tony’s son Duke and Ben’s son Charles played for the American Samoa national team in the 1999 Oceania Championship. Duke also played for American Samoa in the 2007 South Pacific Games.