Deacon White

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Deacon White.jpg

James Laurie White

  • Bats Left, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 11", Weight 175 lb.

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 2013

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"No man is going to sell my carcass unless I get half" - White's famous and classic comment on refusing to be sold to Pittsburgh

Deacon White was an excellent and ubiquitous player in early baseball, beginning as a player in 1868, playing five good seasons in the National Association from 1871-1875, then playing in the new National League from 1876-1889, and finishing out his career in the Players League in 1890. Starting in 1879, he was always one of the five oldest players in his league. White's famous "carcass" comment is understandable - he played for nine different teams in the 1871-1890 period.

He led the league in batting average twice, in 1875 and 1877.

In 2008, White was on the pre-1943 Veterans Committee ballot for Hall of Fame consideration. He was on the ballot again in 2013, when the committee examined candidates from the pre-integration era. He was one of three candidates elected on December 3, 2012, with his induction taking place the following July.

Early career[edit]

White was born in New York, where baseball was born.

White was not part of the famous Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869-1870, but he did play against them.

He was 23 when the National Association started in 1871, and became a star, performing in above-average fashion in each of the five years of the National Association. He was with the Cleveland Forest Citys in 1871 and 1872, and then the Boston Red Stockings in 1873-1875. The Red Stockings won the pennant each year from 1873 to 1875. White was never the best hitter on his teams, but was one of the better batters, hitting over .300 each year and playing catcher.

Deacon White earned the first hit in the history of Major League Baseball - a double off Bobby Mathews of the Fort Wayne Kekiongas in the first inning of the first game in National Association history on May 4, 1871. This game was the first only because the expected Boston-Washington opener was rained out. White was left on second and the Cleveland Forest Citys were shut out by Mathews, 2 - 0.

Major leagues[edit]

After playing on three pennant winners in the National Association, White went directly to the first pennant winner of the new National League in 1876, playing on the Chicago White Stockings. In 1877, he moved back to Boston, where he was on the pennant-winning Boston Red Caps.

From 1878 to 1880 he was with the Cincinnati Reds, and while they finished in 2nd place in 1878, they gradually dropped out of contention in the next couple of years. His brother Will White played on the team with him, as did (in various years) some of the famous older players, such as Ross Barnes, Cal McVey, Lip Pike, and Andy Leonard, as well as the emerging young star King Kelly.

In 1881, although he was now 33 years old, he was to develop a whole new image with the Buffalo Bisons. Jack Rowe was catching, so White moved to third base. White, Rowe, the young Dan Brouthers and Hardy Richardson became famed as the "Big Four". The Bisons did not, however, win a pennant.

At age 38, White moved to the Detroit Wolverines, and in 1887 the team won the pennant. The "Big Four", now much older, was together there, and Sam Thompson was the big hitting star. The team played a kind of World Series against the St. Louis Browns, the champions of the American Association, and won.

Against his will, White moved to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in 1889, and at age 41 had his first below-average season. White had wanted to play for Buffalo where he and Rowe had purchased financial interests, but Pittsburgh had the rights to him. The bitter dispute was part of the reason that the Players League was formed the following year.

In 1890, White got his wish, playing in Buffalo for the Buffalo Bisons of the Players League, managed for part of the season by Jack Rowe. Dummy Hoy was the hitting star. It was White's last major league season.

Career analysis[edit]

While it's true that White played more games as a third baseman, that's only a result of the schedule slowly expanding by the time that he switched over to the "hot corner." A productive player there, his claim for greatness really rests with his years behind the plate in the National Association and the early years of the National League. Playing an extremely long time for a player of his era, it can be argued that he was the greatest player who caught a significant amount of games in the 19th Century.

He had played only 10 games at third base in his entire career until age 34, when he became a third baseman. The fact that he ended up playing more games at third base than at catcher is in great part a testament to the playing ability that allowed him to stick in the majors through age 42.

Hall of Fame analysis[edit]

One has to wonder why it took Deacon White so long to be elected to the Hall of Fame. It is quite possibly because the voters did not understand his career. For the first eight years of his major league career, he was a terrific catcher (except for 1877 when he was mostly a first baseman), and once a league was formed he led the league twice in batting average and three times in RBI. No MVP awards were given then, but he was clearly the 1877 MVP, when he led the National League in batting, slugging, hits, RBI, total bases, triples, extra base hits, runs created, and OPS+.

Then, in the second part of his career (after playing outfield, first and second base for a couple years), he was an above-average third baseman for eight more seasons, playing as part of the famous "Big Four", and winning a "World's Series" in 1887.

He was also a key part of baseball history, as his personal situation was part of the events leading up to the founding of the Players League.

The similarity scores method does not do justice to White, as it doesn't take into account that there were far fewer games played in the early days of baseball, and it doesn't have any way of evaluating White's play in 1868-1870 before the founding of the National Association. One particular mistake the method makes is to evaluate White as an infielder rather than a catcher because he played more games in the infield as a result of the schedule lengthening over the years. Even so, four of the ten players who are most similar to Deacon White are Hall of Famers, with the real best comparison being his teammate King Kelly who also played many games at catcher albeit in a much shorter career than White had.

The OPS+ score for White, 126, also does not do him justice, because he had a terrific career for the first 8 years as a catcher, and also managed to play eight years at a much lower level at third base. As a catcher, his OPS+ was over 140, while as a third baseman his OPS+ as an elderly player was around 110.

One might compare him to Robin Yount, who had half a career at shortstop that was better than his second half career in the outfield. Or one could compare White to Johnny Bench, whose OPS+ score of 126 is exactly the same as that of White, and who was a catcher whose second career at third base was far shorter than White's second career. One could also compare him to Joe Torre the player, who was a catcher who converted to third base, had a long career and won an MVP award - another player whose credentials have been overlooked, probably because Torre played in the second deadball era, another era which the Hall of Fame voters have poorly understood. Or, if one wished, one could compare White to Tony Perez, since both of them were top players on many pennant winners - although White clearly had more dominance at his best.

White was hurt because he doesn't have 3,000 hits, something achieved by no 19th century player but Cap Anson (who rarely played catcher). In general, players of the 19th century have been short-changed by the Hall of Fame because of its inability to understand who dominated baseball at the time.

He was finally elected to the Hall of Fame in the 2013 election in which the Veterans Committee looked at players from the pre-integration era. He was one of three persons elected on December 3, 2012, with his induction coming the following July. Of the three, he was the only one elected for his performance as a player.


He was a cousin of Elmer White and the brother of Will White. Will was a pitcher who won 40 games three times, and when both of them were with Cincinnati, Will and Deacon sometimes formed a battery as the first brother battery in baseball history. Elmer White and Deacon both played for Cleveland in 1871. In addition to his playing career, Deacon worked as a fill-in umpire in three National League games in 1880.

It is said he was given the name "Deacon" because he really did carry a Bible and embody the qualities that one thinks of in a deacon.

Although he was born right around the time that baseball was invented, he lived long enough to see the entire career of Babe Ruth, almost all of the career of Lou Gehrig, and was alive when Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio started their careers.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Merit retroactively in 1898.

He is said to have believed the Earth to be flat.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 2-time League Batting Average Leader (1875/NA & 1877/NL)
  • NL Slugging Percentage Leader (1877)
  • NL OPS Leader (1877)
  • NL Hits Leader (1877)
  • NL Total Bases Leader (1877)
  • NA Singles Leader (1873)
  • NL Triples Leader (1877)
  • 3-time League RBI Leader (1873/NA, 1876/NL & 1877/NL)
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 2013

Related Sites[edit]

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