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James Laurie "Deacon" White (December 7 1847 - July 7 1939) was an American baseball player who was one of the principal stars during the first two decades of the sport's professional era. The outstanding catcher of the 1870s during baseball's barehanded period, he caught more games than any other player during the decade, and was a major figure on five consecutive championship teams from 1873 to 1877 – three in the National Association (NA), in which he played throughout its five-year existence from 1871–1875, and two in the National League (NL), which was formed as the first recognized major league in 1876, partially as a result of White and three other stars moving from the powerhouse Boston Red Stockings to the Chicago White Stockings. Although he was already 28 when the NL was established, White played 15 seasons in the major leagues, completing a 23-year career at the top levels of the sport.
In 1871, White was the first batter to come to the plate in the National Association, the first professional baseball league. After compiling a .347 batting average over five NA seasons, he led the NL in runs batted in (RBI) in its first two seasons of play, and also led the league in batting (.387), slugging average, hits, triples and total bases in a brief shift to first base in 1877. In his mid-30s he became an effective third baseman when the toil of catching had become too great, and was a major force on the championship Detroit Wolverines team of 1877, batting .303 at age 39. Over the 20-year period from 1871 to 1890, White batted .312 and had more RBI (977) than any player except Cap Anson, and also ranked fourth in career games (1,560), at bats (6,624), hits (2,066) and total bases (2,595). He also ended his career ranking fourth in major league history in games (826) and total chances (3,016) at third base, fifth in assists (1,618), and sixth in putouts (954) and double plays (118). His brother Will was a noted major league pitcher, and his teammate from 1877 to 1880.
Born in Caton, New York, Deacon White's pro career began in 1868 with the Cleveland Forest Citys club, at a time when no team was entirely composed of professional players. He earned the first hit in baseball's first fully professional league – a double off of Bobby Mathews of the Fort Wayne Kekiongas in the first inning of the first game in National Association history on May 4, 1871; he also made the first catch. His long career allowed him to play with many of the legendary figures of 19th-century professional baseball. White played on the great National Association Boston Red Stockings teams of the early 1870s, and also played with Cap Anson and Al Spalding in Chicago, King Kelly in Cincinnati, Dan Brouthers in Buffalo, and Ned Hanlon and Sam Thompson in Detroit, as well as Jake Beckley and Pud Galvin in Pittsburgh.
White led his league in batting average twice (including the NA in 1875), and in RBI three times (including the NA in 1873); in 1953, Roy Campanella became the first catcher since White in 1876 to lead his league in RBI. White started out early enough to have played against the undefeated Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869, baseball's first all-professional team. He was considered the best barehanded catcher of his time, as well as one of the best third baseman during the second half of his career; his combined total of games caught in the NA and NL was eventually passed by Pop Snyder in 1881. On May 16, 1884 White recorded 11 assists at third base, which remains the major league record for a nine-inning game although eight other players have since tied the mark. To top it all off, in the rough-and-tumble 19th-century baseball era, White really was a nonsmoking, Bible-toting, church-going deacon.
White's playing career ended after the 1890 season. He remained in baseball managing a number of minor league clubs including the Elmira Gladiators of the New York-Pennsylvania League (1891), the McAlister Minors of the Oklahoma-Arkansas-Kansas League (1907), the Tulsa Oilers of the Oklahoma-Kansas League (1908), and the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada League (1914).
According to Lee Allen in The National League Story (1961), White was one of the last people to believe that the earth is flat. He tried and failed to convince his teammates that they were living on a flat plane and not a globe; they ridiculed him. Then one asked to be convinced, and the Deacon gave him an argument suited to the hypothesis that the earth is not really turning. He convinced the teammate but the argument would not prove that the earth is not a sphere.
White died in in 1939 in Aurora, Illinois at the age of 91 and is buried at Restland Cemetery in Mendota, Illinois. He had been greatly disappointed over not having been invited to the opening ceremonies to the Baseball Hall of Fame that summer, having been completely overlooked in the voting for inductees.
In August 2008, he was named as one of ten former players who began their careers before 1943 to be considered by the Veterans Committee for induction into the Hall of Fame in 2009; although he fell short in final voting, he received the most votes of any player whose career ended before 1940.
- List of major league players with 2,000 hits
- List of Major League Baseball players with 1000 runs
- List of Major League Baseball RBI champions
- List of Major League Baseball batting champions
- List of Major League Baseball triples champions
- 1887 Detroit Wolverines season
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference
- Baseball Hall of Fame: Versatile White Not Forgotten By History
- BaseballLibrary.com - biography, career highlights and SABR bibliography
|National League RBI Champion|
|National League Batting Champion|
|Cincinnati Reds (1876-1880) Managers|