James “Deacon” White may not be a household name but he was a legend in his own time and now, 123 years after his retirement, he is finally getting his place in Cooperstown. Deacon White was one of the first heroes of professional baseball. He was an outstanding hitter and a bare-handed catcher who revolutionized the position. He was the first catcher to use a rubber pad as a chest protector, which quickly caught on around the many emerging pro leagues. He eventually made the transition to third base where he continued to be successful.
White played for the Buffalo Bisons from 1881 to 1885 and again in 1890 before retiring. He was one of the founding members of the Players League, an organization of teams that fought for more equitable pay as well as benefits for professional baseball players. During his first stint in Buffalo, White played with Dan Brouthers (HOF-1945), Jack Rowe and Hardy Richadson. As the infielders for the Bisons, they were known as baseball’s “Big Four”. All of them went on to play for the Detroit Wolverines where, in 1887, they won the National League pennant together. Before leaving for Detroit in 1886, Deacon White also played with future Hall of Famers Jim O’Rourke (HOF-1945) and Pud Galvin (HOF-1965).
In his time with the Bisons, White hit for a .293 batting average along with a stunning 311 RBIs over 585 games. One of the tall tales associated with Deacon White is that he was the first ever player to record a hit in professional baseball. Whether this is true or not, he was considered to be one of the best hitters of his time.
White also played for the Forest Citys (Cleveland), the Boston Red Stockings, the Chicago White Stockings, the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the manager while playing for both Cleveland and Cincinnati. By the end of his 22 year career, White had tallied 2,067 hits and 988 RBIs. His career batting average was .312. In 2013, Deacon White will become the 20th former Buffalo Bison to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
– Josh Paufler