One of the ten names – the least known of the ten – on last year’s pre-WWII roster for Hall of Fame consideration, Deacon White was a great catcher at the time baseball was in its infancy. He played far more games at third base but was a below average defender at the hot corner while being an exceptional backstop, thus my categorizing White as a catcher.
Deacon began his career with the 1871 Cleveland Forest Citys and is thus regarded as the first Major Leaguer to ever tally a base hit in the organized, professional ranks – playing in the old National Association. In just a 29 game schedule, Deacon hit .322 for Cleveland. After hitting .339 in 1872, Deacon made his way to the Boston Red Stockings – also of the old National Association – and led the league with 60 games played and 66 RBI. Deacon hit .390 for Boston, teaming with the famous Wright Brothers, whom White outhit.
Deacon won a batting title with the Red Stockings in 1875, hitting at a .367 clip. The team finished in first place with an amazing 71-8 record. The roster was loaded with talent. Teaming with White was Hall of Fame shortstop George Wright and his brother, player/manager Harry Wright – also a Hall of Famer. Hall of Famer Orator O’Rourke manned center field while the mound chores fell on legendary hurler Albert Goodwill Spalding – also in the Hall of Fame. Two forgotten heavy hitters: Cal McVey and Ross Barnes joined Deacon in the lineup giving Harry Wright three batters with averages above .350.
When the National League began operation, Deacon jumped with fellow Red Stockings Al Spalding, Cal McVey and Ross Barnes to the Chicago White Stockings. Deacon led the league with 60 RBI but jumped the club and joined the Boston Red Caps of the NL in 1877. Deacon had his career year with the Red Caps, managed by old chum Harry Wright, by leading the league in numerous offensive categories. Playing predominantly at first base, White paced the league in hits, triples, RBI, BA, SA, and total bases. Had there been an MVP Award handed out back then, the hardware would have certainly made its way to Deacon’s hands.
In 1878, Deacon joined his fourth club in as many years, signing on with the Cincinnati Reds. He teamed with brother Will White – one of the finest control pitchers of all-time – to give Cincy fans a tremendous battery. He hit .330 for the Reds in 1879 – second on the club to King Kelly – while catching his brother Will. After a disappointing 1880 season, Deacon left the Reds having been pushed to the bench and signed on with the Buffalo Bisons for the 1881 season.
Deacon spent the bulk of his nomadic playing career in Buffalo where he was converted to third base. Although his best years were behind him, Deacon never hit below .280 in his five year stay with the Bisons. After a seventh place finish in 1885, Deacon left Buffalo and joined the Detroit Wolverines in ’86. The Wolverines finished second with Deacon as their regular third baseman. He was in a rough lineup that also featured Hall of Famers Dan Brouthers and Big Sam Thompson and a stellar double-play duo in Jack Rowe and Sure-Shot Fred Dunlap.
The Wolverines won the pennant in 1887 with Deacon contributing with a .303 BA and 75 RBI. Still productive at the age of 40, Deacon hit .298 for the 1888 Wolverines – his final great season. White ended his career with the Buffalo Bisons of the new Player’s League.
Deacon White doesn’t really have many contemporaries. The fact that he moved around the diamond like Joe Torre has no doubt hindered his chances of making the Hall of fame, since most players in Cooperstown have a set position, but Deacon saw plenty of action at the hot corner and first base as well as 100+ games in the pasture. King Kelly and Buck Ewing can be seen as peers to White: both Hall of Famers played catcher as well as other positions, and Deacon’s .304 career batting average is just three points below Kelly and Ewing. Like with all early players, one must note that there are varying statistical lines for Deacon White. Some venues list him as a .312 career hitter, but I have used the Baseball Encyclopedia for the career stats listed below.
Deacon White’s career stats: G 1,289/R 840/H 1,607/2B 205/3B 73/RBI 756/BA .304/SA .380