Hats off to anyone out there in baseball history world who can tick off the accomplishments of Deacon White without running to the record books or the Internet. Of the 10 nominees being considered by the Pre-Integration Era Hall of Fame committee at the winter meetings in early December, White is the least known to to the modern generation of fans.
One of the other nominees, Alfred Reach, is probably only a notch higher on the recognition scale and they are both probably the longest shots to receive the 75 percent of the vote and be elected. At the same time they did record accomplishments in the game worth noting.
White had a 20-year career ending in 1890 with a lifetime batting average of .312. Reach played a few seasons, was a co-founder of the Philadelphia Phillies, but was best known for establishing a sporting goods company and publishing early guidebooks of the sport.
Reach was born in 1840 in London, but moved to the United States with his family as a 1-year-old. They settled in Brooklyn and Reach first played baseball as a teenager for the Brooklyn Eckfords before the Civil War. Although the Cincinnati Red Stockings are regarded as the first team of paid professionals starting in 1869, in 1865 the fledgling Philadelphia Athletics acquired Reach from Brooklyn and agreed to pay him $25 a week. Reach was playing for the A’s long before they were an American League team (at the time they competed in the National Association), but hit just .247 in 83 games over parts of five seasons in the 1870s before retiring.
Not a large man at 5-foot-6 and 155 pounds, Reach threw and batted left-handed while shifting between outfielder and infielder roles on his teams. While regarded a smooth-fielding second baseman, Reach became better known for his activities off the diamond as an executive, sporting goods seller, and as publisher of his renowned “Official Base Ball Guide.”
Respected and renowned enough in Philadelphia to have an historical marker placed in his honor in the downtown area, Reach was the president of the Phillies from 1883 to 1899 while simultaneously founding a sporting goods company that made him wealthy. He was enriched further when he sold the firm to Spalding.
Reach sold his interest in the Phillies in 1903 and was 87 when he died in Atlantic City in 1928.
The 5-11, 175-pound, left-handed hitting White was born in Caton, New York in 1847. Between 1871 and 1890 he played for teams in Cleveland, Boston, Chicago and Detroit. Although the seasons were much shorter, and White sometimes played fewer than 50 games in a year, he did bat more than .300 12 times. In 1875 and 1877 he led his league in hitting. White three times led his league in RBIs, as well.
Playing so long ago the rules were drastically different, one of White’s notable attributes was his skill as a bare-handed catcher. White later moved to third base. Born James Laurie, White acquired the nickname “Deacon” because of his comparatively holy behavior as a church-going, non-smoker.
When White began playing there was not even a Major League in existence that is currently recognized. However, he was one of the charter players of the National League and played for 15 years in that circuit. White played on five championship teams straddling the old National Association and the young National League. He died in 1939 at age 91.