The Deacon of Baseball

More than a century after his last game a baseball pioneer was immortalized.  His legacy stood strong against time.  He was born not far from Cooperstown and yesterday his family returned to his native New York where he was enshrined as a premier player during baseballs infancy.  There are many credits to his name, first batter and base hit in a professional game, revolutionized the approach to catching, and known as a consummate gentleman.  His stats were matched by no catcher for 63 years.  It took seven decades after his death to be recognized for his accomplishments.  Deacon was more than a superstar he was an ambassador to the game and lived up to his name on and off the field.

Deacon, White, Baseball, Detroit, Out of the three inductees in this years Class of 2013 I found myself drawn towards “Deacon” White.  I had more in common with Deacon than the others.  All three were inspiring but Deacon rose to the top of my favorites of all-time.  If I tried hard enough I’m sure I could find similarities with anybody I come across.

  • Deacon was a bare-handed catcher.
  • Played the game in its vintage post civil-war era.
  • Later in his career he made the transition to third base.
  • He retired near Aurora, Illinois with his family until he died at the age of 91.
  • He read the Bible, drank water and didn’t swear.

I’m no Deacon White, but I found it interesting we had a few things in common.

  • I began my baseball career as a catcher.
  • I played on a vintage Civil War era baseball team in Northern Virginia just like Deacon played
  • When I transitioned to competitive and recreational softball I moved to third base.
  • I grew up in central Illinois near the hometown of Raymond William Schalk another Hall of Fame defensive catcher elected to the Hall of Fame in 1955, who was the next generation ball player after Deacon.  Deacon lived in Aurora not far from my hometown and Ray Schalk.
  • I read the Bible and drink water daily, but do not posses the no swearing quality, I’m working on it.

Deacon was a man of principles, renowned integrity and honesty.  He was known as Deacon for his spiritual nature.  Base ball in the last 19th Century had its performance enhancing drugs like today.  Deacon was known as a clean player while others took exotic elixirs like monkey testosterone and ox brain.  The sport was riddled with its rough and tough players.  One of the last bare-handed catchers, he was tough but he was a man of character.  He was firm in his beliefs, thinking the world was flat and was dismissed for it.  He tried to convince fellow players by throwing a ball up into the air and it always fell to the same spot from where he threw it.  Proving to himself the earth wasn’t rotating.  In 1890, Deacon and Jack Rowe were being sold to Pittsburgh and he was quoted famously.

“We ain’t worth it.  Rowe’s arm is gone.  I’m over 40 and my fielding ain’t so good, though I can still hit some.  But I will say this.  No man is going to sell my carcass unless I get half.” 

They received the pay they requested and later that year after similar complaints by ballist the players union was formed.

Men like Deacon are rare, he was a humble man who played the game he loved and stood for his beliefs, not giving into the games fast life and fame.  In his last year, 1939, he wasn’t invited to the opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame or elected to its coveted ranks.  He died shortly afterwards.  It’s surprising that it took baseball this long to recognize him, but it’s fitting that they would choose him this year, a year where no other modern or living player was elected to the hall of fame when so many on the ballot had played during the questionable era of performance enhancing drugs and character.  123 years after his last game Deacons legacy and his influence on the game finally cashed in.  Maybe this is a statement by baseball for the next generation of ball players.

Who will stand out in future years as the Deacon of Baseball?
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