The Deacon is a truly historic baseball figure. He began the game early enough to have played, and lost, against the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869. He played three championship seasons with Harry Wright‘s Boston Red Stockings of the National Association. He was with Cap Anson‘s White Stockings for the first championship of the National League. And, as an ardent supporter of players’ rights, he ended his 22-year career as playing owner of Buffalo’s Brotherhood team.
His long face, walrus mustache, and sober mien made him look out of place on the ball field in that rough-and-tumble era, but precisely like the abstemious, nonsmoking, Bible-toting, church-going deacon he was.
Nonetheless, he was the best barehanded catcher of his time, and when he joined Buffalo in 1881, with the great Jack Rowe behind the plate, he became the best third baseman, too. He threw righthanded and batted left.
With the Association Bostons he was, with Al Spalding, Ross Barnes, and Cal McVey, one of baseball’s first Big Four. They defected to Chicago in 1876, but White returned to Boston for his fifth straight pennant in 1877, plus a league-leading average of .387.
For the next three years Deacon and his brother Will, a righthanded, 222-game winner, were a battery for Cal McVey at Cincinnati. Deacon Jim also had an eight-win, eight-loss stint as manager before handing the job back to McVey. In 1881 he and Will went to Buffalo where, with Dan Brouthers, Hardy Richardson, and Rowe, Jim made up a second Big Four. The owners sold the franchise to Detroit interests in 1886. The lads found Ned Hanlon, Sam Thompson, and Charley Bennett already there, and a Wolverine pennant was won in 1887. In postseason play they thrashed Chris von der Ahe’s Browns in a 15-game “World Series” that traveled through ten cities.
Whiter and Jack Rowe bought back into Buffalo in 1889, although Pittsburgh had rights to their services. After a bitter legal fight they were forced to play for the Alleghenys, a situation that gave impetus to formation of the Players’ League. When the Brotherhood collapsed, Deacon, then 42, retired, honored and respected by all who knew him.