“The ‘Deacon’ Seemed to Have Been Entirely Overlooked”

6 Sep

Deacon White died on July 7, 1939, just after being snubbed for inclusion in the Hall of Fame—a move that The Sporting News, among others, had campaigned for.

The Associated Press said, “By strange coincidence,” they had sent a reporter to interview the 91-year-old on “the eve of his death.”

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Deacon White

White was living on his daughter’s summer home, 45 miles west of Chicago:

“The gentle tapping of a cane on the stairs became more distinct.

“In the living room doorway, presently, appeared a bent, aging figure—James ‘Deacon’ White, 92 years old [sic], and the oldest living player of baseball, which this year is celebrating its centennial.  The ‘Deacon’ seemed to have been entirely overlooked in the hullabaloo.

“Slowly, the bespectacled old gentleman lowered himself into his favorite chair.  Almost as old as the game itself, the ‘Deacon’ was hard of hearing, his memory was uncertain, but he loved to talk about the game he learned from a union soldier, just returned from the Civil War.”

The reporter, Charles Dunkley, said, “White’s gnarled fingers—he was a barehanded catcher—bore trademarks of the game.”

White, who appeared in his final game in 1890, said:

“’Batters of my day would have little success with present day pitching, but by golly, you haven’t got any better fielders now than we had in the first days of the game.  We fielded bare handed and that took a lot more skill than the present day fielders need with their gloves.’

“’The science of batting and pitching have advanced a long way in 70 years.  When the game was first originated, we never had fast ball pitching as the pitchers do today, when they wind up or throw overhand or sidearm.’”

White also weighed in on the origins of the curve ball:

“’(Arthur “Candy” Cummings) was one of our first great pitchers and I know that he used to curve a ball as early as 1868, but not in regulation games because the rules prohibited them.’”

White dismissed the suggestion that Fred Goldsmith introduced the curve ball:

“’I knew Goldsmith as an infielder and later as a pitcher,’ recalled the old-timer, ‘and if he threw curves before Cummings, he must have kept it a secret.  But in my day, all the young pitchers were learning to throw curves two years before the rules permitted them.”’ (and presumably before Goldsmith demonstrated the pitch to Henry Chadwick in 1870).

White, who said he hadn’t attended a major league game “in several years,” was scheduled to attend a “a celebration in his honor and in honor of other old time stars,” in Aurora, Illinois.  But died just two days before the event.

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White

White closed his final interview attributing “his longevity to the fact he never smoke or drank,” and:

“(White) always practiced clean, simple living.

“To the present crop of young players, he gave this advice.

“’Live a clean life and keep in condition.  You’ll never regret it.”

 

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