- Steve Wulf, ESPN Senior Writer
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Better hands than Mike Piazza -- even without a glove.
Played four more positions than Craig Biggio.
Never any hint that he used ox-brain elixir.
His mustache puts Jack Morris' to shame.
The original leadoff hitter.
Just trying to help here. I'm throwing out some possible slogans to drum up interest in James Laurie "Deacon" White, the only player who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July. On the theory that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, baseball fans and Cooperstown merchants need to get behind the Deacon, who was chosen along with an owner and an umpire by a special Veterans Committee a month before the BBWAA voters revealed that they had deemed nobody worthy of a plaque.
I'm also attempting to forget that idiot who made a mockery of the whole process by wasting a HOF vote on Aaron Sele.
So let's start manufacturing those Deacon White commemorative shirts. The easy part is that they won't require names or numbers on the back -- they didn't have them back then. The hard part is trying to decide whether to use the logo of the Cleveland Forest Citys, the Boston Red Stockings, the Chicago White Stockings, the Cincinnati Reds, the Buffalo Bisons, the Detroit Wolverines or the Pittsburgh Alleghenys on the front.
White was born in Caton, N.Y., about 150 miles west of Cooperstown. For some reason, though, it took him 74 years to get there; when he died in July 1939 as baseball's oldest living player (91), he was disappointed that he hadn't been among the first inductees into the newly established Hall of Fame.
According to an article by Joe Williams in SABR's Baseball Research Journal, Deacon learned the game of baseball from a Union soldier returning home from the Civil War in 1865. White joined the Forest City club in 1868 while employed by McNary, Claflin & Co., which built railroad cars, and established himself as the best all-around player on the team -- he caught and pitched, using an unorthodox wind-up that baffled batters.
The Forest Citys joined the National Association, the first professional league, for its inaugural season in 1871, and White led off the very first game against the Fort Wayne Kekiongas with a double off Bobby Mathews. (He also hit into the very first double play.) In 1873 he moved to the Red Stockings, teaming with pitcher (and future sporting-goods magnate) Albert Spalding to win three consecutive league championships. "The Big Four" of White, Spalding, Ross Barnes and Cal McVey all jumped from Boston to Chicago for the 1876 inaugural National League season, and they won that title, too.
White went back to Boston in 1877, then joined the Cincinnati Reds in 1878 to form the first major league brother battery with younger sibling Will. (Their cousin Elmer also played in the majors.) Will, the first pro to wear spectacles, went by the nickname of "Whoop-La," perhaps because of this celebration-worthy feat: He pitched 680 innings in 1879, starting and completing 75 of the Reds' 80 games.
But his older brother was still the bigger star. Deacon led his league in hitting twice and in RBIs three times. Spalding called him the best catcher he had ever seen, and after bare-handed receiving took too much of a toll, White simply became the best third baseman in baseball. He won another championship with Detroit in 1887, batting .303 at the age of 39.
As for his own nickname, Deacon earned that by living a clean, upright, sin-free life, which was unusual in a day and age when ballplayers were often drunkards, reprobates or worse. There were even players who used a performance-enhancing elixir called Cerebrine, supposedly made from ox brains. Hall of Fame pitcher Pud Galvin, who for a time played multiple seasons on teams with White, used something called "The Elixir of Brown-Sequard," made by an eponymous physiologist from monkey testosterone.
White was also honest and principled. When he and teammate Jack Rowe were sold to the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in 1889, they refused to report unless they were paid additional money. Said White at the time: "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."
Deacon White did possess one other characteristic that set him apart -- and makes him the perfect representative for the Class of 2013. He fervently and steadfastly believed that the earth was flat. He would even try to convince teammates by tossing a ball high in the air directly over his head; when it landed at his feet, he saw that as proof that the earth was not rotating.
Of course, a man who clings to an anachronistic belief despite all evidence to the contrary is exactly what a similarly misguided organization deserves.
Nobody on the ballot this year was worthy? Really? Not Biggio or Piazza or Lee Smith? Not the guys the BBWAA once gave seven MVPs and seven Cy Young Awards to? Can we really trust an organization that harbors clowns who vote for Sele and Reggie Sanders while denying membership to Roger Angell because he writes for a (gasp!) magazine?
In a piece posted Monday by The Hardball Times, Chris Jaffe makes a persuasive argument that the threshold for induction should be lowered from a 75 percent vote to 50 percent. He points out that only one player who has gotten 50 percent didn't eventually get in: Gil Hodges. And he makes the strong, humanitarian appeal that deserving players should get to enjoy Cooperstown instead of having to wait for the dithering members of the BBWAA. How many more players like Deacon White and Ron Santo and Joe Gordon and Nellie Fox will get in after they shuffle off this mortal coil?
Wait, here's another slogan: Better late than never.
On the theory that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, baseball fans and Cooperstown merchants need to get behind the Deacon White, who will be the only player entering the Hall this year.