At one time in Deacon White’s professional career, he played all nine positions on the field, including two appearances pitching. But it was as a barehanded catcher – and later as a third baseman – that White left an indelible mark on the game.
White was a standout catcher in a catcher-important era. Catchers did not use any equipment and were positioned much farther back from the pitcher than in modern baseball. Just catching the ball was considered an advantage, but White could catch and throw runners out.
On May 4, 1871, while playing for the Cleveland Forest Citys, White recorded the first hit in the history of the National Association, recognized as the first major league. He led the NA with 77 RBI in 1873 while playing for the Boston Red Stockings, then paced the league with a .367 batting average during its final season of 1875. He helped the Red Stockings post a record of 71-8 that season.
When the National League was born in 1876, White joined the Chicago White Stockings, becoming the first NL RBI champ by driving in 60 runs. The next season back in Boston, White led the NL in hits (103), triples (11), RBI (49), batting average (.387) and OPS (.950). Starting that season, White began slowly moving from behind the plate to other positions. In 1882 with the Buffalo Bisons, White transitioned to third base, where he spent the remainder of his career.
After stints with Detroit and Pittsburgh following his five-year stay in Buffalo, White joined the Buffalo Bisons of the Players League in 1890 for his final big league season. At the age of 42, White played in 122 games and posted a .381 on-base percentage.
In 20 big league seasons, White posted a career batting average of .312 to go with 2,067 hits in just 1,560 games. He led his league in batting average twice and RBI three times.
White is the oldest player elected to the Hall of Fame, having a birthday – Dec. 2, 1847 – that predates any other inductee elected as a player to the Hall of Fame.
White passed away on July 7, 1939. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2013.