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Former Baseball Star Known for Virtue

James "Deacon" White played at the very dawn of professional baseball. In fact, on May 4, 1871, James White had the very first hit, in the first game, of the first professional baseball league. It was a double. He was the first catcher to use a mask and the first pitcher to go into a wind-up before throwing the ball.

Over his 20 year career, White played for teams in Cincinnati, Buffalo, Detroit, Boston, Pittsburgh, before joining the team that became the Chicago Cubs. White would eventually become the oldest player in the Baseball Hall of Fame. It's not an exaggeration to say that White helped create the game of baseball we know today.

The inscription on White's plaque in the Hall of Fame, however, doesn't begin with the words "19th century star of baseball," or "premier catcher of his era," or "led teams to six championships," although all three phrases are there. The first words on the plaque are "Consummate gentleman." At a time when professional athletes were seen as unsavory, hard-drinking, womanizers, James White earned the nickname "Deacon" for his commitment to Christian faith and virtue which were evident to everyone who saw him play.

For example, in 1878, the Indianapolis Journal reported that an umpire actually consulted with White, a player on the field, about whether the base runner was out. When the opponent complained, the ump declared, "When White says a thing is so it is so, and that is the end of it."

In 1886, the Detroit Free Press wrote:

No one ever yet heard Deacon White say dammit; no one ever saw him spike or trample upon an opponent; no one ever saw him hurl his bat towards the bench when he struck out; no one ever heard him wish the umpire were where the wicked never cease from troubling and the weary never give us a rest. And think of it! Nineteen years of provocation! Will anybody deny that Deacon White is a great and good man, as well as a first-class ballplayer?

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