Today is Deacon White’s 170th birthday so I thought I take a brief look at his last games.
James Laurie White began playing baseball in his hometown of Caton, New York in 1865. The 17-year-old didn’t stop playing regularly until 1891 after a stint with the Elmira Club of the New York-Pennsylvania League. In June 1891, White signed for around $300 a month to manage, captain and play catcher for the Gladiators. The Elmira Star-Gazette and Free Press liked the signing and thought “his connection with the team will bring about a boom which will cause a shower of sheckels to pour into the coffers of the club.” The team was 10-13 when the story broke. Elmira fired Manager J.C. “Doc” Velder to hire White. Velder would later sue the club for $89.04 for unpaid wages.
After a few weeks of mixed team success, on July 4, by mutual consent, White left Elmira to retire from the game and go back to Buffalo to “spend the remainder of his days’ enjoying the fortune of $40,000 which he has accumulated on the diamond.” In ten games, Deacon batted .229 with eight singles and no extra-base hits. The team could not afford to pay White for his name alone. It was time to walk away from the game.
Once his playing days were over, White continued to live in Buffalo while maintaining his farm and creamery in Steuben County, New York. He owned a broom factory and livery business in Buffalo and partnered with his brother, Will White, in owning the Buffalo Optical Company. He almost went into the windmill business with brothers Will and George, the latter owning U.S. patent 367,687 for an improved windmill.
Less than five years after he retired, Deacon White put on a uniform to honor his former manager. April 13, 1896 was Harry Wright Day in baseball. Wright had died on October 3, 1895. On that April day, exhibition games were played to raise funds to erect a monument in honor of a “Father of Baseball.” Both Jim and Will traveled from Buffalo to Cincinnati to partake in the festivities. Before a disappointing crowd of 1,462, the “1882 Reds” played the “1896 Reds.” Deacon, who was the starting left fielder for the 1882 team, led off the game with a single to center that brought cheers from the crowd. Will pitched the first four innings before Deacon came in and finished the game. However, the “1896 Club” won, 7-3, in what would be Deacon’s last game on a professional diamond. Despite the underwhelming attendance, on June 20, 1897 a 14-foot monument was erected above the grave of Wright at West Laurel Cemetery in Philadelphia.
In the previous paragraph I mentioned White’s last game on a PROFESSIONAL diamond. That doesn’t mean he never played ball again. Deacon kept in shape in retirement. According to an Illinois resident hunting license dated December 11, 1912, White was 5 feet, 10 inches tall, weighing 170 pounds. (His eyes were listed as blue and his hair as gray.) The 65-year-old was an inch shorter and five pounds lighter than his playing days.
In 1909, Jim and his wife Marium moved to Mendota, Illinois to be with their daughter Grace who was attending Mendota College. On August 15, 1912, Grace White married a fellow Mendota College classmate, Roger Albert Watkins of Baraboo, Wisconsin. They married in Mendota’s women’s dormitory, where Deacon and Marium were head masters. A few years later Marium passed away on April 30, 1914 at the age of 62. She was buried in Restland Cemetery in Mendota. Deacon eventually rekindled an old romance with Alice Melissa Force who he went to Country Day School with in Caton. Alice was married to Joseph Nelson Thurber until he passed away in 1915, making Alice available again. According to White family lore, Jim wanted to marry Alice in the 1860s but Alice’s parents frowned upon the nuptials because he was a ballplayer. The Sporting Life reported that the romance was revived when Deacon visited his brother LeRoy in Corning. The couple was married on April 10, 1917 in Rochester, New York.
Despite living in Illinois, White would still visit the Corning area. He also showed on August 15, 1917 that he was still up for some ball playing. Most likely at the encouragement of LeRoy’s son-in-law, Edwin M. Beck, Deacon played in a benefit game at Denison Park for the Corning Chamber of Commerce band. Beck was married to LeRoy’s daughter Metta and played baseball in the area. During the benefit game, the 69-year-old (listed as 70 in the Evening Leader article) drawing card pitched until the first batter was out and then moved to first base. Deacon got a hit and came into score on a Beck hit. Captain Beck’s team won 12-0 in two and a half innings of play. On August 19 in the Telegram of Elmira, New York, a letter to the editor by “A Corning Fan” discussed White’s excellent physical condition. It stated: “He can give most human beings pointers on physiology, anatomy, hygiene and other matters connected with keeping the body alive.”