In an interview with The Sporting News published a few weeks before his death in 1939, Hall of Fame baseball player James “Deacon” White was quoted as saying “I learned to play ball from a Union soldier, who returned to my home, Cornish, N.Y., in 1865, and taught the boys the new game of baseball they had played in the Civil War.” I’m not sure if he said Cornish since he was from Caton, New York which is about seven miles south of Corning, New York, but it is quite possible the soldier that taught him the game of baseball was his older brother. His brother was Oscar LeRoy White who returned home from the Civil War in 1865.
Oscar went by his middle name and was born in Caton on January 7, 1846 according to a record on Ancestry.com called the New York, Town Clerks’ Registers of Men Who Served in the Civil War, ca 1861-1865. His obituary lists his birth date as June 7, 1846. LeRoy was the eldest child of farmer Lester Smith White and his wife Adeline Hurd. James White would join the family on December 2, 1847. Other siblings would follow: Elmer Melville around 1850, William Henry in 1854, Phebe around 1856, Estella in 1858, George in 1862, and Hattie around 1866. His cousin Willard Elmer White lived nearby. Elmer, as he was called, was the son of Benjamin White (Lester’s brother) and Minerva Hurd (Adeline’s sister).
On September 15, 1864, LeRoy joined the Union army in Avon, New York as a private, becoming a member of Company H of the 12th Regiment, New York Cavalry. The town paid him a bounty of $1,000 for a one-year enlistment. His obituary says: “Mr. White took part in the following battles: Action near Kinston, N.C., raid on Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, Smith’s Mill Bridge, Swift Creek, Southwest Creek, skirmish at Snead’s Creek and Kingston. He was mustered out of Raleigh, North Carolina.” Records show he was discharged under General Order No. 83 (issued May 18, 1865) on June 23, 1865.
It has been written that James White helped form a town club in Caton in 1866. If that is true, it is possible that LeRoy more than likely helped form the club too since the Civil War veteran was also a ballplayer. Did LeRoy teach his younger brother how to play baseball? It makes sense that it was him but other soldiers returned home to the area after the war. It is also possible Jim White misremembered and picked up the game from other kids in his town. Jim credited “a Union solider” and not “my brother, a Union soldier” so it could have been any local Union soldier other than LeRoy. Anyway, I like to think LeRoy taught him. I recently discovered a reference to the Farmers Base Ball Club of Caton defeating the Eagle Club of Lindley, 51 to 26, on September 8, 1866 in Caton (Corning Journal, September 13, 1866). I also located a match, played on September 25, 1866, where the Caton Base Ball Club lost against the Second Nine of the Corning Club (Corning Journal, September 27, 1866). I’m not sure if the Farmers Base Ball Club of Caton and the Caton Base Ball Club are the same club. There is no evidence that either brother played in those games. It is possible LeRoy and Deacon played against the Corning team, because both would join the Monitor Base Ball Club of Corning for the 1867 season.
The first game I located showing one of the brothers in a game is a match played on June 17, 1867 between the Monitors and the Meteor Base Ball Club of Addison, New York. In a 61-29 victory, the Monitors catcher White scored five runs and made six outs. This is most likely Jim White since White is playing catcher.
The next box scores I found appeared in the Corning Journal on August 2, 1867. The Monitors traveled to Waverly, New York to play the Cayutas on July 29. The Corning team won 41-34 with three Whites playing. Jim was the catcher and LeRoy pitched, forming a brothers battery. Elmer played second base. The question here is which Elmer played second base? Elmer Melville “Melvin” White was a younger brother of LeRoy and Jim. In some articles I have seen say Melvin, as he was called, was a former player. An article from the Corning Journal on April 27, 1876 stated that Melvin joined James in Chicago as an emergency player with the “White Stockings” of the newly formed National League. Melvin ended up being Chicago’s groundskeeper and then joined brothers, James and William, in Boston the following year as the groundsman for the Red Stockings. Willard Elmer White was the first cousin of the White brothers and a future professional player. At this point I cannot be sure, especially since both Elmers were about the same age, but I believe it is the cousin. If it was Melvin, it most likely would have read “M. White” in the box score. From the box below, both Jim and LeRoy scored four runs and had four outs. LeRoy did hit a clean homer, meaning no one was going to get to the ball quick enough to throw him out at home. It other words, it was going, going, gone! Inschoe, the right fielder, had a monster day with two clean home runs, six runs scored and no outs. I wonder what happened to him?
The other box score from the August 2nd Corning Journal was for a game played earlier that day (unless it was the previous Friday). The Monitors headed to Elmira to play the Unions. The Monitors remained unbeaten for the season, winning 65-34. LeRoy pitched and scored nine runs with two outs. The catcher, most likely Jim, scored 10 runs and only had one out. The third baseman White scored four runs, but contributed seven outs.
The final box score I have with the Whites playing for the Monitors in 1867 is a game played on August 8, 1867. On a “warm, cloudy and showery” day, the Monitors played in Hornellsville, New York against the Ellicotts of Jamestown for the championship of the Southern Tier of New York counties. Jim played catcher and LeRoy was the left fielder. In the third inning, LeRoy took over as pitcher with a 13-6 lead. In the end, Jamestown defeated Corning, 23-21. A summary of the game in the Jamestown Journal included the following statement: “The Monitors are weak in their short-stop, catcher and in general fielding.” Although the game account was bias for the Ellicotts since it appeared in their local newspaper, Jim’s day behind the batter may not have been his best. He ended up with seven passed balls. Still, Jim White must have been a pretty good player because the following year he made his way to Cleveland to play baseball. LeRoy would join him.
Jim and LeRoy became members of the Forest City Base Ball Club of Cleveland in 1868. It can be said that LeRoy White has been overlooked by baseball historians. As recently as 2012, it was written in Base Ball Pioneers, 1850-1870: The Clubs and Players Who Spread the Sport Nationwide that “Elmer White played for the Forest Citys along with his first cousin, Jim White, for a few games in 1868.” Elmer didn’t join Forest City until 1870. Marshall Wright’s The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870 does list “L. White” on page 204, crediting him with playing pitcher and third base while participating in seven games and scoring 18 runs.
When the White brothers joined the team, it was mostly made up of local players. Jim, at 5-feet-11 and around 175 pounds, instantly became their best player. Their first game with their new club was on June 4 against the local Railway Union Club. Forest City lost 21-14 with LeRoy pitching and Jim playing shortstop. LeRoy led the team with three runs scored. The Cleveland Plain Dealer commented on the club: “Some changes have taken place in the Forest City club, but they are certainly as effective as ever. L. White, a stronger pitcher than Stockley, occupies that post this season.”
The second game of the season was in Michigan against the Detroit Club on June 16. Forest City lost 45-28 with LeRoy playing third and Jim catching. LeRoy didn’t score and recorded six outs. Next up was the Athletics of Philadelphia and their star pitcher Dick McBride. Forest City lost 85-11! McBride scored 11 runs himself. LeRoy played right field and scored two runs. In search of a victory, Forest City next played Maple City of Norwalk on July 2 and soundly beat them 75-9 with Jim White scoring 12 runs. LeRoy played right field and scored five runs.
On July 4, the Forest Citys and the Railways met again. The game was in the 10th inning,with Forest City leading 27-25 and the Railways already having their turn at bat, when the game was called on account of darkness. The Cleveland Daily Leader called out the Railways for stalling and appealing to the umpire to call the game since the team knew the game was already lost. When the game was called, Jim was on second with two out. The Cleveland newspaper stated: “With the game already won and White on second base, the player might have walked recklessly home, obliging the Railways to put him out, and thus made victory sure. But the Forest City club descended to no such trickery, and even their enemies will honor them for it. They won a dearer prize than the bat and ball–the honor of playing an honest, manly game.” As for LeRoy, he played right field and didn’t score.
The next game was played on July 7 against the Allegheny Club of Pittsburgh. The game started at 9:15 in the morning and ended at 11:00 so the Alleghenies could take the 12:10 P.M. train home. The game lasted only five innings with the team from Pittsburgh winning, 12-9. LeRoy played left field with two runs scored. Jim played shortstop. On July 17, Forest City played the Detroit Club and won 44 to 7. LeRoy didn’t play in the game. Jim, playing shortstop, hit a homer and scored six runs.
On July 25, the Forest Citys met the Railway Union Club for the third time of the season. Both LeRoy and Jim hit home runs and scored six times each in a 59-25 trouncing of its rival. LeRoy, who was playing in right field, participated in his last game for the club.
A “White” became the new catcher for the Railway Unions on August 1 when he played against the Union Club of Morrisania. The Cleveland Daily Leader wrote “[T]he new catcher, Mr. White, has never before played with the Railways in a matched game and evinced much anxiety and nervousness.” It is possible that their new catcher was LeRoy. His performance in the game on July 25 may have impressed the Railways enough to recruit him to join them. Incidentally, the umpire for the game was “Mr. J. L. White of the Forest City Club of Cleveland.” Hmm…this must be LeRoy or was it Elmer White?
“White” played a few more games for the Railways before being replaced by another catcher. LeRoy White returned home to Caton as his playing days were behind him–or were they? I located a box score with a “White” playing catcher for the Monitors on September 5th against the Livingston Base Ball Club. It is possible it is Elmer White who would catch for the Forest Citys in 1870 or even Melvin White. However, it would seem plausible that LeRoy was the Railways catcher and wanted to keep playing when he arrived home in late August. As I did further research, I discovered both LeRoy and Elmer playing for the Monitors in 1869. In the two box scores I found, LeRoy and Elmer formed the battery with LeRoy as the pitcher. In a game on August 3, 1869, the Monitors beat the Amateurs of Owego in a six inning game, 53-13. LeRoy scored eight runs and didn’t get out. Elmer scored six runs with two outs.
In the second game, played on August 23, the Amateurs defeated the Monitors by a score of 25 to 17. LeRoy scored 2 runs and Elmer just one. Since Elmer was the catcher in this family battery, I assume (for now) the “White” playing for the Monitors in 1868 was Elmer White.
At this point, I do not know how extensively LeRoy White played baseball in 1869. It is known that LeRoy married Sarah M. Boyer, a school teacher, in October 1869 in Caton and then moved to Corning. Sarah was the daughter of William Boyer and Adelia Watrous. William’s obituary in 1885 stated: “Mr. Boyer was a worthy farmer of Caton for over forty years.” At the time of their marriage, LeRoy was a fireman for the local railroad. The young couple purchased a home in Corning that had a real estate value of $1,200 in the 1870 Census. They stayed in Corning the rest of their lives.
The couple had three children: James M. White (1870), Burt L. White (1874) and Metta Adelia White (1883). Both James and Burt died of diphtheria in their youth. James, most likely named after LeRoy’s brother, died in November 1875 while visiting his grandfather, William Boyer, in Caton. About 11 years later, Burt suffered a similar fate when he passed away on November 3, 1886.
Their daughter Metta was born on November 26, 1883 and lived a long life before passing in September 1975. Metta married Edwin Michael Beck (1883-1949), the son of the owner (Henry Beck) of the local meat market. The couple married on November 30, 1904. Beck worked at his father’s meat market and was a local baseball player. He eventually gained employment at the Corning Glass Works as a clerical worker in the Time and Cost Department for which he received a 30-year pin. (Beck played with Deacon White in a benefit game at Denison Park for the Corning Chamber of Commerce band on August 15, 1917–a story for another time.) The couple had two sons, Oscar L. Beck (1907-2001) and Winfred C. Beck (1908-1945). Win Beck was killed in action during World War II.
LeRoy joined the Fall Brook Railway in either 1868 or 1869. An interesting history of the company can be found here. After his stint as a railway fireman, he became a locomotive engineer. His obituary said he was with the railway for 46 years, 40 as an engineer. The obituary went on to say: “He was retired when he reached the age limit of 70 years with the record of never having had his engine in a serious accident.”
It is hard to say if LeRoy White kept playing baseball after 1869. His brothers, Jim and Will, and cousin Elmer played professional baseball. Elmer White, at age 22, died of tuberculosis (consumption) on March 17, 1872, becoming the first professional league player to die in baseball history. Will White had a 10-year major league career, winning 229 games against 166 losses. Jim White was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013 as a pioneering catcher and third baseman. LeRoy’s obituary states he pitched for Cincinnati of the National League during his professional career, which is an obvious incorrect statement. Will, not LeRoy, pitched for Cincinnati, and there is no proof LeRoy was ever a paid baseball player. I did discover a mention in the Corning Journal of a game to be played on August 14, 1886. Nine train men of the Fall Brook Coal Company were to play the Fall Brook office nine. The Captain for the train men was engineer LeRoy White.
Like ballplayers, it looks like locomotive engineers had endorsement deals back in Leroy’s time. The following ad for Doan’s Kidney Pills ran in several newspapers from at least 1899-1902. Learning about LeRoy’s secretions may be a little more than we need to know.
As mentioned earlier, LeRoy and Sarah White spent the rest of their lives in Corning. The couple was married for 64 years before Sarah died on November 12, 1933 following complications from diseases due to old age and aggravated by a fall she suffered two years earlier. Sarah was a religious woman who was very active in her faith. She often recited poetry and sang at church events. Her death must have taken a toll on LeRoy. He died three months later on February 16, 1934. The couple and many other family members are buried in Hope Cemetery in Corning.