Thursday, September 11, 2008

HOF: Deacon White


That's what most baseball fans are probably saying when the name Deacon White is brought up in relation to possible Hall of Fame induction. Here's what I wrote about Deacon White in the first edition of "The Book of Baseball Literacy":

A remarkable player and man, White was one of professional baseball’s first great stars. He could play anywhere in the field, and he could hit—twice leading his league in batting and three times in RBIs. Respected and admired by just about everybody, White earned his nickname because he reputedly never smoked, drank, caroused, or cursed, and he carried his Bible on road trips.

A visionary, he was among the first players to complain about their shoddy treatment by owners; he threatened to test the reserve clause in the courts, and he helped in the Players League revolt of 1890.

When White was sold from Buffalo to Pittsburgh, he refused to report unless he received some payment; Pittsburgh ownership relented and handed over about $1,500. In explaining his bold action, White spoke for all ballplayers who have ever been treated like property: “No man can sell my carcass,” he declared, “unless I get at least half.”

He was clearly a very interesting person and player. I had a lot of admiration for him until I read this quote on White's Wikipedia page:

According to Lee Allen in The National League Story (1961), White was one of the last people to believe that the earth is flat. He tried and failed to convince his teammates that they were living on a flat plane and not a globe; they ridiculed him. Then one asked to be convinced, and the Deacon gave him an argument suited to the hypothesis that the earth is not really turning. He convinced the teammate but the argument would not prove that the earth is not a sphere.


Anyway, the question is, does he belong in the Hall of Fame alongside the other great players of his era: John Montgomery Ward, Cap Anson (I know, I know, Anson was a despicable human being who helped solidify the color line, but, first, he wasn't the only person responsible, and second, he was a great baseball player), Harry and George Wright, and so on?

I say no. He's an interesting player, a very good player, but he wasn't necessarily the best player of his era, and he's not the best eligible player not currently in the Hall. Back in the 1940s, when men who saw baseball during White's era were still alive, White wasn't selected for the Hall. Why is he more worthy now, in 2008, when he wasn't worthy in 1948 or 1939?

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