James "Deacon" White, a legend of early baseball and a barehanded catcher who helped the Chicago Cubs, in an earlier incarnation as the Chicago White Stockings, win their first pennant in 1876, will be honored in Aurora on Sunday, Sept. 29. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. in July.
During James "Deacon" White Day, ceremonies begin at 1 p.m. at the Perry Theater at Aurora University with remarks from university officials and the Aurora Historical Society about the infancy of baseball and White's close affiliation with what was then Aurora College.
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After the presentations, the city of Aurora will give the honorific "James 'Deacon' White Way" to the 200 block of South Calumet Avenue with a street sign unveiling at the corner of Marseillaise and Calumet avenues. Following that, there will be a baseball game using 1871 rules. Opponents will be the Aurora Town Club, a vintage baseball team, and the Aurora Legends, a team assembled for the occasion from among legendary fastpitch softball players of the 1960s through '80s. The game will be held at West Aurora High School on the practice football field just west of Ken Zimmerman stadium.
White played professional ball with seven teams from 1871-1890, first at catcher, where he was credited with introducing the technique of creeping up behind a batter, and later at third base. Through his career he played every position except left field. He caught the first ball in the first professional game in 1871 and also recorded the first hit, a double. Playing for Boston in 1877, he led the league in eight offensive categories. In an era when catcher was a supremely critical position, he led three different teams to 5 pennants in 5 consecutive years.
He was nicknamed "Deacon" for the probity of his lifestyle and his strong religious convictions. After his playing career, he worked on staff for Mendota College and after the school relocated and became Aurora College, he followed. His son-in-law, Roger Watkins, served on the board of trustees for many years, and White's grandchildren and great-grandchildren grew up in Aurora where many attended the university and married alums. A grandson, Mark Trumbo, served as dean of the college in the 1960s. Deacon White lived for 18 years with his daughter and son-in-law Grace and Roger Watkins in the house still standing at 221 S. Calumet. He died in 1939.