Cooperstown, NY —
The rain, the gloom, the small gathering of fans didn’t matter.
For the families of baseball pioneers Jacob Ruppert Jr., Hank O’Day and James “Deacon” White this was what they had long been waiting for.
All three have been dead for more than seven decades. Now their legacies were secure with their induction Sunday into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
“This is a day we will all remember for the rest of our lives,” said Jerry Watkins, great grandson of White and one of nearly 50 family members in attendance. “In my mind, the only way it could have been better is if my dad were here to see it. My dad loved his grandfather, he loved baseball, and he loved the Chicago Cubs. It was his lifelong dream to see his grandfather enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and it was his lifelong dream to see the Cubs play in the World Series. Dad, today you got one of them.”
White, a barehanded catcher who grew up in Caton, N.Y., near Corning, was one of major league baseball’s earliest stars. In fact, he was the first batter in the first professional game on May 4, 1871, and laced a double. An outstanding hitter, White was regarded as the best catcher in baseball before switching to third base later in his nearly 20-year career.
A deeply religious man, White was nicknamed “Deacon” and dubbed “the most admirable superstar of the 1870s” by Bill James in his “Historical Baseball Extract.” White played for six teams and had a .312 career average. He finished with 2,067 hits, 270 doubles, 98 triples, 24 home runs and 988 RBIs before retiring in 1890.
“In my heart, I never believed this day would come,” Watkins said. “If my grandfather were alive today, he would say thank you to the Hall of Fame for this great honor, and he would say thank you to each of you for being here. So, on his behalf I say thank you.”