Warren Newson was one of those players White Sox fans came to love partly because he had a cool nickname – The Deacon! But looking back at his career, you might not have realized how good a hitter he was.
Remember that guy?
Warren Newson was born July 3, 1964 in Newnan, Georgia. According to early 1990s White Sox media guides, Newson was an all-state running back at Newnan High School, and played one game for the University of Georgia football team in his freshman year before transferring over to Middle Georgia College, where he eventually won Georgia Junior College Player of the Year. He was drafted by the Padres in the 4th round of the January 1986 draft.
Newson started his minor league career at Spokane in 1986, where he posted a .233/.406/.333 slashline. He’d continue to be an on-base monster, hitting .329/.463/.514 in 1987 in two single-A stops (Charleston & Reno), then .297/.432/.532 with 22 HR and 107 walks in 1988 at Riverside (A), then .304/.436/.506 with 18 HR and 103 walks in 1989 at Wichita (AA). Same thing in 1990 at Las Vegas (AAA), when he hit .304/.420/.465 with 13 home runs.
On March 31, 1991, the Padres packaged Newson with Joey Cora & Kevin Garner to the White Sox for relievers Adam Peterson & Steve Rosenberg. Of the three players acquired by the White Sox, the 6’2” first baseman Garner never reached the Majors, but the 5’7” Cora and the 5’7” Newson both did. Who ever heard of a trade for two 5’7” guys anyway? But the White Sox did it, and it was a rather successful deal.
Newson continued to get on base at a blistering pace, hitting .369/.497/.550 (read that again) in 33 games with White Sox triple-A affiliate Vancouver to start 1991 and finally the White Sox could hold him back no longer. They called up Newson and righthander Ramón García, sending down pitchers Brian Drahman and Wayne Edwards to make room. Newson made his MLB debut May 29, 1991 pinch hitting for Sammy Sosa with two outs in the bottom of the 9th. He grounded out against funky righthander Mark Eichhorn to end the game. His first hit came on June 3 against the A’s – an RBI single off Oakland’s Joe Slusarski, scoring Carlton Fisk.
“The Deacon,” as Hawk Harrelson would begin calling him, got into 71 games for the White Sox in 1991, hitting an excellent .295/.419/.843 in 160 plate appearances. He was often used as a pinch hitter, going 8 for 22 (.364) in that role. Newson’s first career home run came on July 14 – a very unusual game. After Paul Molitor hit a leadoff home run for the Brewers, Jack McDowell didn’t allow another hit and tossed an 83-pitch complete game as the Sox won 15-1 in Milwaukee. In addition to his first big league homer, Warren Newson walked four times and drove in four. As he’d display throughout his entire professional career, he was excellent at getting on base.
Even though he never stopped getting on base, he could never lock down a starting gig. Perhaps it’s because of his running back build (5’7” 200 lb). Maybe it’s the perception that he was simply just a good pinch hitter and it was best that he was saved for those situations. Maybe he had a reputation for being a platoon guy. He played in 489 career Major League games and had only 81 plate appearances (.197/.395/.213) against lefties for his entire career. All 34 of his MLB home runs were off righties. But was he even given enough of a chance?
In 1992, Newson hit .221 with an excellent .387 on-base percentage in 63 games for the White Sox, again spending a chunk of time in triple-A Vancouver. In 1993, after Newson was a late-spring cut from the roster, tragedy struck. Warren’s wife Tina, who was pregnant at the time was involved in a serious auto accident. Fortunately both mother and child survived, but Newson took some time away from baseball to be with his family. About two months later he returned to Nashville (the new White Sox Triple-A affiliate) and after hitting .341 (with a .454 OBP) in 61 games he was back with the Sox on August 12. It was business as usual for The Deacon, hitting .300/.429/.450 in 49 plate appearances to finish the season. Newson saw postseason action in the 1993 ALCS against the Blue Jays; going 0 for 1 in a pinch hit appearance in Game 2, then starting Game 6 where he went 1 for 4 with a solo home run off Duane Ward.
On March 3, 1994, Newson became a small footnote in Chicago sports history in an intrasquad game in Sarasota, Florida. In Michael Jordan’s first game with the White Sox, he lined out to Warren Newson in left-center. "He smoked it," said Newson. "I wish I could've let it drop."
In 1994, Newson stuck with the White Sox all season long, but was still a part time player, getting into 63 games (24 starts) and hitting .255/.345/.363. He was a productive pinch hitter, going 7 for 25 (.280) with an AL-high four extra-base hits in that capacity. In 1995 Newson hit .235/.404/.388 in 51 games before he was dealt to the Mariners on July 18 for a player to be named later (who turned out to be pitcher Jeff Darwin). It was tough for Newson, who enjoyed playing in Chicago. At the time of his trade to Seattle, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune noted he was “probably the most popular player in the Sox clubhouse.” Fortunately for Newson, he was off to Seattle where the Mariners were destined for the playoffs. A rejuvenated Deacon hit .292/.420/.403 for the Mariners in 33 games and even participated in the first postseason clincher in franchise history, striking out against David Cone in the 6th inning of the Game 5 winner (which they walked off in the 11th inning).
Newson was on the move again for 1996, signing with the Rangers where he played through 1998. He had 200 plate appearances in a season for the only two times in his MLB career in 1996 and 1997 for Texas. He hit a career-high 10 home runs each season. He spent most of 1998 at Rangers triple-A Oklahoma where he showed he could still mash, hitting .307/.401/.523 with 21 HR in 111 games.
Warren Newson’s baseball journey was far from over, though. He spent 1999 at triple-A Albuquerque in the Dodgers system. In 2000 Newson made a brief appearance for Winnipeg in the independent Northern League, then went to Mexico to play for the Algodoneros de Unión Laguna of the Mexican League, where he hit a breathtaking .386/.496/.734 with 39 home runs and 121 RBI in 112 games. While it was a high-offense league to begin with, the 35-year old Newson led the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage regardless. He was still good the following year, hitting “only” .302/.424/.535 with 23 HR and 71 RBI in 110 games.
Newson split 2002 between Monterrey (Mexican League), Memphis (Triple-A, Cardinals organization) and the Kia Tigers (South Korea). 2003 was his final professional season, appearing in games for the Olmecas de Tabasco & Acereros de Monclova (Mexican League) and the St. Paul Saints (Northern League).
The Deacon was a 5’7 on-base machine in a time where:
- Stocky 5’7” guys didn’t get a fair shake
- High on-base percentages weren’t appreciated unless there was a high batting average along with it
He’d be wildly popular today. Even so, Newson was a great clubhouse guy who never complained publicly about his lack of playing time. He accepted his role as a pinch hitting specialist and was pretty good at it. But you still can’t help to wonder what if…
Newson’s MLB career consisted of 489 career MLB games with a .250/.374/.401 slashline and 34 home runs. He hit .257/.394/.364 for the White Sox.
Of 344 players all-time with 500+ plate appearances in a White Sox uniform, Newson’s .394 OBP is 15th. Of 444 players in the Majors with at least 500 plate appearances from 1991-95, Newson’s .397 OBP was 10th. Sure we’re looking at small samples but it was enough to warrant more playing time. Warren Newson was an underappreciated talent. We remember The Deacon!