Bill White turns 82 today, January 28, 2016 and it occurred to me that White is an MLB figure that too few people know about.
I start by asking you a favor, before I get to my Nine to Know: it occurred to me that the people who are clicking on this column probably already know about Bill and so if you are in this group, Tweet about the column, post it on Reddit, talk about it on Facebook, or simply share the link with your friends and colleagues. Bill White is worthy of some attention by fans old and young alike.
Nine to Know – From the Bill Chuck Files: Bill White
(source material for this piece was liberally drawn from the SABR bio written by Warren Corbett which I strongly urge you to read)
- Bill White was signed by the New York Giants after their scout Alan Fey, invited White to Pittsburgh to work out for manager Leo Durocher. Durocher took White to spring training with the big-league club in Phoenix in 1953 where his roommate and mentor was Monte Irvin. The Giants sent White to Danville, Virginia, where he was the only black player in the Class B Carolina League.
- In 1956, White was playing for the Triple-A farm club at Minneapolis when the Giants called him up in May. In his first at bat, in St. Louis on May 7, he homered off Ben Flowers. He added a single and a double later in the game. He homered twice off Robin Roberts on the last day of the season to total 22 for the season.
- White was drafted into the Army following the season which motivated the Giants to trade for Jackie Robinson to play first base, but Robinson retired. White rejoined the Giants in July 1958 in San Francisco but had lost his job to Orlando Cepeda with 20-year-old Willie McCovey waiting in Triple-A. On March 25, 1959, the Giants traded him to St. Louis with third baseman Ray Jablonski for pitchers Don Choate and Sam Jones.
- The Cards had three first basemen: Joe Cunningham, George Crowe, and Stan Musial, and White ended up playing the outfield in 1959, where he was elected to his first All-Star team as a left fielder. The next year White spent most of his time at first base, winning the first of seven Gold Gloves, and by 1961 he was the Cardinals’ everyday first baseman.
- In 1965, White and Dick Groat were traded to the Phillies with backup catcher Bob Uecker for pitcher Art Mahaffey, catcher Pat Corrales, and outfielder Alex Johnson and in 1968 and he was traded back to St. Louis, where he wound up his career in 1969 primarily as a pinch-hitter.
- While playing for the Cardinals White worked part-time for KMOX radio in St. Louis and in Philadelphia he hosted a pregame radio show and worked in the offseasons as a sports reporter on local television. Howard Cosell recommended him to the Yankees and in 1971 he became the first African American broadcaster for a major-league team with the plan was to let White start as a color analyst and break him in slowly on play-by-play. While broadcasting his first spring-training game with Phil Rizzuto, the Scooter spotted Joe DiMaggio in the stands, and left White on his own. Rizzuto and White worked together for 18 seasons and were friends long after.
- White said Yankees owner George Steinbrenner twice offered him the job of general manager, but he knew better and in 1989 the 55-year-old White decided to leave the Yankees. Los Angeles Dodgers president Peter O’Malley invited White to interview for the job of National League president, but he said he was not interested. O’Malley called again and White agreed to talk to the search committee understanding baseball’s Al Campanis–caused public-relations problem. White later acknowledged, “Let’s face it, they wanted a black National League president.” “Bill had no choice but to accept that job,” his friend Bob Gibson said. “Not for himself, but for other people.” White retired from the role in 1994.
- While playing White homered in his first big league at bat, made eight All-Star teams, drove in 100+ runs four times, led the NL first basemen in fielding twice, won seven Gold Gloves, hit over .300 four times, hit 20+ homers seven times, he recorded the first hit in Candlestick Park, and hit for the cycle on August 14, 1960 in the first game of a double header in which his Cardinals lost to Vernon Law and the Pirates. White faced 15 HOF pitchers: White hit seven homers and .326 against Don Drysdale, .378 against Robin Roberts, .333 against Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry, and .176 against Sandy Koufax.
- Bill White on the field:
|1957||Did not play in major or minor leagues (Military Service)|
|STL (8 yrs)||1113||4615||4165||627||1241||209||140||631||383||601||.298||.829|
|PHI (3 yrs)||396||1459||1270||148||328||45||39||176||159||249||.258||.743|
|SFG (2 yrs)||164||604||537||68||137||24||23||63||54||77||.255||.780|