Bill White is perhaps the most anonymous Cardinal legend that is a viable candidate for both the re-emerging St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Fame as well as the Major League Baseball HOF in Cooperstown, NY.
Viable HOF candidate ? He accumulated 38.8 bWAR over the course of his career despite losing one prime season and most of another to military service during the Korean War with significant off the field contributions to the sport. During his eight seasons wearing the Birds on the Bat, he tallied 28.3 bWAR and earned a World Series ring in 1964. He ranks 19th in the annals of Redbird position player bWAR - ahead of luminaries Scott Rolen, Yadier Molina, Joe Torre, Willie McGee, Chick Hafey, and Mark McGwire. His 140 St. Louis homers ranks him 13th all time between Enos Slaughter and Lou Brock and his 631 RBIs place him in 19th.
Anonymous ? Be honest, you really don't know much about Bill White although that will hopefully change if you make it to the bottom of this fanpost.
Born in Florida, White was raised in Warren, Ohio - about sixty miles outside Cleveland - where he graduated as both class salutatorian and class president. He attended Hiram College (the alma mater of U.S. President James A Garfield) as a pre-med major when baseball intervened.
Signed by the New York Giants in 1953, he began his journey to the majors that season while playing for Danville (VA) in the Class B Carolina League. The only black player in the entire league, White learned harsh lessons about racism in the Deep South where Jim Crow laws still abounded. Promoted to the Class A Sioux City (IA) Soos in 1954, White flourished while leading his team in hits, homers, triples, slugging % and total bases while finishing second in doubles and batting average. 1955 saw him star for Dallas in the AA Texas League and in 1956 White advanced to the AAA Minneapolis Millers where his manager was former Cardinal skipper Eddie Stanky and one of his teammates was future Al Hrabosky tormentor Vern Rapp.
Called up to the parent club during the Giants' second to last campaign in New York, White was inserted into the lineup for the first time on May 7, 1956. White's inaugural game was in Busch Stadium nee Sportsman's Park in front of 7,229 faithful. Batting sixth, (two spots behind Willie Mays) White stood in at the plate for the first time in the show during the second inning against Cardinal hurler Ben Flowers. The rookie worked a full count and then drilled a fastball that hit the roof covering the right field stands making White the 30th player to go deep in his initial MLB at bat. (The total is now 113). Despite a subsequent double and single off his bat, White's debut was spoiled by the Cardinals as a five run sixth inning erased a 3-0 Giant lead. Ken Boyer drove home a pair, Red Schoendienst added another and Stan Musial drew three walks as Lindy McDaniel recorded the win in relief while Hoyt Wilhelm blew the save when he couldn't extinguish the Redbirds' sixth inning rally.
White finished a successful initial season as the team runner up to Mays in homers, RBIs, runs, hits, doubles and stolen bases. His 3.1 bWAR, however, was dwarfed by Frank Robinson of the Cincinnati Reds who compiled 6.5 bWAR and was unanimously named National League Rookie of the Year. White couldn't wait for the 1957 season to begin.
However, Uncle Sam had other ideas. White was drafted and spent most of the next two years stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky as a supply clerk.
By the time he returned to the Giants and their new home in San Francisco for the tail end of the 1958 season, the 24 year old White had lost his job to a 20 year old rookie sensation named Orlando Cepeda. White played sparingly with only 36 plate appearances in 26 games.
When he reported for spring training in 1959, White found himself behind the '58 Rookie of the Year (Cepeda) and the soon to be 1959 ROY, Willie McCovey, at first base. When queried by the media about how he fit in with the 1959 edition of the Giants, he was frank. The lefty slugger indicated he thought he should be traded. Giants executive Charles "Chub" Feeney was outraged by the opinion and described his player as "uppity". However, before the culmination of spring training, White was in fact traded. Despite having an established first baseman named Stan Musial, the Cardinals made the move to acquire White. He had mixed feelings about the trade - he certainly welcomed the opportunity to play even if it was primarily in left field - but he hated the idea of being in St. Louis. While the color barrier had been broken in the Arch City five years earlier by Tom Alston, the Redbirds were one of the last three NL teams to integrate and black players traveling with their team to St. Louis were still barred from white hotels and white restaurants.
White started slow as a Redbird - he didn't lift his batting average above the Mendoza line until May 5. However, over his next 67 games he blistered the ball at a .384 clip with an exemplary OPS of 1.009. Furthermore, White was establishing himself as a slick fielding first baseman. After 1959, Musial would only play 29 more games at first base over the final four seasons of his career. The league took notice and the slugging first baseman was named to the NL All Star team; an honor he would also receive in four of the next five seasons.
In 1960, the lefty throwing White began a streak of seven consecutive Gold Gloves. To this day, only a solitary National League first baseman has accrued more. A certain former Cardinal/former Met won 11.
White's star continued to rise and in 1962, he commenced a streak of five consecutive seasons with 4.3 or more bWAR. His career and Cardinal highlight took place in 1964 when the Redbirds came back from a five game deficit with 11 to play and edged both the Reds and the Philadelphia Phillies by a single game on the final day of the season. White fueled the Cards' 9-2 closing surge by hitting .429 and slugging .796 with 16 knocked in over his final dozen games. Boyer was the runaway MVP and White polled third.
Intelligent and articulate, White began a broadcasting career while still playing for the Birds. Mentored by the immortal Harry Caray, White had his own show on KMOX. White continued to broadcast after being traded to the Phillies and took up the career full-time after retiring following the 1969 season. White became the first African-American to broadcast NHL games when he worked several Flyers games.
In 1971, White was hired to join the New York Yankees broadcast crew. For 18 years he thrived in the toughest sports media market alongside Hall of Fame partner Phil "Holy Cow" Rizzuto. During that time, he burst through another barrier as he became the first member of his race to become a regular play-by-play man for a major sports team. He worked several World Series for CBS radio, partnered for a while with Jack Buck. White was at the mic in 1978 for the one game A L East tie-breaker between the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox:
Deep to left! Yastrzemski will not get it...it's a home run! A three-run home run for Bucky Dent and the Yankees now lead...Bucky Dent has just hit his fourth home run of the year and look at that Yankees bench out to greet him!"
After the 1988 season, White was presented with a fresh opportunity to serve baseball and break down another racial barrier. National League President A. Bartlett Giamatti (who had ironically succeeded Chub Feeney) was moving up to replace Peter Ueberroth as commissioner. White was unanimously elected NL President and became the first black man to be named to a post that high in a major North American sport.
Cooperstown worthy ? Not based solely on his 38.8 bWAR. But Schoendienst tallied only 42.2. White's broadcast partner Scooter Rizzuto accumulated but 40.6. Ralph Kiner retired with 49.4. A stellar playing career combined with subsequent excellence in managing, broadcasting, and/or executive roles has provided a path for many men to become enshrined. Let's hope trailblazing Bill White's turn comes soon.
Three years ago, White penned his autobiography entitled "Uppity: My Untold Story About the Games People Play". It's a wonderful, insightful and memorable tome. Available at Amazon for less than $10. And at better bookstores everywhere.