A Great Yankee…One of the Best, Ever! (Special from the IBWAA)
By Paul Semendinger, Ed.D.
This article was featured in “Here’s The Pitch” the newsletter of the IBWAA in September 2022.
Editor’s Note: the author is hosting a special Roy White event in November. Here’s the link.
When people talk about the greatest Yankees of all time, the list usually begins (and often ends) with the same names: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera. Interestingly, except for Babe Ruth (and Yogi Berra for a few games), those players spent their entire careers with the Yankees.
When choosing a list of the greatest players for a team, fans often look for players who spent their entire career with that club. Reggie Jackson was a great Yankee, for instance, but he was also a member of the Kansas City/Oakland A’s, Baltimore Orioles, and the California Angels.
When people consider the best Yankees, they often think of the biggest names, the giants of the game, who overshadow many other all-time greats. And that’s a shame because, as a result, some great players get overlooked and sometimes even forgotten.
For example, many fans have never heard of Johnny Allen. But if one were to go to Baseball-Reference and look up the Yankees pitchers with the highest lifetime winning percentage, Johnny Allen sits atop the list. Other oft-forgotten pitchers on that list include Spud Chandler, Jim Coates, Monte Pearson, Bob Grim, and Chien-Ming Wang. In short, the history of the Yankees is greater than the stories and records of just the greatest of the great.
There’s another Yankees great who has been less remembered than the superstars he played with, but who also belongs on every short list of Yankees greats. This player was an outfielder. He spent his entire career with the Yankees. He played with Mickey Mantle, and even batted fourth to protect Mantle in the lineup. This player set the American League record for Sacrifice Flies in a season. He was also an All-Star and a quiet leader on the championship teams of the late 1970s that included Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, and so many others…
Before I go on, I would like to share a trivia question that I came up with. From 1950 through 1999, only two players spent an entire calendar decade (for example, the 1960s) with the Yankees. Those two players were Yogi Berra (1950s) and Roy White (1970s).
Often times, fans of the Yankees forget or overlook some of the best players in the franchise’s history. Roy White is one of those players. Roy White was a great Yankee, one of the best. All one needs to do is look at the lists of all-time great Yankees and his name appears time and time and time again.
In career WAR, Roy White ranks as the 11th greatest Yankee of All-Time among position players. Yes, his WAR (46.4) ranks higher than Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly, Phil Rizzuto, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, and Thurman Munson – players who are all immortalized in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.
Roy White is also among the greatest Yankees in Games Played (7th), Runs (13th), Hits (11th), Doubles (16th), Walks (8th), Stolen Bases (6th). While he wasn’t known as a power-hitter, Roy White is still 20th all time in Runs Batted In. And the list goes on.
Of note, as well, Roy White played in an era of depressed offense. Simply, when Roy White played, it was much more difficult to hit. He played in a pitcher’s era. For example, Roy White’s .267 batting average in 1968 looks pedestrian. But when one realizes that the American League as a whole batted only .231 that year, White’s performance is much enhanced.
Roy White was also an adept left-fielder. In 1971, he went the entire season without making an error. He was the first Yankees player to ever accomplish that feat.
White was also a steady presence in the lineup. In five different seasons, White appeared in no fewer than 155 games, and, in fact, he played in all 162 games in the 1970 and 1973 seasons.
A Yankees from 1965 through 1979, Roy White was a special player. He bridged the gap between the teams who were World Champions in the 1950s and 1960s with the championship teams of the 1970s. Roy White was a quiet leader. The word most often used to describe him was “class.” During the Bronx Zoo years of the 1970s, the team needed some stable leaders, players who could be counted on to do their jobs well, and not create controversy. Roy White was one of those players. He was a champion, a leader, and an all-time great Yankee.
It is time for the Yankees to recognize and honor this great player, one of the best to ever wear pinstripes, with a plaque in Monument Park. With this deserved honor, Roy White will stand where he belongs, alongside the other Yankees greats. Just as importantly, his contributions will then also be recalled by generations of Yankees fans to come.
Dr. Paul Semendinger is the Editor-in-Chief of the Yankees site Start Spreading the News. Paul has collaborated with Roy White on his autobiography From Compton to the Bronx which will be released by Artemesia Publishing in April 2023.