Book Review: Roy White From Compton to the Bronx
By Andy Singer
June 14th, 2023
Back in the Fall, I had the privilege of attending an event at Ramapo College, "An Evening With Roy White." The night was held not specifically to promote Roy White's autobiographical book with Paul Semendinger, but also as an opportunity for fans to interact with Roy while he told stories and he raised money for The Roy White Foundation. While I knew that Paul's book with Roy would be released the following Spring, I really didn't know much about what would be in the book other than a recounting of White's Yankee career. Listening to Roy speak that night made me realize that this book would be so much more than a former ballplayer's recollection of his life in baseball.
Following that evening, Paul offered me the opportunity to write a review for the book, and I jumped at the opportunity under one condition: that I could be completely honest in my review and assessment. Paul graciously agreed.
As the Fall event foretold, the book presented both the expected and unexpected. For those who want stories about baseball and the Yankees, fear not: there is plenty of that in the book. The book follows Roy's career from his initial signing out of high school, through the minor leagues and his eventual regular place in the Yankee lineup for the better part 15 seasons, right up to his various jobs in baseball as both an executive and coach. Roy speaks at length about his successes and struggles in the minor leagues as he fought to make the Majors at any position (and trust me, the Yankees and Dodgers tried him all over the diamond at a moment's notice); what it was like to finally crack the storied Yankee lineup as the greats, like Mickey Mantle, wound their careers down; how he and Thurman Munson knew the Yanks were on the precipice of greatness at the end of the 1970 season; the Bronx Zoo years; and what it was like to wind down his career playing in Japan with one of the greatest power hitters in the history of baseball, Sadaharu Oh. White also has plenty to say about players he helped as a coach, and gave fascinating insight into how the Yankee coaching staff worked together in the mid-2000s, teams I grew up adoring. Rest assured, baseball junkies have plenty to hold their interest in this book.
What might be unexpected for readers are all of Roy's stories about topics away from the diamond and their impact on both his story and who he is as a person. Roy grew up in Compton in a racially mixed family, and his story wasn't always picturesque or like one from a fantastical storybook. Early in Roy's story, I was struck by his story of being chased through the streets of Compton by a group of people looking to do him serious harm, when he fell, laying down in left field. Serendipity? Possibly, but larger history lessons and sociological points of interest abound in Roy's story. For those of you with interests beyond baseball, Roy provides a fascinating perspective on what it was like to face segregation and nebulous standards for racial classification (among the more fascinating examples: the Yankees did not know White was black during his first Spring Training in Florida, and he roomed with other white ballplayers before the mistake was "rectified").
As much as I learned about Roy's experiences in baseball, I was most fascinated by his experiences away from the baseball diamond, which is saying a lot for a baseball rat like myself. Coming from a mostly black neighborhood, White faced segregation and discrimination for nearly the first time as a young adult in the Yankee farm system. These sections of the book are treated delicately and matter-of-factly, which made Roy's story even more thought provoking. I also was entranced by his descriptions of playing baseball in Japan. Roy is more thoughtful than a lot of American ballplayers from that era, even admitting that the Japanese might have been ahead of American baseball with some of their training practices. I think Roy's open-minded nature really shines through in this section of the book.
Most importantly, having met Roy White, his class, graciousness, and thoughtful demeanor really shine through in this book. I think Paul did a fantastic job of highlighting some of the most fascinating parts of Roy's story, while ensuring that the story is organized in a way that is interesting and easy to follow for the reader. Whenever another writer is involved in helping someone else tell their life story, it can be difficult to maintain the main speaker's voice and character. That is never an issue in this book, and Paul deserves to be commended for this.
If I had one critique, it would be that I'd be fascinated to know more from Roy what he felt as he experienced being away from home for the first time while facing such extreme degradation and discrimination...maybe it's another book! I promised Paul that I would give my honest thoughts on Roy White From Compton to the Bronx. My honest opinion is that it is one of the best autobiographical accounts of a baseball player's life that I have read in quite some time. I urge everyone who reads this blog to read it for themselves.