The Off-Season: Good But, Not Great- Part Ten
The Off-Season: Good But, Not Great- Part Ten
By Tim Kabel
March 28, 2022
So far, I have written nine articles about Yankees’ players who were good but, not great. These players were not Hall of Famers. However, they were key components of their teams. In many cases, they were the backbone of World Series Championship teams. My last article in the series was about Johnny Damon. I have stated that the Yankees’ Championship teams of the late ’70s, had more good but, not great players than teams from any other era. Today, one of them will be the subject of this article.
Roy Hilton White was born on December 27th, 1943. After his parents separated, he was raised by his mother. He and his little brother played baseball in one of the nearby vacant lots. Instead of a baseball, they used a sock filled with rags that was bound in tape to make a ball. It was hard for the pitchers to throw fast. So, they concentrated on breaking balls. As a result, White developed his batting eye and his unique switch-hitting batting stance. White was a standout athlete and had offers from UCLA to play baseball, and Long Beach State for football. However, he signed with the Yankees in 1961 for $6000. After struggling initially in the minor leagues, White began to blossom. In 1965, with AAA Columbus., White, who was playing second base at the time, hit .300 with 19 home runs and was the league’s MVP. He was called up to the Bronx in September.
Roy White became a Major Leaguer full-time in 1966. He later admitted that at the beginning of his career, the temptation of reaching the short porch in right field made him alter his swing. In 1966 and 1967, and he struck out more than he walked. At the beginning of the 1968 season, White was slated to be a back-up infielder and pinch hitter. He started off so hot that he forced Yankees’ manager Ralph Houk to find him a position. The infield was full, so, Houk challenged White to learn to play left field. White took over the cleanup spot from Mickey Mantle and finished 12th in the American League MVP voting. He played. 159 games and batted. 267 with 17 home runs and 62 runs batted in. He also stole 20 bases.
The late 60’s and early 70’s were a tough time for the Yankees as a team. However, Roy White began to develop and flourish as a player. He made the All-Star team in 1969 and 1970. In 1970, he hit .296 with 22 home runs, while stealing 24 bases. He also drove in 94 runs. After the season, Mickey Mantle, who was then his former teammate, stated that White was a Yankees’ star and one of the best players in baseball. Roy White continued to develop his batting eye. By the end of his career, he had walked over 200 more times than he struck out as a Major Leaguer. In his 15 seasons in MLB, White only struck out more than he walked, four times.
The Yankees continued to struggle and rebuild during the peak of White’s career. In 1973, George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees. His goal was to return the Yankees to their glory years. Roy White enjoyed playing for Billy Martin, who emphasized walks, stolen bases, and good defense. White frequently batted second, between Mickey Rivers and Thurman Munson. In 1976, he led Major League Baseball in runs scored, with 104. He also stole 31 bases and batted .286. White played a key role as the Yankees beat the Royals in the 1976 playoffs, finally allowing him to play in the World Series. Unfortunately, the Yankees were swept in four games by the Cincinnati Reds.
In 1977, White signed a three-year contract but, he began to decline with age. Despite the fact that he was an everyday player in 1977, he had only seven at bats in the 1977 postseason. However, the Yankees won their first World Series in over a decade. In 1978, White split leftfield playing time with Lou Piniella. However, White exploded offensively at the end of the season, batting. 337 in September, as the Yankees tried to catch the Red Sox. In the playoff game with the Red Sox, it was White who hit a double with one runner on, setting the stage for Bucky Dent’s dramatic home run. He batted over .300 in both the ALCS and the World Series, as the Yankees won their second straight World Series Championship. 1979 was his last year with the Yankees and it was a down year for both him and the team. He was a free agent after the season and despite offers from other Major League teams, he signed with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. He wound up batting cleanup, protecting Japan’s home run king, Sadaharu Oh, in the batting order. In his first year in Japan, White hit over .300 with 29 home runs. He won the Japan series in 1981, and finished his three years in Japan with a .296 average and over 60 home runs.
Roy White returned to the Yankees and served as hitting coach from 1983 through 1986. Under his guidance, Don Mattingly won an MVP award and a batting championship, and became one of the best hitters in baseball. White stayed close to the Yankees after his career and became a trusted advisor to George Steinbrenner. He was a part-time scout and was a member of the group that traveled to Japan to scout Hideki Matsui.
Roy White was a good but, not great Yankee. Reggie Jackson may have summed it up perfectly by saying, “sometimes management can’t accept his kind of player, because they’re looking for loud players, guys who do things in a big way. If you really don’t watch him, and you really don’t figure out what he does, he can easily be overlooked. But his biggest asset to the club, is that here’s a guy who’s going to do his job and not make mental mistakes, a guy who will bunt, hit a grounder to the other side to advance a runner, hit a sacrifice, fly, get you a quiet single, and get on base.” That perfectly describes Roy White’s career in the Major Leagues, all of which came as a New York Yankee. Thankfully, he was able to survive the lean years and become an important member of two World Series Championship teams.
Previous Articles in this Series: