#CardCorner: 1975 Topps Roy White
In between, Roy White established himself as one of the best multitalented players in the game – and one of its most underappreciated stars.
Born Dec. 27, 1943, in Compton, Calif., Roy Hilton White starred on the diamond and the gridiron for Centennial High School. As a switch-hitting second baseman, White attracted scouts and graduated in 1961 – with several colleges recruiting him as a football player.
But White was focused on baseball and drew interest from the Angels and Dodgers. The Yankees, however, won him over with a reported $6,000 signing bonus. As a switch-hitter with some pop and speed, White was fast-tracked through the Yankees system.
“Every kid in our neighborhood was a switch-hitter,” White told the Miami News of his journey to becoming a switch-hitter. “We all tried to imitate the big league players. Hitting a can down the street with a stick, I’d swing left-handed if I imagined myself a (Stan) Musial or some other left-handed hitting hero. And right-handed I was (Willie) Mays or some other right-handed star.”
White played Class D and Class B ball in 1962, then jumped onto prospect lists in 1963 when he hit .309 with 117 runs scored and 100 walks as a second baseman for Class A Greensboro of the Carolina League.
He took a step backward in 1964 at Double-A Columbus of the Southern League in 1964 when he hit .253, but returned to Columbus in 1965 and hit .300 with 19 homers, 22 stolen bases, 85 walks and 103 runs scored while leading the team to the Southern League title.
White earned a September call-up to the Yankees, hitting .333 over 14 games – mostly in right field. After a trip to the highly competitive Florida Winter Instructional League following the season and a productive spring with the Yankees in 1966, White earned a spot on the big league roster. He was named the winner of the James P. Dawson Award by the team’s beat writers as the top rookie in Yankees camp – an award that had previously been won by players like Tony Kubek, Johnny Blanchard and Tom Tresh.
In the tumultuous 1977 season, White served as a steadying force as the Yankees again won the AL East and defeated the Royals in the ALCS. White hit .268 with 14 homers and 72 runs scored in what would be his last season as the Yankees regular left fielder, but came to the plate only eight times in the postseason as Martin used Reggie Jackson, Mickey Rivers, Lou Piniella and Paul Blair in the outfield on a regular basis.
But after 13 seasons in the big leagues, White finally had his World Series ring when the Yankees defeated the Dodgers in six games.
White began the 1978 season platooning with Piniella in left field as rumors swirled that the team would try to acquire a replacement.
“There’s really no reason to look for another left fielder,” teammate Willie Randolph – who had been mentored by White – said. “But if (George Steinbrenner) wants to look, he can look.”
Relegated to a part-time role, White hit .269 in 103 games – including a .337 average over the final 26 games of the season as the Yankees rallied to catch the Red Sox in the AL East. With Bob Lemon having replaced Martin during the summer, White saw action in every postseason game in 1978 – hitting a combined .325 in 10 games in the ALCS and World Series with two homers, five RBI and 14 runs scored as the Yankees repeated as champions.
With the Yankees trailing 2-games-to-0, White’s first inning home run in Game 3 set the tone for New York’s comeback as the Yankees won four straight.
In 1979, the 35-year-old White appeared in just 81 games and hit only .215. The Yankees allowed him to become a free agent following the season – and White shocked the baseball world by signing with the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese Central League on Feb. 17, 1980, despite receiving several offers from big league clubs. His deal was for a reported $500,000.
In 1980, White hit 29 home runs and drove in 75 runs for the Giants, then hit .273 with 13 homers and 55 RBI in 1981 to help Yomiuri win the Central League title and the Japan Series. After hitting .296 in 1982, White retired as an active player.
“I didn’t go in there trying to tell them how we did it with the Yankees,” White told Knight Ridder Newspapers. “And after I hit three home runs in one game, I was pretty well accepted.”
White returned to the Yankees as a coach in 1983 and also served on the staff during the 2000s.
When White left the Yankees as a player following the 1979 season, he was fifth all-time in franchise history in games played (1,881), eighth in hits (1,803), fourth in walks (934) and second in stolen bases (233).
A bridge between the teams of Mantle and Jackson, Roy White carved out his own legacy in Yankees lore.
“I was oblivious to the turmoil of the 1970s teams,” White told the New York Daily News. “I had to work hard to be a major league player, to make myself valuable to the club. I was just trying to keep my job.
“George (Steinbrenner) wanted an all-star at every position. He didn’t know that that doesn’t work. I later heard (Yankees general manager) Gabe Paul always convinced George to keep me. He’d say: ‘We need Roy, he fits well with this ball club.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum