Many people of my generation know about the Yankee legends. They know Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, and Babe Ruth (along with the litany of nicknames, too). They know the players of the current dynasty, such as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada. Fewer know the greats (even though they should) like Whitey Ford, Ron Guidry, Don Mattingly, and Tony Lazzeri. But unfortunately, very few fans in the millennium generation know of Roy White.
An African-American ballplayer during the height of the desegregation movement, White displayed immense courage and control through the early days of his minor league career. Similarly to Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby, White experienced his share of racism, including playing for the “Columbus Confederate Yankees” in 1964. He made his debut for the Yankees on September 7th, 1965, at the age of 21. Except for a brief period in 1967, he stayed in the Majors his entire career.
A keystone for the Yankees throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, Roy White was a beacon of consistency. He played in all 162 games in two separate seasons, and played a palindromic 1881 games in 15 years, all in the Bronx. White also patrolled left field stricter than Sheldon Cooper protecting his seat on the couch. He had really good range, a glove with strong webbing, and a powerful arm, which helped him rack up 80 career assists from the outfield. Additionally, he topped the left field fielding percentage chart from every season between 1968 to 1972, including an errorless season in 1971. Interestingly, he rose through the minor league ranks as a second baseman.
Additionally, Roy White was a rare power/speed combo for his time. Only 5’10” and not incredibly bulky, White batted in multiple lineup slots; sometimes he batted third, other times he would bat leadoff, or he could hit seventh, yet he always produced. He stole 233 career bases, while also blasting 160 career homers. He had 1803 hits, of which exactly 300 were doubles. He led the American League with 104 runs in 1976, and paced the AL in walks during the 1972 season, with 99. He never hit above .300 in any of his full seasons, yet hit .290 four times, finishing his career with a .271 career average. A solid resume to say the least. For perspective, Bobby Murcer had 1862 hits and a .277 average in 17 seasons.
White was also a two-time All-Star in 1969 and 1970, and a two-time World Series champion in 1977 and 1978. In fact, he batted .326 in the 1978 postseason, scoring 14 runs en route to a six-game victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers for the trophy. He would play just one more season with the Yankees before taking his talents to Japan, playing three seasons for the Yomiuri Giants (including one with the famed Sadaharu Oh, who has 868 career Japanese League home runs). Finally, at age 38, he hung up his cleats in 1982.
He wasn’t done with baseball, though. He joined the Yankees as a coach for the 1983, 1984, and 1986 seasons, and rejoined the Yankees as a coach in 2005. A true Renaissance man, Roy White succeeded in all facets of baseball. It’s truly a shame he doesn’t get more talk, because White is definitely worthy of a more significant place in New York Yankees lore. Here’s a quote to sum it all up: Roy White is probably the nicest Goddam guy on the club. He’s quiet. He’s well respected by everybody, and he’s very classy, he and his wife both. – Sparky Lyle in The Bronx Zoo.