Thursday, July 14, 2016

BASEBALL'S DYNASTIES AND THE PLAYERS WHO BUILT THEM Omitted Bios (Chapter 18 New York Yankees 1976-1978)

This is the team that turned me into a lifelong baseball fan. I waxed poetic in an earlier post about my first trip to Yankee Stadium with my dad when I was a kid. In the neighborhood I grew up in, you were either a Yankee fan or you were an outcast. Games were not broadcast on television as frequently in those days and I can remember passing many an evening sitting by a transistor radio listening to the play by play. In my mind, I can still vividly recall Phil Rizzuto's trademark phrase: "Holy Cow!" whenever something interesting happened on the field. In this particular chapter of my book, I reluctantly decided to cast Roy White's thumbnail bio adrift. Poor guy. He always seemed to get overshadowed by the higher profile players around him. 

BEST RECORD: 100-62/ 1977  
HALL OF FAMERS: Bob Lemon (MGR), Reggie Jackson (OF), Catfish Hunter (P), Goose Gossage (P)


Roy White
In his SABR biography, White is referred to as a “quiet, graceful leader.” He arrived at the end of a dynasty in New York and hung around for the start of another. Though he never had a candy bar named after him or provided much fodder for sportswriters, he was an indispensable member of the club year after year.
            White was born in Compton, California. He was a baseball and football star at Centennial High School, the same institution that sent Reggie Smith, Al Cowens and Len Randle to the majors. White was offered multiple college scholarships, but turned them down to pursue a career with the Yankees. He got off to a slow start in the minors and considered quitting at one point. By 1965, he was MVP of the Southern League.
            When White joined the Yankees for good in ‘66, the club was in decline. Mantle and Maris were shadows of their former selves. Elston Howard and Whitey Ford were in their twilight years. White hit just .225 in his first season as a full-timer. Though he led the Yankees in stolen bases, he also led AL left fielders in errors. The ‘67 campaign wasn’t much better as he spent half the season in the minors. He returned to New York in July and hit just .224 in seventy games.
            White started the 1968 campaign as a utility man. Used as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement early on, he eventually found a regular spot in the lineup. He hit .267 that year with 17 homers and 62 RBIs—all career-high marks to that point. But his best seasons were yet to come.
            From 1970 through 1977, White compiled a highly competent .277 batting average, finishing with double digit home run totals on seven occasions. A switch-hitter, nearly seventy-five percent of his homers came from the left side. He had above average speed, stealing no fewer than 14 bases per year in the previously mentioned span. He hit his peak in 1976, swiping 31 bags.
            When the cool, detached Bill Virdon took over as manager in ‘74, he came to the abrupt conclusion that White had seen better days. The following year, he edited his opinion, publicly stating that White was better than he had originally thought. According to Sparky Lyle, White was universally liked by teammates. In his memoirs, Lyle commented: “Roy White is probably the nicest goddamn guy on the club. He’s quiet. He’s well respected by everybody and he’s very classy, he and his wife both.”
            During the Yankees’ World Series runs from ‘76-‘78, White was a highly productive member of the team. During the postseason, he accrued a .278 batting average with 22 hits and 20 runs scored in twenty-five games. His sixth inning homer in Game 4 of the ‘78 ALCS against the Royals won the pennant for the Yankees. In the World Series that year, he hit safely in all six games, scoring nine times while driving-in 4 runs.
In ’79, White suddenly lost his stroke, managing a weak .215 average in eighty-one games. He later signed with the Yomiuri Giants, spending three seasons in Japan. During the 1980 slate, he finished second to teammate Sadaharu Oh for the team lead in homers. White became one of the most popular Americans ever to play in Japan’s Central League.
            When his playing days were over, White served as a Yankee coach for three seasons during the 1980s. He held several other jobs for the team over a long period of time. In 2005, he rejoined the coaching staff, working for two more seasons as a first base and outfield coach.

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