For a long time, it appeared that Roy White would be born too late. Coming up with the Yankees in 1965, White got there just as the Yankees’ dynasty was crumbling. A decade later, White still hadn’t played in the postseason. It appeared as if he would be one Yankee who never would.
White was more a #2 or a #7 hitter. But in the early 1970’s, he found himself in the cleanup slot (100 games in 1971, for instance). For someone who topped 20 homers and 85 RBI just once in his career, it was a strange place to find him. At 5’10” and 160 pounds when he broke in, the switch-hitter sure didn’t look the type.
But such was the state of the Yankees in the early 1970’s. Murcer and White were good ballplayers, but the days of Mantle and Maris were long past.
White made his Yankees’ debut on September 7, 1965, one day before Murcer. He went 14 for 42, with 3 RBI. In 1966, White had a rough first year as a regular player, hitting .225-7-20, OPS+ 92. He did steal 14 bases. In 1967 he struggled again, hitting .224-2-18 with an OPS+ of 75, with 10 SB. In these early years, besides playing the outfield, he also played a little infield as well. He logged 17 games at 3B in 1967.
1968 was White’s breakout year. He became the regular left fielder. The average, .267, doesn’t sound like much, but it led the Yankees. It was “The Year of the Pitcher.” The average in the AL was just .230, and the Yankees hit just .214, their lowest batting average ever. White’s 17 HR was second on the team to Mantle’s 18 (Mantle getting the gift HR from Denny McLain for #535). He stole 20 bases, and his 62 RBI led the team. Although Mantle was still there (his final year), it was a far cry from the glory days. For his efforts, White finished 12th in the MVP voting that year. .267-17-62 doesn’t sound like much, but his 136 OPS+ shows how much hitting was down that year.
With the departure of Mantle, the Yanks had a power shortage. They only hit 94 HR in 1969, 53 by Pepitone and Murcer. Bobby had just returned from two years of military service. The only other Yankee to top 10 HR that year was Frank Fernandez, known as “the Staten Island Strong Boy.” Fernandez had 12. The 94 HR looked mighty puny when you consider that in 1961 Maris and Mantle had 115 all by themselves. The “Bronx Bombers” nickname didn’t seem to apply.
White had 7 HR in 1969, along with 74 RBI. He made the All-Star team for the first of his two times in his career. He hit a solid .290 and stole 18 bases. He led the league in SF with 11. Throughout his career, White had a good eye. He averaged 80 walks per 162 games. His 1969 OPS+ was a 133 and he finished 29th in the MVP voting.
1970 would be White’s finest year as he helped the Yanks to a surprising 93-win season. Alas, the World Champion Orioles team of that year was a powerhouse, winning 108 games and finishing 15 games ahead of the Yankees. White had career highs in just about everything. He hit .296-22-94. He played in all 162 games. He stole 24 bases. He was named an All-Star for the second and final time. He finished 15th in MVP voting. He had a 142 OPS+. He drew 95 walks.
1971 would be another solid season, although Roy White seemed as much out of place in the cleanup slot as another White, Frank, would seem to be in the mid-1980s for the Kansas City Royals. Roy hit .292-19-84, OPS+ 149, and led the majors with 17 SF. He stole 14 bases.
In 1972, White led the AL with 99 walks. The quiet White hit .270, but his power dropped to 10 HR and 54 RBI. He stole 23 bases but his OPS+ was still very respectable at 130.
White was a solid outfielder. In 1968 he made just one error. In 1971, he didn’t make any. He never won a Gold Glove however, probably in part due to the fact that his throwing arm was weak.
In 1973 White played in all 162 games and led the league in AB and plate appearances. His average dropped to .246 as he hit 18 HR and drove in 60 runs. He stole 16 bases. The OPS+ dropped to 101.
1974 and the Yanks moved to Shea for two seasons. White rebounded to hit .275, but with just 7 HR and 43 RBI. He stole 15 bases and had an OPS+ of 121.
In 1975, White hit .290, his highest since 1971. He had 12 HR, 59 RBI and 16 SB with an OPS+ of 128.
The Yanks returned to their remodeled Stadium in 1976 and White responded with one of his best seasons. At 32, he led the AL in runs scored with 104. He also led the league in plate appearances. He hit .286 with 14 HR, 65 RBI and a career-high 31 SB. His OPS+ was 127 and he finished 26th in MVP balloting. More importantly, for the first time in his career, he was going to play in the postseason.
He went 5 for 17 with 3 doubles and 3 RBI in the ALCS. The WS was a bit disappointing, as White went just 2 for 15.
1977 brought the Bronx Zoo. White usually stayed above the fray, but did grumble a bit about lack of playing time. More and more down the stretch, Billy Martin turned to Lou Piniella. With Lou, White, Rivers and Reggie, lots of times one of the trio of Lou, Reggie or White would have to DH. If Billy wanted to DH Cliff Johnson, it meant bench time; meaning Piniella or White rode the pines. White did hit .268-14-52 with 18 steals and an OPS+ of 109, but wasn’t used much in the postseason, Billy opting for Piniella. White did play in four of the five ALCS games, but had just five at bats. He did get two doubles. He pinch-hit for Bucky Dent in the 9th inning of Game 5 and drew a key walk. He then scored the eventual winning run on a SF by Willie Randolph. In the WS, White got into two games and had just two AB, going 0 for 2. Although there was joy in winning a World Championship, White’s joy in beating the Dodgers (White was from LA) was tempered by the feeling that he didn’t contribute much in the postseason.
In 1978, the lack of playing time which started in the stretch drive of 1977 increased. White played in just 103 games, his lowest total since 1967. He hit .269 with 8 HR and 43 RBI. He had an OPS+ of 112 and stole just 10 bases. He was on base, however, when Bucky Dent hit his huge HR against Boston in Game #163.
White then had a big postseason with a couple of huge HRs. He went 5 for 16 against the Royals in the ALCS, with 1 HR, his only RBI. This HR was one of White’s proudest moments. It happened in Game 4 and broke a 1-1 tie. It was the deciding blow in a 2-1 Yankees win which gave them the pennant.
White then went 8 for 24 with a HR and 4 RBI in the World Series. In Game 3, with the Yanks down 2-0 in games to the Dodgers, White started the Yankees’ comeback with a solo HR in the bottom of the first. This was the “Nettles’ Game,” when Graig made a few unbelievable defensive plays to support Ron Guidry and save several runs. The Yanks won 5-1 and were on their way to coming back and winning the Series. White’s HR was the first spark. In Game 4, it was White who walked in the bottom of the 10th and who scored on Lou Piniella’s single to win the game 4-3, thus evening the Series.
This postseason was White’s last shining moment in Pinstripes. He suffered through a miserable 1979, hitting .215-3-27, OPS+ only 59.
White then went to Japan to play for three years. The Japanese were very appreciative of White, who learned the language and ingratiated himself into Japanese culture.
White’s career totals were .271, with 160 HR. His 162 game average was .271-14-65 with 20 SB. When reviewing his stats, you may be as surprised as I was by his OPS+. It was a 121. He stole 233 bases. Going into the 2011 season, White ranks 7th in games played by a Yankee, 9th in at bats, 7th in plate appearances. That eye I wrote about? He ranks 7th in walks. He’s 5th in SB. 8th in times on base. The 17 sacrifice flies of 1971 is still the Yankees’ single-season record (there were many changes in the SF rule in the early half of the 20th century) and he’s second all-time among Yankees in that category. Those 17 sacrifice flies are tied for the most in one season by an American League player. Such was the lack of hitting on the Yankees in the early 1970’s that White ranks sixth among all Yankees in intentional passes. He ranks fourth in power/speed combination.
As a player, White wore #48 from 1965-1968, then #21 for a time in 1968. Starting in 1969, he settled into the number most people remember him by, #6.
He coached for the Yankees in 1983, 1984, 1986 and then again in 2004 and 2005. He also spent time as the minor league hitting coach for the Oakland A’s.
According to Wikipedia, he also established The Roy White Foundation, a charity aimed to help children and young adults in the New York area who would like to attend college, but do not have the financial resources to do so.
White is 67.