MLB.com Columnist

Bill Ladson

A diverse life in baseball: White has done it all

A diverse life in baseball: White has done it all

NEW YORK -- Bill White boasts a baseball resume anyone would be proud of -- and one that deserves recognition with Black History Month beginning on Wednesday. His historic career spanned from the batter's box to the broadcast booth before ending as National League president in 1994. 

After his playing career ended with the Cardinals and Phillies, White broke barriers in baseball broadcasting, becoming the first African-American to do play-by-play for a Major League team, as from 1971-88, White was one of the voices of the Yankees.

It was an exciting time during that period. There he was calling Bucky Dent's famous three-run homer during the 1978 American League tiebreaker game between the Yankees and Red Sox. The year before, as the Yanks won their first World Series since 1962, White was in the winning locker room interviewing Reggie Jackson, who put himself in the record books by hitting five home runs against the Dodgers.

White wasn't through when his broadcasting career ended after the 1988 season. He was the president of the NL for six years, replacing Bart Giamatti.

Even though he has a lot to be proud of, White wonders if he pleased his mother, Edna Mae Young. She wanted her son to become a doctor. White attended Hiram College in Ohio and was all for following his mother's wishes, but sports dominated his life. He lettered in baseball, football and basketball.

"She was disappointed that I didn't [become a doctor]," said the 83-year-old White. "She was not happy I did not finish college. She wanted me to do something else, and I didn't do that.

Asked if his mother was proud of him in the long run, White said, "… I'm not sure if she was proud. She was disappointed. … I was not a good athlete [in college]. I was a decent student. That's why she wanted me to go on to college. She thought that would be more secure than going out and trying to hit a baseball or trying to tackle in football or trying to throw a ball into a basket. I played all three sports in high school and college, and not very well."

White is modest when he talks about his Major League career. White was a five-time All-Star, driving in 90 runs or more runs five times in a season, won seven Gold Gloves and played a big role in helping the Cardinals win a World Series title over the Yankees in 1964.

White said he wouldn't have accomplished anything on the field without coaches such as Harry Walker, Johnny Keane and Dave Garcia.

"Yeah, I became a little bit above average," White said modestly.

White's next line of work occurred toward the end of his playing career. He was sitting on the bench at Busch Stadium when Harry Caray, then a Cardinals broadcaster, challenged him. White told Caray that he had an easy job.

"If you think it's so easy, try it," Carey said to White.

White took Caray up on the offer, made a tape and sent it to management at KMOX, a CBS affiliate, which carried the Cardinals' games. Not only did the station hire White, the top boss, Bob Hyland, let him in on meetings with sales people and gave him several jobs at the station.

"He taught me all about broadcasting. We would talk a lot," White said about Hyland. "He had me work around the station. I did everything but sweep the floor. I started substituting for Jack Buck or Harry Caray on some of the broadcasts."

White was like a sponge after that. He soaked up all the knowledge from the great broadcasters in the business from Buck to Ernie Harwell. In fact, White once spent six hours at the dinner table with Buck and legendary NHL broadcaster Dan Kelly talking about broadcasting.

After his playing career ended after the 1969 season, White was a TV broadcaster for WFIL-TV in Philadelphia before becoming one of the voices of the Yankees in '71. White said he never would have been given the Yanks job if not for voice coach Lilyan Wilder.

While in Philadelphia, White went through lessons with Wilder and she taught him how to get a television voice and how to look into the camera when he was speaking.

"I've been able to have good people along the way," he said.

While he was with the Yankees, White was known for speaking his mind. He doesn't think he would have gone that far if not for broadcast partner Phil Rizzuto, who was a bit different than the partners he had in the past.

"He was a Yankees fan and I came off more truthful than I actually was," White said. "But Rizzuto was a great person. I don't know if I would have made it without him. We became very close. He was a bit different because he was a Yankees fan. He was pro Yankee and I was learning."

White had a lot of great moments as a Yankees broadcaster. He said Chris Chambliss hitting the game-winning home run to help the Yanks win the pennant in 1976 was his most memorable. Also doing the play-by-play during the World Series that same year was another highlight.

"I was working with [the Yankees] five years and I'm sure there were better broadcasters who were capable of doing that," White said. "But I was asked by CBS radio to do the play-by-play in the World Series. That was a challenge because I'd never done all nine innings by myself."

White was far from done after his broadcasting career ended after the 1988 season. White received a call from then-Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley about becoming the NL president. White immediately turned it down. But O'Malley wouldn't take no for an answer.

O'Malley called 10 days later and offered the job again. White then said he would think about it. White then drove to New York, spoke to powers that be in baseball for close to two hours. White then flew to St. Louis to give a speech. O'Malley offered the job once more and he said yes. It helped that White knew the players, the Major League Baseball Players Association and the owners. He thought it was a job he could handle.

White was at the job for six years and he is proud that the NL added two teams -- the Rockies and Marlins -- under his watch.

"I enjoyed some of the things I did [as league president]," White said. "Sometimes, I had to stand up to the American League. But I'm sure the National League was happy because I saved them quite a bit of money in expansion."

White is now retired. He is happily living in Pennsylvania.

"I'll probably get into something going forward," White said. "But I'm just relaxing and fishing. I go to Canada, which I love. I talk to my five kids, and that's it."

Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002 and does a podcast, Newsmakers. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.