An MLBbro For All Seasons: The Bill White Story

An MLBbro For All Seasons: The Bill White Story

To call William “Bill” DeKova White a true baseball guy would be a drastic understatement.

The Lakewood, Florida native has done nearly anything and everything on and off the diamond across the baseball spectrum.



As a player, White has been a perennial All-Star and Gold Glove winner, a World Series champion, a play-by-play announcer on TV and radio, as well as a pioneering baseball official while serving as the National League’s first black president from 1989 through 1994.


During his 13-year Major League playing career, White was an 8-time All-Star and won 7 Gold Gloves as a first baseman for the New York/San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, and Philadelphia Phillies.


MLBro Legendary Trailblazer Bill White, Man of Many Hats



A standout athlete as a youngster, White’s family would move to Warren, Ohio where he lettered in baseball, basketball, and football in high school (Warren G. Harding High School) and college (Hiram College).


Superb Athlete: Experienced Extreme Racism In Minors


White would be courted by the New York Giants while at Hiram as he impressed the scouts with his two-homer performance in the championship game of the National Amateur Baseball Federation tournament at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field in 1952. A year later, the Giants signed him as a free agent for $2,500 and he was invited to Spring Training.


Eventually, he farmed out the franchise’s Carolina League (Class B) affiliate in Danville, Va. where he was the only black player in the league. Not surprisingly, White had to deal with numerous instances of racism from fans including one incident in Burlington, N.C. where he flipped the bird to hostile, foul-mouthed spectators.


Living in the South pre-Civil Rights Movement, got so disheartening that White asked to be transferred to a team in the North, but he was leading his current team in hitting and the manager wouldn’t part with him.


White finished his first professional season hitting 20 home runs with a .298 average. A year later, in the Class A Western League in 1954, he hit 30 homers and stole 40 bases for Sioux City Iowa, then followed with 20 homers for Dallas in the Double-A Texas League the next year.


By 1955, White’s path to the majors was nearly complete.


He was playing for the Triple-A farm club in Minneapolis when the Giants called him up in May. In his first time at bat, in St. Louis on May 7, he slammed a home run off right-hander Ben Flowers. White added a single and a double later in the game. but went 1-for-16 before he hit his second home run off the Dodgers’ iconic Black Ace, Don Newcombe, six days later.


He homered twice off ace pitcher Robin Roberts on the last day of the season to bring his total to 22 as he finished with a .780 OPS.


Bill White Served In US Army 


During the offseason, White would be drafted in the Army where he served until July of 1958. Much had changed with the Giants upon his return. The franchise had moved to San Francisco and his position at first base was being filled by an outstanding Cuban player by the name of Orlando Cepeda, who would eventually win the National League’s Rookie of The Year award that season.


To make matters worse, there was another budding standout first baseman within the organization named Willie McCovey, that many felt would be on the roster in less than a year.



Trade To St. Louis Elevates Bill White To Star Status 


The writing was on the wall for White and his days in a Giants jersey were numbered.


On March 25, 1959, the Giants traded him to St. Louis with third baseman Ray Jablonski for pitchers Don Choate and Sam Jones. White’s initial reaction to the trade was beyond concerned.


Historically, Black players did not feel welcome in St. Louis as the Cardinals were the one of last major-league teams to integrate. However, White would once say, “Eventually it would turn out to be one of the best moves of my life.”


Playing primarily in the outfield during his first season, White batted over .350 for most of the first half. Players and managers elected him to his first All-Star team as a left fielder. He finished at .302 with an .814 OPS.


The next year, White was back at first base, winning the first of seven Gold Gloves, and by 1961 he was the Cardinals’ everyday first baseman. In 1962 White began a five-year run as one of the National League’s elite players.


According to SABR, he posted an adjusted OPS (OPS adjusted for park and league average) above 120 every year (100 is defined as the league average) while dominating with the web at that corner position. In ’62 his .868 OPS and .324 batting average were career bests.


The next year, he registered career highs with 200 hits, 106 runs, 27 home runs, and 109 RBIs.

World Series Champion 


The zenith of White’s time in St. Louis would come in 1964.

The team began the season slowly as the Philadelphia Phillies were the class of the National League for most of the year. White stumbled through the early months of 1964, then came on strong in the second half. After the All-Star break he raised his batting average from .263 to .303 and his OPS from .704 to .829.


In the midst of Philly’s epic collapse, the Cardinals rallied and eventually caught the Phils late in the season as the teams flip-flopped the top spot in the National League standings down the stretch. In the season’s final game, when the Cardinals had to win or go home, White singled in the fifth inning and scored the go-ahead run, then added a two-run homer in the sixth as St. Louis beat the New York Mets to clinch the pennant.


White batted only .111 in the World Series, but he contributed two hits and scored a run in the Game Seven victory over the Yankees. He finished third in the Most Valuable Player voting, behind his teammate Ken Boyer and Philadelphia’s Johnny Callison. As the Cardinals fell to the second division in 1965, the organization began to phase out their older players.


Eventually, White and Groat were traded to the Phillies with backup catcher Bob Uecker for pitcher Art Mahaffey, catcher Pat Corrales, and outfielder Alex Johnson. White would have another stint with the Cardinals in 1968, but injuries would eventually lead to his retirement in 1969. Ironically, the Cardinals offered White a Triple-A managing job, but he had already chosen his next career.


Birth Of An Iconic Broadcasting Duo


While playing for the Cardinals he worked part-time for KMOX radio in St. Louis. In Philadelphia, he hosted a pregame radio show and worked in the offseason as a sports reporter on local television.


One of his early assignments was broadcasting hockey for the expansion Philadelphia Flyers. After retiring for good, he became a full-time sports anchor for WFIL-TV and studied with a New York voice coach to improve his performance.


Along the way, White developed a friendship with Howard Cosell. Years before “The Great One” became a national name through his relationship with a certain iconic heavyweight boxing champion named Muhammad Ali and his work in the Monday Night Football booth.


Rumor has it that Cosell recommended White to the Yankees for their play-by-play job. In 1971, he became the first African American broadcaster for a major-league team—although, despite his radio and TV experience, he had never called a baseball game.


White, along with Frank Messer and Phil Rizzuto served as the TV and radio voices for the Bronx Bombers throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. Eventually, it was just White and Rizzuto, side by side for nearly two decades.


For many Yankee fans (and non-Yankee fans), the running “monologues” of White and the Scooter was must-see TV because of Rizzuto’s “casual” reporting of the game alongside White’s professionalism.



By 1989, White had decided to leave the Yankees. He had earned enough respect in broadcasting circles to call several World Series for the CBS Radio Network, but the Yankees had switched most of their games to cable, leaving only about 60 each season for White on WPIX-TV.


He was also part of ABC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics in 1980 and 1984. Eventually, White would step outside the booth and be approached by Major League Baseball.


Initially, Los Angeles Dodgers president Peter O’Malley invited White to interview for the job of National League president, but he said he was not interested. This was coming off the firestorm created by then Dodgers GM Al Campanis’ comments stating that blacks might lack “the necessities” to be managers or general managers. O’Malley called again and White agreed to talk to the search committee.


MLBbro Legend Bill White | Baseball’s First Black Broadcaster & Black NL President

Bill White: First Black National League President 


When NL President Bart Giamatti was named Commissioner of Baseball, White would be tabbed as Giamatti’s replacement. Winning in a unanimous vote, White became the first black executive to hold such a high position in sports at the time.


White spoke openly of his initial reluctance and not wanting to be considered as a token hire.


However, he stated in his autobiography, “Uppity” that “Let’s face it, they wanted a black National League president.”


Ironically, one of White’s former teammates, Bob Gibson said, “Bill had no choice but to accept that job Not for himself, but for other people.”


At the time, White was the first former player to head the National League since John Tener 70 years earlier. (Former shortstop Joe Cronin had previously served as president of the American League.)


Bill White Oversaw Some Watershed MLB Moments 


During his tenure, White had to deal with an umpires strike as well as handing out discipline against controversial Cincinatti Reds owner Marge Schott.



He also supervised the expansion process that awarded teams to Denver, Colorado, Miami, and Arizona. White served as NL president through 1994 and for several years after his retirement, White was a member of the Veterans Committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame.


Along the way, White was noted for having helped swing the HOF vote in favor of his former broadcasting partner Rizzuto as well as the Scooter’s top rival and stand-out shortstop for the perennial pennant-winning Brooklyn Dodgers Pee Wee Reese.


White Should Be In Baseball Hall Of Fame 


On May 22, 2020, White was elected to the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame along with Tom Herr and John Tudor. In October of this year, White was one of eight nominees to be under consideration by the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2024.


Former managers, executives, and umpires whose primary contributions to the game came since 1980 were eligible for consideration. Voting results will be announced tomorrow (December 3rd.)


When you look back at the body of work that Bill White, 89, has amassed during his baseball life on and off the field, it really should be a no-brainer that the kid from Florida get his day in the sun at Cooperstown.


NOTE: The Society for American Baseball Research contributed to this article.