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Card Corner--The Forgotten Yankee
2008-05-09 08:56
by Bruce Markusen
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.
 

As impressionable youngsters growing up in Westchester County in the late sixties and early seventies, we reveled in imitating unusual batting styles and stances. Our favorite style to mimic was that of Willie Stargell, with his intimidating "windmilling" of the bat as he waited the next offering from a quivering pitcher. Then there was Joe Morgan’s patented "chicken-wing"—the repeated flapping of his left elbow to his side, a timing mechanism that became the signature of one of the era’s dynamic offensive stars. From the Yankees’ perspective, no one had a more distinctive stance than Roy White. Hitting out of a pronounced crouch, White tucked the knob of his bat toward his back hip, all while pointing each of his feet inward—toward the other. That latter trait characterized White’s signature pigeon-toed stance, one that I can’t remember any other player using in that era, or ever since, for that matter. I can’t imagine trying to stand pigeon-toed for any length of time, not to mention trying to do so while fending off a Bert Blyleven curveball or a Sam McDowell fastball.

During that interim period of Yankee frustration that bridged 1965 to 1975, only a few Yankees garnered rabid fan followings in the Bronx. Most of us gravitated to stars like Thurman Munson and Bobby Murcer, or to a lesser extent, pitching stalwarts Mel Stottlemyre and Sparky Lyle. Few Yankee fans seemed to have much of an appreciation for Roy White, the team’s third best position player behind Murcer and Munson. White first became a regular in 1968, the year that this Topps card (No. 546, as shown above) was issued. There are a few alarmists who will contend that his skin color played a part in his lack of recognition. I’m sure it was a factor for some fans, but I don’t think it mattered much to us rabid diehards growing up near the Bronxville-Yonkers border. (After all, Mets fans in my neighborhood loved Willie Mays as much as any New York ballplayer in 1972 and ’73, even as his skills deteriorated badly.) White just happened to be very quiet, a player who never showed his temper (like Munson) or expressed himself outspokenly (as Murcer did at times). He wasn’t controversial; in fact, he was the opposite, he was as bland any player who ever wore pinstripes. And there’s nothing wrong with bland—if you’re good.

White was a very good player, but most fans (even the adults) of that time failed to recognize just how good. Given that Sabermetrics was in its infancy in the early 1970s, players like White tended to be underrated. As an all-around player who did a little bit of everything, nothing in White’s game stood out. He didn’t hit with a lot of power, so that certainly didn’t grab headlines. One of White’s greatest skills, his patience at the plate and ability to consistently walk more than he struck out, was not yet fully appreciated by either the fan base or the mainstream media. During his peak from 1968 to 1976, White had only one season in which his on-base percentage dipped below .350. In 1972, he led the American League in walks. And for his career, he drew 934 walks while striking out only 708 times.

As overlooked as White was for most of his career, the view of his worth as a player has undergone a stark revision. Historians and analysts now recognize him as one of the finer multi-talented players of the 1970s. Durable and dependable, he featured speed (stealing an average of over 15 bases a season over a 15-year career), a modicum of power (160 home runs, including a high of 22 in 1970), and an excellent glove in left field, skilled enough to handle the challenging dimensions of Death Valley of Yankee Stadium. White also fared well in the postseason, particularly in League Championship Series play. No less an authority than Bill James (who is ironically now a Boston Red Sox employee) has become one of White’s biggest champions, going so far as to claim that White was a better ballplayer than his Red Sox’ left field counterpart, Jim Rice. That’s especially noteworthy given that Rice undergoes an annual dalliance with the BBWAA, which has come within a whisker of electing him to the Hall of Fame. Rice is expected to win election next January, while White fell off the writers’ ballot after one inglorious campaign in 1985. White received no votes (while far lesser players like Don Kessinger and Jesus Alou garnered two and one, respectively), thereby dropping off the ballot immediately.

Now I don’t mean to carry the appreciation of White too far. Personally, I’ve never completely swallowed the comparisons with Rice. Rice’s lifetime on-base percentage was only eight points less than White’s, while his slugging percentage was light years better. The measure of ballpark effects is overrated here, too. While Rice certainly had an advantage hitting at Fenway Park, let’s remember that Yankee Stadium’s reputation as a pitcher’s park for much of the sixties and early seventies was overstated because of just how poor the Yankees’ offense was during those in-between years. Lineups overrun by players like Bobby Cox, Ron Woods, Jerry Kenney, and Celerino Sanchez tended to suppress the run-scoring totals at the Stadium. And then there was the matter of White’s arm, which might have been worse than that of Bernie Williams. White tended to throw "parachutes"—long, looping throws with a high arc—giving opposition baserunners an opportunity to take extra bases on balls hit to left field.

White’s popgun arm and lack of raw power will certainly keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but that shouldn’t detract from his importance to the Yankee franchise. He was a vital element in the Yankees’ pennant-winning run from 1976 to 1978. In the 1976 League Championship Series, White accumulated five walks, tying a major league record. In the 1978 LCS, White hit .313, once again tormenting the opposition Royals, and blasted a game-winning home run in the clinching sixth game. He then went on to hit a home run and drive in four runs against the Dodgers in the World Series, as the Yankees staked claim to their second straight world championship. Additionally, White supplied the Yankees with a critical off-the-field attribute. On a team filled with combustible, high-octane personalities, White provided some gentlemanly stability and a calming, even-keeled presence. Well liked and respected by his teammates, White never gave anyone on the Yankees reason to criticize him in the media, or challenge him to a fight in the dugout.

For those reasons, along with that delightful pigeon-toed stance, Roy White no longer deserves to be the forgotten Yankee.

Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, but none about the Yankees. Please send any Yankee-related book deal offers to bmarkusen@stny.rr.com.

 

Comments
2008-05-09 09:00:02
1.   Alex Belth
Thanks for the tribute to Roy White, a wonderful Yankee. To me, I will never take a program like Yankeeography seriously until they do shows on Yankees like Roy White. I guess he isn't sexy enough to devote an entire hour to, but it is a shame, because most Yankee fans I know admired the quiet professionalism of White.
2008-05-09 09:58:47
2.   Biscuit Pants
I loved Roy White, a good ballplayer and class act. If I remember correctly he had different stances righty vs. lefty. His lefty stances was the pidgeon-toed, bat and at hip version, but from the right side he held his bat up, very similar to the MLB logo. Of course my mind is going with age.

Horace Clarke had a pretty funky stance too, from both sides of the dish.

2008-05-09 11:10:25
3.   Chyll Will
1 Would you say Roy White is a poor man's Bernie then? Or would that be too much of a two-mirrors-facing-each-other kinda thing?

0 Joe Morgan's "chicken-wing" has pretty much the same description as his "chicken-mouth". That explains a lot, thanks! >;)

2008-05-09 11:25:11
4.   Raf
1 If Willie can get a Yankeeography, I think White isn't too far behind. I see both as similar; quiet, classy, productive ballplayers.
2008-05-09 11:27:39
5.   EB in LA
To those of who like Bruce, grew up in Westchester in the 60s, referring to Roy White as a poor man's Bernie Williams is a bit unfair to Roy.

In their eras, they had similar offensive value. White was a very good left fielder at Yankee Stadium. Probably nearly as valuable as Bernie in center. Although White played on the good late 70s teams with Thurman and Graig, Bernie played most of his career on better teams.

I'd say it would be more accurate to say that Roy White was a similar player to Bernie.

2008-05-09 11:34:50
6.   Hank
I have only vague memories of Roy White, but I do remember the pigeon-toed batting stance. Also, Don Mattingly wasn't quite pigeon-toed, but almost. I remember trying to imitate it as a kid. At one point he was hitting with his right (front) foot turned dramatically inward, making him look fairly pigeon-toed.
2008-05-09 11:36:05
7.   Shaun P
Bruce, at least by BP's WARP3, White has Rice beat: 84.6 career (7735 PAs) vs 80.2 (9058 PAs). WARP3 takes park effects, and league environment into account, so I think James has a reasonable argument.

I don't know how they stack up in WinShares, as I don't really care for them, but I bet the result is similar and that's why James argues White was the better player.

The interesting thing is, by BRAR (batting runs above replacement, one of WARP's components), White and Rice are dead even: 558 (White) vs 559 (Rice), albeit Rice had 1323 more PAs. Its the fielding that separates them: 270 FRAR (fielding runs above replacement) for White, 102 FRAR for Rice.

2008-05-09 11:44:11
8.   Shaun P
Also, you're right, Yankee Stadium in the late 60s/early 70s wasn't a horrible place to hit. For 1965 to 1974, b-r.com lists the multiyear park factors for batting as: 99, 95, 95, 96, 96, 95, 94, 97, 97, 99. Compare that to PetCo Park in SD, where the multiyear PFs have never gone above 92.

However, Fenway Park for most of Rice's career was an awesome place to hit. For 1974 to 1983, b-r.com lists the multiyear park factors for batting as: 108, 110, 113,
113, 112, 106, 106, 107, 107, 107. Those compare favorably to Coors Field since 2005.

I think its safe to say that Fenway helped Rice far more than Yankee Stadium hurt White, not because Yankee Stadium was a great pitchers park, but because Fenway was a great hitters park.

2008-05-09 11:49:02
9.   Chyll Will
5 Fair enough. I grew up in Westcheter in the 70's, so Roy White is not as strong a memory to me as the other names. I'll go with the two-mirrors thingy >;) (For the record, Bronxville-Yonkers border area hasn't changed much, if at all)
2008-05-09 12:49:41
10.   OldYanksFan
Roy was one of my favorites. He was a as solid as a rock, didn't require much attention, and simply quietly produced consistantly.

He came up with Horace Clarke in 1965, both as 2nd basemen. He was shifted to LF when the Yankees decided they wanted his bat in the lineup. He was ARod fast. Not blazing speed, but a smart and competent baserunner. An extremely solid glove, I believe he set a record for most games without and error in LF, and the error that set/ended the streak was very questionable.

I was very disappointed when he was let go of as a coach. Personality wise, White defined everything you could want of a 'true Yankee' during his entire 15 year career as a Yankee. Baseball almanac has his nickname as: Mr. Consistent Yankee.

Thanks Bruce.

2008-05-09 12:51:07
11.   OldYanksFan
Late breaking news: NEW YORK -- Kyle Farnsworth's suspension was cut from three games to one Friday by Major League Baseball following an appeal by the New York Yankees reliever.
2008-05-09 12:59:10
12.   Mattpat11
So what does everyone think of the Boomer article in the post? I'll take him over Igawa.
2008-05-09 13:10:03
13.   Shaun P
12 No thanks.
2008-05-09 13:11:56
14.   Mattpat11
13 I'm just beyond annoyed that we're going back to the Igawa well. I'll take anyone.
2008-05-09 13:20:01
15.   standuptriple
12 I don't think I'll ever forgive Wells for his last tour with the Yanks. Unless he received a new back or something. The AL is a far, far cry from the NL West and Petco.
2008-05-09 13:28:34
16.   JL25and3
14 Deep breaths. It's just for a couple of starts - unless he pitches well, of course.
2008-05-09 13:39:39
17.   rsmith51
Do you think Jim Edmonds can play 1st base?
2008-05-09 13:47:47
18.   Raf
15 Can't really fault him for that. He's a veteran "big game pitcher" who tried to gut it out and was unable to. Kevin Brown did the same thing a year later with disasterous results.

Having said that, I'm not too keen on acquiring Wells, but it couldn't hurt to take a flyer on him; maybe he has something, maybe he doesn't. Low risk, high reward.

2008-05-09 14:18:51
19.   standuptriple
18 I'll fault him for it, but I'm not here to talk about the past.
A "veteran" and "big game pitcher" who couldn't hack it in pitcher's havens of SD and LA...and is a year older. I fail to see this "high reward" you speak of. A minor league deal would be ok I guess, but why stunt the development at Dunder Miflin? Frankly, I'm preturbed Hank/Cash even entertained the idea/provided a comment.
2008-05-09 14:24:48
20.   Chyll Will
19 It shouldn't surprise you Hank said something. He's way too easy to bait, and I'm sure Wells knows that, or he wouldn't be even suggesting it; especially since Daddy George refused to return his calls after the last go around ended so badly. If Cash said anything, it's probably to minimize a potential media controversy (Why don't you try him Cash? You failed with the kids, after all!!!) That kinda crap.
2008-05-09 14:47:56
21.   standuptriple
20 Sadly, suprise was not on the list of reactions.
I miss the days of "I'm sure there are a lot of guys who would love to be a part of this team and think their services could be useful to us..." Verbal smackdown. Send Hank out to find the Fountain of Youth for The Boss.
2008-05-09 14:52:45
22.   Raf
19 There's nothing to lose by signing Wells. He works out, great. If he doesn't, cut him loose. Same thing with Gustavo Chaucin, who has been DFA'd. Take a flyer on him, if he works out, great, if not, no biggie.

They're not looking to build the staff around Wells, he's just a placeholder until IPK or Kennedy gets back. That's if he makes it back.

2008-05-09 14:55:27
23.   Raf
22 Mr. Kennedy.... Kennedy. That was supposed to read "IPK & Hughes."
2008-05-09 15:12:32
24.   standuptriple
Uh, Wells had and ERA over 5 in the horrific NL West last year, ERA+ of 77 and BB/IP are up. Maybe all you kids weren't awake for that.
It just seems like a waste of time to me. I'm thinking <5% he'd contribute anything more than a storyline. It's not like Wells was the picture of health to begin with.
I'm sure he's been working out real hard though. Since he's been without a job and all.
If they want a warm body, I can accept that. I just hope Wells is not that warm body. If he is viewed as the best of what's out there then that raises more frightening questions, IMO.
2008-05-09 15:59:17
25.   OldYanksFan
Roy was one of my favorites. He was a as solid as a rock, didn't require much attention, and simply quietly produced consistantly.

He came up with Horace Clarke in 1965, both as 2nd basemen. He was shifted to LF when the Yankees decided they wanted his bat in the lineup. He was ARod fast. Not blazing speed, but a smart and competent baserunner. An extremely solid glove, I believe he set a record for most games without and error in LF, and the error that set/ended the streak was very questionable.

I was very disappointed when he was let go of as a coach. Personality wise, White defined everything you could want of a 'true Yankee' during his entire 15 year career as a Yankee. Baseball almanac has his nickname as: Mr. Consistent Yankee.

Thanks Bruce.

2008-05-09 16:00:18
26.   OldYanksFan
Oops... sorry for the double post. Didn't know vacuuming the keyboard would do that!
2008-05-09 16:42:10
27.   Raf
24 The pitching staff has blown up 3 years in a row. I'm perfectly happy to have as many arms as the Yanks can stockpile.

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