These days, probably the most famous thing about Roy White is a single sentence Bill James wrote in 2001: "I may be the only person who rates Roy White ahead of Jim Rice, George Foster, Joe Carter, and several Hall of Famers."
For the younger readers among us, White was a two-time All-Star who played 15 years for the Yankees and hit 160 homers with 758 RBIs. James wrote that in his New Historical Abstract, eight years before Rice's election to the Hall of Fame (and one year before James was hired by Rice's former employers, the Boston Red Sox), and it brought White the most publicity he'd had in years — perhaps ever.
Roy White grew up in Compton, California, an understated man who won championships with the two biggest baseball teams in the world, in the World Series with the New York Yankees and in the Japan Series with the Yomiuri Giants. So why is he not remembered that well? It's because the things he was good at were things that you wouldn't necessarily notice. He walked a lot. He played good defense in left field in Yankee Stadium, which was so deep that it was known at the time as "Death Valley" — and, as a switch-hitter, White himself saw a lot of potential home runs turn into noisy outs in Death Valley. James highlighted White as an example of the extreme influence that home field can have in baseball: Jim Rice's inflated offense was partly due to Fenway Park, a bandbox which turned every hitter into a star, while White's relatively unimpressive offense was partly due to Yankee Stadium, which was death on right-handed sluggers.
Even at the time, White's talents and unflashy demeanor seemed to leave him in the background. On his blog The Flagrant Fan, William Tasker writes: "Roy White wasn't fuzzy. His typical countenance was impassive. He never pumped his fist." In his 1974 Topps baseball card blog, wobs notes, "In over ten years of late '60s and early '70s cards and Yankee yearbooks, I don't think I ever saw a Roy White smile." Bruce Markusen puts it simply: "Few Yankee fans seemed to have much of an appreciation for Roy White."
But his teammates did. As noted by SABR writer James Lincoln Ray, Mickey Mantle wrote an article in 1970 for Sport magazine that left no doubt as to what he thought of him. "People ask me: What happened to all the Yankee stars? I tell them that Roy White is as good a player as any of the old players we used to have."Read More »from Happy Birthday Boy! Roy White turns 68 today