Younger baseball fans may know the name Bill White as the President of the National League (1989-1994) or as a long time broadcaster (St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees). Baseball historians will remember the big lefty as one of the best first basemen of his era and we were fortunate that he spent 8 of his 13 seasons in St. Louis wearing the Birds on the Bat.
White broke into the major leagues with the New York Giants on May 7, 1956. Gail Harris was the Giants opening day first baseman and got off to a terrible start. On May 4, Harris was hitting just .132 and the Giants made a change, giving a 22 year old rookie named Bill White the job. White’s first major league at bat would come in the second inning of this game. Facing the Cardinals Ben Flowers, White hits a home run, giving the Giants a 2-1 lead and etching his name in baseball history.
The lead would not hold up as the Cardinals would send 10 men to the plate in the sixth inning with five of them scoring, giving the Cardinals a 6-3 lead. The names of the Cardinals hitting that inning reads like a history book: Wally Moon, Walker Cooper, Solly Hemus, Bill Virdon, Don Blasingame (son-in-law of Walker Cooper), Red Schoendienst, Stan Musial and Ken Boyer.
While the Cardinals would hold on and win the game, it was Bill White that stole the show. In addition to joining the small list of players homering in their first at bat, White would finish the day 3-4 with a single and double to go with the second inning homer. Only a triple shy of the cycle, it was one impressive debut. Don’t feel bad for White not completing the cycle – he would accomplish that as a Cardinal on August 14, 1960.
White would come to St. Louis prior to the start of the 1959 season. The Cardinals would send hard throwing Sam Jones to the Giants in return for the slugging first baseman. In typical Bing Devine fashion, the trade worked out well for both clubs. Jones would go 21-15 for the Giants in 1959 and 18-14 in 1960. White would hit .302 and earn the first of his 5 All Star game invitations , splitting time between first base and left field.
Bill White’s next feat would come on July 5, 1961. In a 9-1 laugher against the second place Los Angeles Dodgers, White goes 4-5 with a double and 3 home runs. White would finish the day with 4 RBIs and made a winner out of a young Bob Gibson, who also had a 2 run homer off Dodgers starter Johnny Podres.
The next historical moment in White’s career would come in the 1963 All Star Game. It would be White’s 4th appearance and his second as a starter. What makes this special is that the entire Cardinals infield would start the game. Joining White was Dick Groat (SS), Julian Javier (2B), and perennial All Star Ken Boyer (3B). White would finish the 1963 season with a .304 average, his second consecutive season hitting .300 or higher. He would also drive in 109 runs, a career high, and second consecutive year driving in over 100. 1963 was a very good year for the Cardinals first baseman.
This brings us to the 1964 season, and where Bill White earns his Atlas Award. White got off to a terrible start to the ’64 season, mainly due to a shoulder injury. He would hit bottom on June 12 with a batting average of .225 with just 7 home runs and 20 RBIs. Suddenly, White would catch fire. In his next 6 games he would go 11-26 with a double and two triples. The extra base hits would start coming in bunches as would the RBIs. From June 13 to the end of the regular season, White would hit a mean .340, slug .522 and drive in an amazing 82 runs. When the final out was made in the regular season, White managed to raise his average over .300 (.303) and drive in more than 100 runs (102), for the third consecutive time. His red hot second half of the season was a huge reason the Cardinals overtook the Phillies and won the 1964 National League Pennant.
White’s success would not carry over to the World Series as the Yankees kept the Cardinals slugger relatively quiet. Fortunately for the Redbirds, Tim McCarver and Lou Brock picked up the slack and some timely hitting by Ken Boyer helped the Cardinals defeat the Yankees in seven games.
White would play one more year in St. Louis before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1965 season. The Cardinals would send White, Dick Groat and Bob Uecker to the Phillies for catcher Pat Corrales, pitcher Art Mahaffey and outfielder Alex Johnson. Johnson was an amazingly talented young outfielder and was the principal in the deal for the Cardinals. It was hoped that Johnson would join Curt Flood and Lou Brock as a perennial All Star outfield – and it would have been something special. As fast as Brock and Flood were, Johnson could leave both of them in his dust. A poor work ethic and even worse attitude kept Johnson on the bench and he would soon be a member of the Cincinnati Reds where he would become a bit of a star.
Meanwhile in Philadelphia, White would have very solid 1966, hitting .276 and driving in 103 runs. He would also earn his seventh consecutive gold glove, the last of his career. His production would begin to drop off in 1967 and 1968. White would come back to the Cardinals in 1969 and battle though severe injuries to his Achilles tendon, playing sparingly. He would retire at the end of the 1969 season after 13 seasons in the major leagues.
In the list of great Cardinals first basemen, Bill White was one of the best. Nobody played the position any better and his offensive production puts him in some elite company. For the amazing turnaround in his 1964 season and helping turbocharge the Cardinals pennant run, Bill White earns an Atlas Award.