The Yankees’ Roy White-Rewarded for His Contributions

Roy White was one of the most anonymous Yankee players ever, first toiling in obscurity as the Yankee dynasty came crashing down around him, and then fading into the background amid the ever present controversy that surrounded the team once they became contenders again. The entire time, Roy White conducted himself with class and grace, and in the end he was rewarded for putting in his time when the team was embarrassingly bad with a pair of World Series rings. Roy White was not among the greatest New York Yankees to ever put on the uniform, but none of them had any more dignity than he had. Roy White played the game of baseball hard, the way it should be played, and in the end his work ethic paid off, as he made valuable contributions to their title teams of 1977 and 1978.

Coming up in 1965 for a fourteen game stint in September as a 21 year old, Roy White stuck with the team the next season. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were now slowed continually by injuries and past their primes, while pitching ace Mel Stottlemyre went 12-20. The pitching was wafer thin and the New York Yankees nosedived into the American League cellar with a dismal 70-89 record. A switch-hitting outfielder, Roy White played in 115 games but only batted .225 with 7 homers. The next year was much the same for Roy White and the Yankees, as they floundered once more and he struggled at the plate.

In 1968, Roy White began to turn things around, as did New York some what. Stottlemyre won 21 games, and the pitching was bolstered by Stan Bahnsen and Fritz Peterson, plus the relief efforts of Lindy McDaniel and Steve Hamilton. Roy White batted a modest .267, but he flashed power and speed, poling 17 home runs and stealing 20 bases as New York improved to 83-79 and wound up fifth. The following season of 1969 saw Mantle now retired and Roy White continuing to improve, even though the Yankees took a step backwards record-wise. Hitting .290 with 74 RBI in 130 contests, Roy White also developed his batting eye, walking 81 times to 51 strikeouts. It was a trait that would serve Roy White well, as he would walk 226 more times in his career than he struck out. Military service interrupted Roy White’s 1969 season, but when he returned to New York for the 1970 season, his good play carried over.

On May 7th, 1970, Roy White hit home runs from both sides of the plate in a 7-3 victory over Oakland. He would achieve this five times in his baseball career, and he also is one of a handful of players to switch-hit triples from both sides in the same game, which Roy White accomplished in September of the same year. Although Baltimore handily won the American League pennant, Roy White and the Yankees finished a solid second with 93 wins, their best showing since 1964. Young stars Bobby Murcer and Thurman Munson were now regulars with the club, and with Peterson winning 20 games, the Yankees were no longer a laughingstock. Roy White had a career year, hitting .296 with 22 home runs and 94 RBI, all lifetime highs. He stole 24 bases in 34 tries and was named an All-Star for the second year in a row.

The Yankees hovered around the .500 mark for the next three seasons, and Roy White put up consistent but not spectacular numbers. He never would knock in over 100 runs or hit .300, but Roy White played a steady left field and got the job done. He set the American League record for sacrifice flies in a season with 17 in 1971, and by the time George Steinbrenner had purchased the Yankees from CBS in 1973 and become intent on making the team better, Roy White was a piece of the puzzle. The Yankees finally won another pennant in 1976, with Roy White contributing 14 homers, 65 runs batted in, and 31 stolen bases, as manager Billy Martin stressed the running game. In the American League Championship Series against the Royals, Roy White hit .294 with 5 walks and three doubles in the five game series win. The Yankees were then unceremoniously dumped by the Reds in a 4-0 sweep in the World Series.

The next season the Yankees, now with slugger Reggie Jackson stirring up controversy and hammering home runs, found themselves in a tight pennant race with the Red Sox and Orioles. In late spring, Jackson and Billy Martin went at it on national television when Martin pulled Reggie out of a game in Boston for not hustling. The clubhouse was constantly in turmoil, as the egos of Jackson, Martin, and All-Star catcher Thurman Munson all clashed. On June 24th, before a crowd of over 55,000 at Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Bombers were down to their last out in a crucial game against the hated Red Sox. Trailing 5-3 with a runner on, Roy White came up and hit a long fly ball to left. Carl Yastrzemski, Boston’s Hall of Fame bound leftfielder, went back and leapt, appearing to grab the ball to end the game. But Yaz came down without his glove, and Roy White had a dramatic game-tying home run. Jackson won the game for New York in the tenth with a single and the Yankees were on their way. On July 3rd, Roy White knocked in the first run with a late inning double in a 2-0 Ron Guidry blanking of Detroit. The next day Roy White hit one of four New York homers as they downed Cleveland 7-5 to stay a game ahead of Boston. The Yankees would win the pennant by 2 Ã?½ games over their two rivals, and advance to the Series once more by defeating Kansas City. Roy White played sparingly in the playoffs, getting only seven at bats as the Yankees beat the Dodgers in six games for their first title since 1962.

Roy White played in only 103 games for New York in 1978, but played a key role late in the year. In the nail-biting playoff game against the Red Sox to determine who would play the Royals in the Championship Series, Roy White had a clutch single in the seventh inning. Bucky Dent would follow with his famous three-run homer into the screen over Fenway Park’s “Green Monster”. The Yankees got a home run from Reggie Jackson and held on to win 5-4. Against the Royals, Roy White’s sixth inning homer in Game Four snapped a 1-1 tie and led New York to a series clinching win. In the World Series, Roy White’s homer in the first inning of Game Three started New York on the comeback trail from a 2-0 Series deficit to Los Angeles. In the fourth game, with the score knotted at 3-3, Roy White’s batting eye came to the forefront. He walked against Dodger relief ace Bob Welch with one out, and after Jackson singled him to second, Roy White used his speed to score the winning run on a Lou Piniella single to even the Series. In the critical fifth game, Roy White had three RBI in a 12-2 Yankee rout of the now back-on-their-heels Dodgers. The Series returned to Los Angeles, where the Yankees finished the job 7-2. Roy White hit .333 for the Fall Classic, with 8 hits in 24 at bats.

Roy White retired at the age of 35 after the 1979 season. He had hit .271 for his fifteen seasons, with 160 home runs and 758 RBI, along with 233 stolen bases. Roy White is one of only ten Yankees to wear the pinstripes for 15 or more seasons. There have been greater players than Roy White, but he made clutch plays at key times to help them revive their legacy of greatness. His own legacy will be one of pride and poise, one which Roy White has every reason to look back on with a sense of fulfillment.

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