02/19/07 10:00 AM ET
Whatever the job, White got it done
First baseman, broadcaster, league president on Vets ballot
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
As a player, White built a Major League career that promised a lot and produced much. It opened with a bang on June 7, 1956, when in his first at-bat, he hit a home run.
His career didn't have a dramatic downturn from there. White slugged 201 more homers in 13 seasons before retiring in 1969. Playing during a pitcher's era, White batted .286, knocked in 100 or more runs four times, made the National League All-Star team five times and won seven Gold Gloves.
"I wasn't a great athlete, I just worked harder than anybody else," White told Sport magazine in 1964.
His assessment was a bit too modest, because White surely was a player whose performance was worthy of praise. Few players of his era were as complete as White was. And still fewer had the smarts and leadership skills that White displayed with the Giants, Cardinals and Phillies.
While his career didn't catch the eye of sportswriters when they voted on White's candidacy for Cooperstown in the 1970s, it gets a second look when the Veterans Committee takes up his case for the Hall of Fame.
The committee will have more to weigh than the sportswriters did.
Since his retirement, White has been a broadcaster for the New York Yankees, the first African-American to hold such a play-by-play job. He never looked at his hiring as blazing a new trail the way Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby had done, and Yankees officials never meant it to be.
"We hired him," then Yankees president Michael Burke was quoted in The New York Post as saying, "because he was the best man for the job."
White stayed in broadcasting for 18 seasons until another trailblazing offer came his way. In 1989, he took over as president of the National League, serving as the highest ranking African-American in the history of the game.
August Busch Jr.
Again, he didn't see his hiring as pioneering, though he was mindful of its importance. Just as when the Yankees hired him as their broadcaster, he was the once again the best man for the job.
He was just a straight-shooting, savvy executive who could balance duty and commitment to right as well as any executive the sport has had.
"It's certainly an honor and a culmination of a career that began when [former league president] Chub Feeney signed me to my first Major League contract," said White shortly after he took over the league presidency. "I hope to bring to the job my experience as a player and a love of the game. I also hope to bring a little more harmony between players and owners."
A writer for Ebony magazine described White in a 1992 article as a man loathed to use his position to proselytize for broad changes in the game, particularly in regard to hiring of more minorities for leadership posts.
He didn't apologize for not doing so either.
As White said in the article, "I haven't used my position to try and be visible to do anything except do my job here."
That's also the way White conducted himself as a player and as a broadcaster. He just did his job, and he did it well enough that his career might earn him a plaque in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.