by Jim Riggs
January 17, 1987
A Broadcaster, Not A Fan
W.C.Field's epitaph is "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia." Bill White did not agree with that in 1965 when he was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies. But moving to the City of Brotherly Love was the stepping stone to his present successful position as a broadcaster for the New York Yankees.
After two seasons with the New York and San Francisco Giants, White was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959 and went on to have seven very successful seasons with the Cardinals. But in the fall of 1965 White was traded again. The trade pleased him, the location didn't.
"I didn't want to go to Philly," White recalled Thursday afternoon at the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame Museum. But he did want to leave St. Louis. "I wanted to go someplace else. I didn't want to play for Bob Howsom (the new Cardinals General Manager). I think he tried to punish me by sending me to Philly and it ended up a big plus for me."
White got into radio work during the off-season in St. Louis and he expanded it to television in Philadelphia. He played with the Phillies for three seasons before being traded back to St. Louis, after Howsom left.
"They wanted me to manage and I didn't want to manage," White said was the reason the Cardinals brought him back. "It's something I just don't want to do."
What White did want to do was continue his broadcasting career and when he retired following the 1969 season, he returned to Philadelphia and began working for Channel 6 covering every sport imaginable, except baseball. He had worked up to the position of sports director about the time former Yankee owner Mike Burke was looking for a broadcaster. Howard Cosell was a friend of both and suggested the Yankee owner hire White.
White had never done baseball play-by-play and he ended up doing it both on radio and television in 1971.
"They just threw me in water and said "Swim" and I worked hard," he recalled. "It was hard to do play-by-play. It took me five years to become halfway decent at it. After five years, the Yankees won (the American League pennant) in 1976 and CBS asked me to do the (World Series) games for them on radio. So I guess it took five years to be competent."
White added, "I got a lot of help from people. I got a lot of help from fans in New York. They always say fans are terrible in New York. The fans were very nice to me. They sent me letters of suggestions of things that might make my broadcasting better."
White has now been doing Yankee games on both radio and television for 15 years and says, "Radio is better because you can be more creative. You feel you're doing something. On TV you're at the mercy of your producer and you simply have to identify what goes on and work from the screen."
After spending 13 years playing in the National League, White had no trouble suddenly broadcasting for an American League team. "Baseball's baseball," he said. "It was a big plus because I am not a Yankee fan. We already had a Yankee fan (Phil Rizutto) in there, so that's why we play off each other. They want a broadcaster, they don't want a fan. I want the Yankees to win because the more they win the better I look. Phil roots for them."
Actually, White was a Yankee hater.
I'm from Warren, Ohio, and I'm a Cleveland Indian fan and they (the Yankees) used to beat the Indians all the time."
He added, "I'm part of the Yankee organization as far as winning and losing is concerned. When the Yankees lose, I get upset. But as far as rooting for them or being biased toward them on the air, I hope that I'm not. I don't think I am.
"I think if you can do that, you're believable. When I say something, people believe it because they know I don't have a bone to pick. I'm not rooting one way or the other. When I feel an umpire makes a bad decision against the Yankees, I’ll say it, and it's believable. I think honesty is the best way of doing it and that's what I've tried to do."
White also puts forth honesty about his playing career. He said trades never bothered him because, "I had no allegiancy to any team. I played for the money. I gave 100 percent and played hard."
That shouldn't be taken as though White cared only about himself. He gave his team his all and when he moved to another team, he did the same for it. But he wanted to be rewarded for it. That dedication is something White doesn't see in the current age of free agency, but he doesn't feel sorry he retired before the days of million-dollar contracts."
"Everything is relative,” White said. "These players are getting what the going market is. They might be making 10 times as much, but their expenses are 10 times as much. I don't think anyone should be jealous of what today's players make. Just make them earn it."
White earned his money by winning seven straight Gold Gloves at first base and finishing with a career .286 batting average, including four straight seasons over .300 at St. Louis. His highlight was playing in, and winning, the 1964 World Series with St. Louis.
That 1964 Cardinal team not only was successful on the field, but also became successful in the broadcast booth later. In addition to White, teammates Bob Uecker, Mike Shannon, Bob Gibson, Tim McCarver and Curt Flood became baseball broadcasters. That has to be a record for one team and White has an explanation. "We're all B-S-ers."
White's ties with St. Louis are severed and he learned to love the city he didn't want to be traded to. "I always lived in Philadelphia, so that's the city I probably liked the best (to play in). I still live in Philadelphia and commute back and forth."
So in 1987, on the whole, Bill White would rather be in Philadelphia.