As we continue to celebrate the great achievements of African-Americans in our national pastime, and with the obvious selection of Jackie Robinson as our featured story in the January/February digital issue of Baseball Magazine that was released yesterday, today we today take a look at someone who was a pioneer in his own right. This is a man who not only had 202 career home runs, but became a successful executive in big league baseball, and holds the distinction of having held the highest office in the sport of any African-American to date. Of course I’m talking about former Giants, Cardinals and Phillies first baseman and longtime Yankees’ broadcaster, Bill White.
Bill White, while not having the impact on the playing field in terms of color barrier that Jackie Robinson did, was actually just the second player of color to ever be rostered on a professional team in the Carolina League back in 1953, playing for the Danville Leafs. He followed Percy Miller, Jr. by less than two seasons. While many consider former Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez and the Yankees Don Mattingly the gold-standard when it comes to defensive first basemen, White won seven consecutive Gold Glove awards of his own from 1960 through 1966. He also was selected to eight National League All-Star teams and won a World Series while in St. Louis, helping to end a decades-long Yankees’ dynasty.
White accomplished another first after retiring from the Phillies after the 1969 season. In 1971, he became the first African-American to ever broadcast a National Hockey League game, calling several Philadelphia Flyers games during that season. He later added the title of “first African-American broadcaster to have a regular job for a major league team.” White continued gaining notoriety in the broadcast booth, calling league championship series, World Series contests, and Monday Night Baseball for the ABC network. White also broadcast Yankees’ games on the radio during his time in the Bronx.
What set Bill White apart from his African-American contemporaries aside from broadcasting, was his unanimous selection as National League president, replacing A. Bart Giamatti in the capacity when Giamatti became the new commissioner of Major League Baseball in 1989. White held the position of NL presidency until he retired in 1994, being replaced by Leonard S. Coleman, Jr. Coleman would be the final president in National League history, as those roles within the hierarchy of MLB were eliminated after the 1999 season.
After he retired from the business of baseball, White penned an autobiography, reliving his memories and sharing his thoughts on his life and struggles within the game, titled Uppity: The Untold Story About The Games People Play. While we celebrate the accomplishments of the Afrian-American community as a nation, today we honor one of the game’s unsung pioneers, former big leaguer, broadcaster, and National League president, Bill White.