My Untold Story
About the Games People Play
By Bill White, with Gordon Dillow
Grand Central. 303 pp. $26.99
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Reviewed by Tim Bross
Bill White's memoir is a lot like one of his line drives, solid and direct.
White, whose major league career included eight seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and three with the Phillies, spends no time rhapsodizing about the game. Even if he had liked Fay Vincent (he did not), White never would have been included in the former commissioner's oral history, We Would Have Played the Game for Nothing.
White approached the game as a job and believes he was a better player for it.
In Uppity, he writes: "Being analytical, and emotionally detached, I was never nervous in the batter's box or on the field. I gave a 100 percent effort, and if I didn't get some kind of emotional high when I did well, on the flip side I wasn't emotionally battered when I failed."
White no doubt picked up some of that from his mother and grandmother, who valued academics over sports.
Grandma, all of 4-foot-11, dominated White's family, which in the late 1930s left the Florida Panhandle for Warren, Ohio, for work in the steel mills. He excelled in the classroom and was offered a scholarship to Columbia University but instead enrolled at nearby Hiram College because of its premed program.
White played enough ball to earn a tryout with the New York Giants, signed a $2,500 contract, and left college.
At his first minor league stop, Danville, Va., he was the only black player in the Carolina League. Years later he wondered why management didn't send young black players North. He had, of course, witnessed racism in Ohio, but what he saw in the South seared him, and he writes powerfully of its impact.
By 1956, his skills had him in New York, playing for the Giants and learning from Willie Mays. When he rejoined the Giants after two years in the Army, they were in San Francisco and Orlando Cepeda owned White's position, first base. Waiting in the minors was Willie McCovey. Surely that's the greatest collection ever of first basemen in one organization. White saw the writing on the wall and asked for a trade.
Giants GM Chub Feeney, unused to players - especially black ones - advising him on personnel moves, traded him to St. Louis. White writes: "At the time, St. Louis was the worst city in the league for black players. We couldn't stay at white hotels there, and couldn't eat in the white restaurants." A few paragraphs later, though, he says, "Eventually it would turn out to be one of the best moves in my life."
White's hitting blossomed under the tutelage of Cardinals coach Harry Walker. He developed lasting friendships with the likes of Bob Gibson, and he began taking a leadership role on racial issues.
Most of the rest of the book is in New York, where White joined Phil Rizzuto in calling Yankee games, and where he served five years as president of the National League. His view of Vincent and baseball's owners is gimlet-eyed and didn't change after his playing days: "I realized early on that to them any individual player was just a piece of meat." A must-read for fans and a much wider audience.