On March 23, 2011, I interviewed former Cardinals all-star first baseman Bill White by telephone about the autobiography he has written in collaboration with journalist Gordon Dillow.
The book is called “Uppity: My Untold Story About The Games People Play” (2011, Grand Central Publishing). It is available on Amazon.
My interview with White, gracious with his time and thoughtful with his answers, is presented here in the second of three parts on consecutive days.
Q: On July 5, 1961, at the L.A. Coliseum, you hit three home runs off three different pitchers, all to that big right field. You were the first player to hit three homers to right field at the Coliseum. The next day, the Cardinals let go of manager Solly Hemus …
Bill White: They let him go that night. The headline the next day wasn’t, ‘White hits 3 home runs.’ The headline was, ‘Solly Hemus fired; Johnny Keane is new manager.’ Johnny was a super person. He was probably the best manager I played for.
Q: Why? What qualities did he possess?
Bill White: He didn’t want to get out in front of the players. He only asked you to do your job. And he also asked you not to do the things that you didn’t do well. That’s important. If you couldn’t do it, he wouldn’t ask you to do it. And he would sit down and talk to you and tell you why.
He was not necessarily the best tactical manager, but guys just liked to play for Johnny Keane. He was not an I guy. I played for a couple of I guys.
Q. You were part of an all-star infield with third baseman Ken Boyer, shortstop Dick Groat and second baseman Julian Javier. Was that the best infield you’ve ever seen?
Bill White: It was a good infield. It probably was not the best. Ken Boyer might have been the best third baseman I’d seen or played with. Groat had mobility problems. He understood how to play the hitters, but he had very little range and he didn’t have that real good arm. Javier was a pretty good second baseman. He made a great double play and he could go way out to center field for pop-ups because Curt Flood played a deep center field.
It was a good infield, the best infield that I was on, but I’m not sure it was the best ever. It might have been the best Cardinals infield.
Q: In 1964, the Cardinals’ offense was struggling. On June 15, the Cardinals acquired Lou Brock from the Cubs for Ernie Broglio. Did you know then the trade would turn out so well for the Cardinals?
Bill White: None of us did. We all thought it was nuts. Lou was a raw talent. At that point, he didn’t really understand baseball. He might try to steal while 10 runs up or 10 runs down.
When he got to St. Louis, Johnny Keane told him what he expected of him, and he turned him loose. I think Lou relaxed in St. Louis. Now he’s in the Hall of Fame. Without Brock, we would not have won.
Q: At what point did you think the Cardinals might catch the Phillies and win the pennant in 1964?
Bill White: When we played the Phillies in three games toward the end of the season. We beat them three in a row. We were on an upswing and they were on a downturn. They were a tired ballclub. You could see it.
Manager Gene Mauch had chosen to pitch Jim Bunning and Chris Short with almost no rest. That might have been a tactical mistake.
Q: What is your favorite memory of the 1964 World Series?
Bill White: Ken Boyer hitting the grand slam off Al Downing (in Game 4). And the pop-up by Bobby Richardson that Dal Maxvill caught for the final out of Game 7.
Q: After the 1965 season, the Cardinals traded you to the Phillies. What was your reaction to that deal?
Bill White: I didn’t mind the deal. I didn’t like the way it was done. The general manager of the Cardinals, Bob Howsam, said I was about five years older than I actually was.
When he did that, and said that publicly, it upset me, and I went in and challenged him … I said, ‘When you trade a guy in the big leagues, you say what a great player he was, and what a great player he will be. You don’t denigrate him.’
But it ended up great for me. because I got into radio and television in Philadelphia. And I still live there.
Everything in my life has been positive, because we made the most of whatever has happened.
Q: On May 18, 1966, you faced Bob Gibson for the first time since the trade. You singled and struck out the first two times at-bat. Then, with Dick Groat on base, you hit a home run. What do you recall?
Bill White: He must have made a heck of a mistake for me to hit a home run off him. After playing with him for so long, he knew how to pitch me. I didn’t like the ball inside from right-handers. Sliders inside would eat me up. So he must have made a mistake.
Q: Two years later, May 17, 1968, you beat Gibson, 1-0, with a RBI-single off him in the 10th. The next time you faced him, July 25, 1968, you came to bat in the second inning and he hit you with a pitch. Was it intentional?
Bill White: He was trying to pitch inside, let’s say that. He wasn’t headhunting. Gibson wasn’t a headhunter. But he would pitch inside. He did hit me on my right elbow.
He had told me before _ because I liked to charge the ball; I liked to go out and get the ball _ ‘You can’t do that against me.’ Bob was a great competitor. Bob and Sandy Koufax were two of the best when I was playing.
Tomorrow, Part 3: Bill White reveals how he almost replaced Harry Caray in the Cardinals’ broadcast booth and how general manager Bing Devine planned to make him a manager.
Yesterday: Part 1