This is the third of three parts from a telephone interview I conducted with former Cardinals all-star first baseman Bill White on March 23, 2011.
White has written an autobiography 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.
White, gracious with his time and thoughtful with his answers, didn’t dodge any questions.
Q: You got traded back to the Cardinals in April 1969. Was that a surprise?
Bill White: No. I had torn my tendon in ’67. I couldn’t play anymore after that. Gene Mauch (Phillies manager) would let the grass grow six inches at first base so that the ball would stop and I could walk over and toss it to the pitcher. I couldn’t run. I had no mobility. I probably should have gotten out then.
There was hope the tendon would come around. It never did.
In 1968, Dick Allen hurt his right hand. He tore all the tendons and he couldn’t throw. So they decided to put him at first base. We couldn’t have two cripples on the team. I couldn’t run and Rich couldn’t throw. But he was younger and could still hit.
The general manager of the Phillies called me and asked if I’d be willing to go back to the Cardinals. I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ He said, ‘Bing Devine (Cardinals general manager) wants you to come back.’
Bing brought me back because he wanted me to manage at (Class AAA) Tulsa and eventually manage the Cardinals. I didn’t want to manage. I didn’t want to try to tell 25 other guys how to play the game. I’d rather do something where the success depends on me, not on other people.
Q: Elston Howard had said the Cardinals contacted him about replacing Harry Caray on the Cardinals broadcast team after the 1969 season …
Bill White: When Harry Caray was fired, I had gone to St. Louis and accepted the job. Jack Buck and (KMOX station boss) Bob Hyland and I sat down and we talked about it. I was very close with Buck.
I had already accepted the job. So when I flew back to Philadelphia, I started thinking about moving the family back to St. Louis. They were in schools in Philadelphia. And Philadelphia had some great colleges. I thought about that.
I also thought about replacing Harry Caray, who was extremely popular in St. Louis, and I thought that was a negative. So I called Bob Hyland back and I said, ‘Bob, I’m sorry, but I have changed my mind. I’m going to stay here in Philadelphia.’
Jack Buck wasn’t very happy with that. Jack was a great guy. When I was trying to buy a home in St. Louis and having a problem, Jack invited me over to his house and he said, “I’m going to find you a home here in this area.’ I said, ‘Jack, I can’t afford to live here.’ I think I was making $12,000 or $14,000 a year.
But those are the kinds of things you appreciate. And when I did take the Yankees (broadcast) job (in 1971), Jack called me and sort of chuckled and said, ‘You didn’t want to work for me. You want to work for those bums.’
I flew out to St. Louis and spent six hours at the stadium club, talking with Jack Buck and taping our conversation about how to broadcast.
Q: So many players from that ’64 Cardinals team have gone on to become successful broadcasters _ you and Tim McCarver and Bob Uecker and Mike Shannon and even Bob Gibson and Lou Brock did some broadcasting. Why do you think that was?
Bill White: We were better B.S.ers than players (laughter).
I think it was mainly Bob Hyland. And Jack Buck. Jack didn’t mind helping. A lot of broadcasters didn’t want to help you. They didn’t feel players should go directly from the field into the broadcast booth.
That happened to Phil Rizzuto (of the Yankees). Red Barber and Mel Allen really treated him badly. They didn’t want him up there. They had spent so many years honing their craft and they didn’t want a ballplayer up there with them. Phil talked about that. We discussed that quite a bit.
Q: I’m going to finish with a name association. I have five names and I’m going to ask you to respond to each. First, Stan Musial.
Bill White: Stan, for flat-out hitting, was the best hitter I’ve seen. I argued with Rizzuto regarding Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. But Stan was the best I’ve seen.
Q: Ken Boyer.
Bill White: Best third baseman I played with. For a big guy, he ran well. He drove in runs, did a great job fielding, and he didn’t get the publicity he should have gotten. When I was on the Veterans Committee for the Hall of Fame, I tried to get Ken’s name on that list, because he belongs with great consideration for the veterans part of the Hall of Fame.
Q: Curt Flood.
Bill White: Curt Flood was an excellent center fielder and a great leadoff man. Prior to Brock coming, he was our catalyst. He started things. When we got Brock, it made it even better. We had two guys, batting one and two, who were always on base.
Q: Bob Gibson.
Bill White: One of the greatest competitors I played with, not only just pitching. On the bench, he pushed you. We were always good friends. One of the greatest pitchers I’ve seen.
Q: Albert Pujols.
Bill White: I’ve never seen him play, except for one exhibition game in Florida many years ago when I visited Bob Gibson. But if you look at his stats, he’s one heck of a player.
Do they knock him down? Oh, you can’t knock anybody down anymore, can you? That makes hitting a lot easier.