Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bill White explains the making behind his book 'Uppity'

Former New York Yankees broadcaster Bill White made an appearance this Saturday at Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey to promote his memoir, Uppity: My Untold Story of the Games People Play. Legions of Yankee fans are familiar with White only from his work in the broadcast booth alongside Phil Rizzuto; however, White was a pioneer in baseball, a member of a select group of African-American players to debut in the 1950s. White endured racial taunts and the laws of Jim Crow segregation to achieve a celebrated 13-year major league career with the Giants, Cardinals, and Phillies.

Bill White signing copies of his book Uppity / N. Diunte

White attempted to redirect all of the negativity he faced from the fans and the opposition into his output on the field. He explained how he turned the racial epithets hurled at him as the only African-American player in the Carolina League in 1953 into fuel against the opposing pitchers.

"I was the lone African-American in the entire league," White recalled. "We played in Raleigh, Greensboro, and Durham. All of the teams were in the South. After I got down there and I figured out what I was going through, I'd rather I played someplace else, but I stayed there, overcame that, and it made me play harder. I hit almost .300 and drove in close to 100 runs. I think that what I went through, back to what my mother and grandmother taught me, it helped me do better. I took it out on the baseball."

Between 1956 and 1969, White was named to the All-Star team five times, won six Gold Gloves and a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964. White then spent 18 seasons doing commentary for Yankees games from 1971-1988 before being named President of the National League in 1989. At the time, White was the highest ranking African-American in professional sports.

After his five-year tenure presiding over the National League, White washed his hands with baseball after a 40-year career as a player, broadcaster and executive. He became a recluse, staying far away from the spotlight of the media. Asked if he currently follows the major leagues, he responded with a resounding, “No.” So at 77, then why did he choose such a public display of his career?

"I think that there are a lot of young kids, not necessarily minorities that gotta realize they can do whatever they want to do if they work hard enough," he said. "It doesn't make much difference where you come from. I grew up in the South in a steel mill town. I took advantage of whatever opportunities were given to me. I had parents who said, ‘Hey you're going to get an education, you are somebody, you've gotta work twice as hard as the people you are competing with to be successful, so go out and do it.’ That's the way I've worked all my life and the way I've done things all my life. That’s why I wrote the book."

White’s title Uppity, which represented the then-white view of the educated, high-achieving blacks, stemmed from a comment he heard from Giants’ executive Chub Feeney.

"When I came out of the Army, two years later Orlando Cepeda was Rookie of the Year," he recalled. "Right behind him was Willie McCovey. I said to management, ‘Find me some place to play,’ and the GM said, 'Bill, you're too uppity.'"

At that time, the executives did not care for players giving them orders to be traded, especially from those that were black. White later received his wish, being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959. It is there where his career wflourished, beginning a string of five All-Star appearances in six seasons.

White, who spends much of his time traveling in his mobile home, reflected on the return to New York, where his big league career began in 1956. It was awe struck experience that has stayed close to him for over 50 years.

"Like any other young player, I was star struck playing with guys like Willie Mays and Alvin Dark," he said. "I lived right above the Polo Grounds and I walked to work. As a kid coming from a small town, I didn't really get a chance to see the great things in New York, the Statue of Liberty, plays, and museums. I didn't get a chance to see those things and I missed them."

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