A good defensive first baseman can make his infield mates look better than they are, but a great defensive first baseman can make a gaggle of inaccurate air-mailers look like Army sharpshooters. William De Kova White was a wizard around first base, snaring errant throws and flashing more leather than a field full of cows.
White joined the Giants of New York in 1956 and led Major League first basemen in stolen bases. Bill was more than just a speedy, fine-fielding first baseman; he could also hit. As a rookie, Bill swatted 22 homeruns and posted a slugging average of .459. But the rising star’s baseball career was impeded when he was inducted into the military and missed the 1957 season, and most of ’58 to service in the Armed Forces.
When Bill returned to the Giants, who had relocated to San Francisco, he found that a kid named Orlando Cepeda had taken his first base job. With the first base job in the hands of Cepeda, the Giants dealt White to the Cardinals for Sam Jones. Bill was blocked in St. Louis by an aging Stan Musial, so he shifted to left field to get in the lineup. As a regular left fielder in 1959, Bill led Major League left fielders in doubles.
Bill returned to first base in 1960 and won his first Gold Glove (he would end up winning seven in a row). His bat was always rather advanced, even in an era when pitching dominated the game. In 1961, when batting was at its peak, Bill and teammate Ken Boyer were the only National League infielders with double-digit totals in all the extra base hit departments. Although he had established himself as a fine hitter and elite defender, Bill didn’t enjoy his breakout year until 1962.
In ’62, Bill led NL first basemen with a mighty .324 batting average and 31 doubles. He kicked off the first of three straight 100 RBI and 190 base hits seasons that year. In ’63, Bill had his only 200 hit campaign and finished third in the NL with 109 RBI. He and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron were the only two players in the Major Leagues to score 100 runs, reach 200 hits and drive in 100 runs. His Redbirds went to the World Series in 1964 with Bill coming in third in MVP voting. That season Bill led senior circuit first baseman in RBI, runs, hits and doubles. Although Bill struggled offensively in the World Series, his Cardinals beat the Yankees in seven.
White was the only first baseman in the National league to reach 100 RBI in 1966, as Bill garnered a few MVP votes and won his last Gold Glove. He missed some action in 1967 due to injury and struggled in the ’68 season. He played briefly in ’69 before calling it quits. After his playing days, Bill White served as President of the National League for several years.
G 1,673/R 843/H 1,706/2B 278/3B 65/HR 202/RBI 870/BB 596/SO 927/SB 103/BA .286/SA .455