One Giant Step for Baseball

Bill White became the first African-American president of a Major League

February 08, 2013
Bill White (NBHOF Library)

Throughout Black History Month in February, the Hall of Fame celebrates the lives of African Americans who made historic contributions to the National Pastime.

By Adrianna Mondore

Over 40 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for players in Major League Baseball, Bill White became the first African-American president of a Major League.

It was another history-making moment for a man who left his mark on the game on the field, in the front office and in the broadcast booth.

White was born Jan. 28, 1934 in Lakewood, Fla., and grew up in Warren, Ohio. He graduated from Warren G. Harding High School in 1952 as both the salutatorian and president of his class. White enrolled at nearby Hiram College as a pre-med student with honors, however, his baseball career interrupted his studies. He later returned to Hiram and received a B.S. degree in general science.

White signed as an amateur free agent with the New York Giants in 1953 and made his big league debut with the Giants in 1956. He quickly established himself as one of the game’s top first basemen with the Giants from 1956-58 (he served in the military in 1957), the St. Louis Cardinals from 1959-65 and again in 1969, and for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1966-68.

During his 13 seasons playing in the major leagues, White was one of the top defensive first basemen of his time. He won seven straight Gold Glove Awards from 1960-66. He also played in six All-Star Games and one World Series, helping the Cardinals win the Fall Classic in 1964. He drove in at least 100 runs four times, topped the 20-homer mark seven times and finished his career with a .286 batting average.

In 1971, White became the first African-American to do play-by-play regularly for a major league team when he joined the New York Yankees as a broadcaster. There he worked for 18 years alongside Phil Rizzuto and Frank Messer. White and Rizzuto developed a close relationship and remained friends until Rizzuto passed away in 2007.

The first time White was asked to be the president of the National League, he said no. He later changed his mind when he spoke with Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley, the chair of the search committee.  From the years 1989-94, White served as the president for the National League. He was the first African-American to hold such a high position in Major League baseball.

While White was the president, he focused on minority hires throughout all of Major League Baseball.

Celebrate Black History Month with the Museum’s Pastime’s Pride features. Subjects include Buck O’NeilElston HowardRachel Robinsonthe Evolution of Night BaseballWelday WalkerHerb Washington, Connie Morgan, Bill White, Sam Lacy, Octavius Catto, Willie Horton, Bob Watson, Pumpsie Green, Charlie Grant, William Matthews, Don Newcombe, Vic Power, Emmett Ashford and Hank Thompson.

Adrianna Mondore was a spring 2012 intern at the Baseball Hall of Fame