Bill White: Uppity
One of my 2011 New Years resolutions was to read one baseball book per month. As the calendar turned from March to April, I was afraid that I might be able to keep that resolution. Fortunately, a trip to a local Borders solved my dilemma for not only April, but May as well.
The selection for April is Bill White’s new autobiography, Uppity: My Untold Story about the Games People Play, and what a good choice it turned out to be. Bill White was always honest and outspoken as a player, and this book continues in the same manner. Over the course of 320 pages, you will never wonder where the former Cardinals first baseman stands on anything. His honesty is refreshing and the narrative is as comfortable as pair of your favorite slippers.
My favorite part of the book came early on when White said, “baseball was not my favorite sport. I didn’t love the game; for me, it was something to pass the time until football season started.” That’s an odd statement for a future six time All Star and seven time Gold Glove Award winner. After reading that, I could not put the book down until I understood what he meant. By the time I did, I was so engrossed in his story, that I kept turning page after page until the very end. It is that kind of book.
The book is divided into roughly three equal parts – White as a player, broadcaster and finally as the president of the National League. Most heartbreaking is when he talks about his playing days early in baseball’s integration efforts when the places he would play weren’t nearly as accommodating as the game that put him there. You will learn to admire his courage and determination, perhaps even more than his skills as a baseball player, which he downplays at every opportunity.
His life story would not be complete without at least some mention of the 1964 World Series team that he helped lead past the New York Yankees. Instead of dwelling on things we already knew or could look up in game stats, he talks about his relationships with Bob Gibson, Solly Hemus, Johnny Keane, Bing Devine and Bob Howsam. The revelations he shares on Howsam’s time running the Cardinals were blunt, fascinating and totally unexpected. All of that is eclipsed when he talks about his time working with former Yankees player and broadcaster, Phil Rizzuto.
To whet your appetite just a bit more, please read Mark Tomasik’s interview with Bill White over at RetroSimba. I can’t tell you how jealous I am that Mark was able to get some time chatting with a player that I grew up idolizing. He ran the interview in three parts which you can read here.
If you enjoyed Bob Gibson’s 60 feet 6 inches, you will find Uppity to be an essential companion. And as with Gibson’s book, you will find yourself reading this one again. Often. I already have.