Baseball Veteran Bill White Reflects on Time with Yankees, Phil Rizzuto, in New Book Uppity

In his new autobiography, Uppity (which could just as easily have been called Integrity for his strong moral compass), Bill White talks candidly about his many decades in baseball, including the racial intolerance he suffered early in his career. FishbowlNY spoke recently with White, a man who is liked by so many in the sport.

But this article focuses on Chapter 10, White’s magical 18-year association with the New York Yankees—and the legendary Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto.

“That’s longer than I’ve been with anybody,” White laughed.

As former players, White (refers to himself as “average” on the field) and Rizzuto (Hall of Famer) formed that famous bond. But White says there was something deeper to their chemistry—dating back to Rizzuto’s broadcasting debut with the Yankees in 1957.

“He was not wanted in the booth. The Yankees had two broadcasters who are in the Hall of Fame, [Mel Allen and Red Barber] and they felt that players shouldn’t just leave the field and go up and start broadcasting,” White says. “So they didn’t help him at all. I think going through that experience, he probably helped…all of the guys that preceded me.”  

White had 13 distinguished years as a first baseman with the New York/San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals (including 1964 World Series champs), and Philadelphia Phillies.

White, 77, would go on to become National League president in 1989. But he keeps a special place in his heart for the WPIX broadcast booth. 

“Those were my favorite years,” White jokes. “I didn’t have to hit curveballs.”

All White had to do was come to the stadium every day and work with Rizzuto. It wouldn’t seem like it, but a dream broadcast partnership was created.

“We had fun,” White recalls. “The good part [is] none of it was planned at all, it just came up.”

But their first on-air appearance didn’t go quite as memorably –at least for White.

It was a spring training game in 1971. With Frank Messer (third member of the broadcast team) headed down to the field, Rizzuto would “introduce” White to Yankee fans. After chatting briefly about his previous sportscasting work (in Philadelphia), Joe DiMaggio arrived in the booth. Here’s how White described what happened next in Uppity.

“Holy cow!” Rizzuto said on the air. “There’s the Yankee Clipper.” Rizzuto leaned over to White whispering off-air, “Hey, White, take the mike, I gotta set up a golf game with DiMaggio.”

As White recalls in Uppity, it was the first time he personally got to hear Rizzuto (middle, with Allen, far right) say “Holy cow.” It was also the first time Scooter would refer to him simply as “White,” which Rizzuto would famously call him throughout their entire run together.

Lastly, from that brief moment 40 years ago, White writes, “it was the first time I had to call a Yankees game alone.”

Therefore, White jokes about what he learned from working with Rizzuto, “How to get out early, or find excuses to leave early.”

Anyone who is familiar with Rizzuto, even peripherally, knows about his panache for leaving games early. Broadcasters, viewers, and even fans in the stands knew it wasn’t just a legend.

Case in point, one of the many “Scooter stories” in the book, is a classic that White shared with FishbowlNY.

In another spring training game in Fort Lauderdale, White needed to leave after the sixth inning to pick up his children in Miami. Messer agreed that it wouldn’t be a problem.

When White got back to the hotel at 1 a.m., he was surprised to hear the Yankees game still on the radio—going into the 16th inning—but he didn’t hear Rizzuto (back then, the Yankee TV announcers also did play-by-play on radio).