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Legends Friday Feature: Roy White looks back on Old-Timers' Days past and present

06/28/2013 11:02 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

In this 2005 photo, then-Yankees first base coach Roy White (right) celebrates a big hit by Felix Escalona.(AP)
Old-Timers’ Day is one to celebrate the great Yankees of yesteryear, and while there are many “timeless” names in team lore, Roy White is one who truly spans across multiple generations.

Called up in September 1965, White spent his entire 15-year Major League career with the Yankees, leaving in 1979 after two All-Star appearances and two World Championships – the latter being accolades that he admitted he took for granted upon his debut.

“When I came up as a rookie in 1965, I was assuming I would be in the World Series every year,” White admitted, pointing to the fact that the Yankees had played in the Fall Classic in 15 of the previous 18 seasons and won 10 World Championships in that span.

However, 1965 was the first year of an 11-year swoon for the team that saw them finish no higher than fifth in the American League from 1965-68 and be a perennial AL East bridesmaid once divisional play began in 1969.

That all changed in 1976, however, when the Bronx Bombers climbed back to the Fall Classic, and White would see three World Series and two titles in his final four years in pinstripes.

“When we finally we won the back-to-back championships in 1977 and 1978, it was especially great for me,” White admitted, “because I was the only guy who was there with Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford and Bobby Richardson and then still there with Reggie (Jackson) and Thurman (Munson) and Catfish (Hunter) and Ron Guidry and all the great players that we had on the ‘77 and ‘78 teams.”

After spending his final three playing seasons in Japan, White returned in the mid-1980s for two stints as the team’s first base coach; he served in that capacity under Billy Martin in 1983 and Yogi Berra in 1984, and after a year off, returned for the 1986 season under Lou Piniella.

White would then spend the next two decades working in a variety of roles in either the Yankees’ front office or the Athletics organization before returning to the first base box in 2004 and 2005 under Joe Torre, making him one of the very few to see his employment in pinstripes span the eras of Mantle, Munson, Mattingly, and Jeter.

While he spends most of his time these days working with his Roy White Foundation, the beloved Bomber is also a regular at Old-Timers’ Day, which he admitted he has always looked forward to as both an active player and a returnee – especially because of the presence of one legendary Yankee he didn’t get to play with.

“To see Joe DiMaggio, that was just amazing,” White said. “I only ever saw Joe D on film when I was looking at World Series highlights as a kid, but to get a chance to talk with him, meet him and become a friend later on was great.”

While the current iteration of Old-Timers dress in an auxiliary clubhouse, those who came back to the old Yankee Stadium would often share lockers with active players, meaning that White also got to know a few others quite intimately, including two with colorful nicknames.

“I used to have Tommy Henrich and King Kong Keller at my locker,” White said. “I love baseball history, and just to be able to talk to those guys about the way things were when they played, it was great.”

White will be 70 in December, and hopes to come back to the Bronx for many more Old-Timers’ Day celebrations – and despite the tragedy and triumph in his Yankees lifetime, if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t change a thing about his baseball life.

“There’s no more difficult place to play than here in New York, and if you can be successful here, I think it has a lot more meaning than with a lot of other teams,” White said. “There’s just something special here with all the history that goes along with being a Yankee.”

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