Bill White

How the Cardinals traded for Bill White

Just weeks ahead of the 1959 season, the Cardinals gambled on the potential of 25-year-old Bill White, dealing their ace, Sam Jones, to the Giants in a four-player trade that provided the Cardinals with a cornerstone of their 1964 World Series championship club.

On March 25, 1959, Cardinals general manager Bing Devine dealt Jones and minor-league pitcher Don Choate to the Giants for White and infielder Ray Jablonski. Jones was coming off a 1958 campaign in which he led the National League with 225 strikeouts. However, despite a 2.88 ERA that ranked second in the league, he received little run support from the Cardinals’ light-hitting offense and finished the year with a 14-13 record.

In the eight-team National League, the 1958 Cardinals ranked last in runs scored, home runs, total bases, and slugging percentage.

“While Sam could win it for San Francisco, I don’t believe he could do it for us because we just didn’t have enough power to back our pitching,” Cardinals manager Solly Hemus said. “White, I feel, might help us to go all the way even with a young staff.”[1]

After hitting 72 home runs in his first three professional seasons in the Carolina, Western, and Texas leagues, White made his major-league debut in 1956. In his first game, he homered off Cardinals right-hander Ben Flowers.

White finished the year with a .256 batting average to go along with 22 homers, 59 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases. In all three categories, he ranked second on the Giants roster only to Willie Mays.

In 1957, however, White was drafted into the Army, where he served at Fort Knox, Kentucky. By the time White returned for the 1958 season, not only had the Giants moved to San Francisco, but his job at first base had been taken by Orlando Cepeda. White was suddenly expendable, and when the Cardinals sought to acquire 25-year-old outfielder Leon Wagner, the Giants insisted that the deal include White instead.[2]

“Wagner has more power, all right, as much as anybody in the game, but White is a smarter player, faster, better defensively, and good and strong enough at the plate,” said Marv Grissom, a Cardinals newcomer who had pitched seven seasons with the Giants. “He’s very good at first base and I believe he’ll throw well enough if he plays the outfield.”[3]

Eddie Stanky, who had managed the Cardinals from 1952 until 1955 and was now serving as a special assistant to Devine, was already familiar with White after managing him in Minneapolis in 1956.

“He’s the kind of player you can wind up and not worry about for 154 games,” said Stanky, estimating that White could bat between .280 and .320 with 15 to 25 home runs in the upcoming season.[4]

In addition to Stanky’s experience, scout Ollie Vanek had scouted the Giants throughout spring training and Omaha manager Joe Schultz was impressed by White’s performance in the recent Dominican Republic Winter League season.[5]

“We have outstanding reports on him,” Devine said. “Although he is basically a first baseman, he has shown excellent outfield aptitude despite a limited throwing arm. We won’t say that he will challenge for the league’s home run title, but he has good power as well as good running speed. In our park, I believe he will hit 18 to 25 homers and I’ve been convinced this spring that we have needed more offense as I was watching us lose game after game through inadequate attack last season.”[6]

In Jablonski, the Cardinals reacquired an infielder who hit 21 homers and drove in 112 runs as a rookie for them in 1953. The following year, he hit .296 with 12 homers and 104 RBIs. That December, the Cardinals traded him and Gerry Staley to Cincinnati for Frank Smith.

Since the trade, Jablonski had not played more than 130 games in a season, and he was coming off a 1958 season in which he hit .230 with 12 homers and 46 RBIs in 251 plate appearances. His 46 RBIs came on 53 hits.

In Jones, the Giants acquired a 6-foot-4, 33-year-old right-hander who became the first black major leaguer to throw a no-hitter in 1955 and led the league in walks and strikeouts in 1955, 1956, and 1958. The trade gave the Giants a rotation of Jones, Johnny Antonelli, Mike McCormick, and Jack Sanford.

“Our starting staff is now on a par with the Braves and Pirates,” Giants manager Bill Rigney said. “Now we can go into a key series with those clubs head-to-head as far as pitching is concerned. We couldn’t do it last year.”[7]

Jones threw both a fastball and a changeup, but his best pitch was a devastating curveball.

“I know the players will be glad to have Jones on our side,” Rigney said. “He was hard to hit against. He’s tough on right-handers. Orlando Cepeda was our only fellow to hit him hard.”[8]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg wrote, “Jones needs no introduction to anyone who ever blanched at home plate, facing his wicked hook, or marveled from the stands how any reactionary scientist ever could argue that a ball doesn’t curve.”[9]

Despite his devastating stuff, Jones had just a 51-60 career record. His 14 wins the previous season matched a career high and was just his second winning season.

“If he pitches a 2.88 (ERA) for the same amount of innings, he’ll win 18 or 20 for us,” Rigney said. “This trade makes our front line pitching real solid. It also strengthens and deepens our second line. We got the best possible pitcher available.”[10]

Hobie Landrith, a backup catcher who primarily caught Jones for the Cardinals in 1958, agreed.

“If we could have got him any runs he would have won 18-20 games,” Landrith said.[11]

The loss of Jones left the Cardinals with a rotation that included established starters Larry Jackson and Vinegar Bend Mizell, and rookie right-hander Ernie Broglio. The new vacancy in the rotation provided an opportunity for Gary Blaylock, Lindy McDaniel, and a promising right-hander named Bob Gibson.

“This is a challenge to our young pitchers and we all feel that they have given us good reason to believe we can risk giving up a man of Sam’s ability,” Devine said.[12]

Ultimately, it was a trade designed to build the Cardinals for the future. As Broeg wrote in the Post-Dispatch, “There’s little doubt that with his age, occasional arm trouble, and the strain he puts behind his pitches, Sam is a poor risk for the future. And it’s the long run the Redbirds apparently are most concerned with, particularly since owner Gussie Busch has indicated he’s willing to await the development of a sound consistent contender.[13]

Jones, however, was disappointed to be leaving St. Louis.

“I’d rather stay with the Cardinals,” Jones said sadly as traveling secretary Leo Ward arranged his plane ride to join the Giants.[14]

Meanwhile, White wasn’t initially thrilled by the trade either. In his autobiography, he wrote, “At the time, St. Louis was the worst city in the league for black players. We couldn’t stay at white hotels there and couldn’t eat in the white restaurants. For black players on the road, it was a terrible environment. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that at least in St. Louis I’d have the chance to play.”[15]

White took advantage of that opportunity. In 1959, he earned all-star accolades, batting .302 with 12 homers, 72 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases. The following year, White primarily played first base, where he won the first of seven career Gold Glove awards.

In 1961, White played a key role in bringing attention to the Cardinals’ segregated spring training facilities. With White, Curt Flood, and others bringing attention to the issue, the Cardinals integrated their training camp housing.

In eight seasons in St. Louis, White hit 20 or more home runs five times and drove in at least 90 runs four times. In 1964, his 21 homers and 102 RBIs helped the Cardinals win the National League pennant. Though he struggled in the World Series, going just 3-for-27 (.111), White went 2-for-4 with a double in Game 7 as the Cardinals beat the Yankees 7-5 to clinch the world championship.

After the 1965 season, the Cardinals traded White, Dick Groat, and Bob Uecker to the Phillies for Pat Corrales, Alex Johnson, and Art Mahaffey. After three years in Philadelphia, the Cardinals reacquired White in April 1969. After the season, he announced his retirement, concluding a 13-year major-league career that included a .286 career average, 202 home runs, and 870 RBIs.

In eight seasons in St. Louis, White batted .298 with 140 home runs and 631 RBIs. He was elected to the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2020.

Jablonski appeared in 60 games for the Cardinals, batting .253 in 96 plate appearances before the Athletics acquired him off of waivers. He retired following the 1960 season.

In San Francisco, Jones placed second to Early Wynn in the Cy Young Award voting after leading the league with 21 wins, a 2.83 ERA, and four shutouts. He added 18 wins and a 3.19 ERA in 1960 before he tailed off in 1961, going 8-8 with a 4.49 ERA in 128 1/3 innings.

After the 1961 season, he was drafted by the Colt .45s in the expansion draft and traded to the Tigers. He returned to the Cardinals in 1963 and made 11 relief appearances. After spending his age-38 season with the Orioles, Jones retired with a 103-103 career record and 3.62 ERA over 14 major-league seasons.

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[1] Bob Broeg, “Sports Comment,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 26, 1959.

[2] Bob Broeg, “Sports Comment,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 26, 1959.

[3] Bob Broeg, “Praise for Gotay After Light-Hitting Cards Beat Braves,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 27, 1959.

[4] Bob Broeg, “Cardinals Trade Jones To Giants For Bill White,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 25, 1959.

[5] Bob Broeg, “Cardinals Trade Jones To Giants For Bill White,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 25, 1959.

[6] Bob Broeg, “Cardinals Trade Jones To Giants For Bill White,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 25, 1959.

[7] Walter Judge, “Giants Land Sam Jones To Boom Pennant Hopes,” San Francisco Examiner, March 26, 1959.

[8] Walter Judge, “Giants Land Sam Jones To Boom Pennant Hopes,” San Francisco Examiner, March 26, 1959.

[9] Bob Broeg, “Sports Comment,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 26, 1959.

[10] Walter Judge, “Giants Land Sam Jones To Boom Pennant Hopes,” San Francisco Examiner, March 26, 1959.

[11] “Players tickled,” San Francisco Examiner, March 26, 1959.

[12] Bob Broeg, “Cardinals Trade Jones To Giants For Bill White,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 25, 1959.

[13] Bob Broeg, “Sports Comment,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 26, 1959.

[14] Bob Broeg, “Sports Comment,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 26, 1959.

[15] Bill White, “Uppity,” Kindle Android Version, Page 60.

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