With 2017 marking the 40th anniversary of the Yankees' 1977 world championship team, Yankees Magazine will be featuring a Q&A with a different member of that squad each month throughout this season. We lead off with left fielder Roy White, a two-time All-Star who in 1977 was beginning his 13th season with the team. White spoke to executive editor Nathan Maciborski during last year's Old-Timers' Day festivities at Yankee Stadium.
What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of 1977?
Well, that's our first world championship team. And I had been on the team for like 12 years, so I was the longest-standing member to go that long a period of time without winning a World Series. A lot of the guys, like [Graig] Nettles and [Chris] Chambliss, had just come in maybe three years prior to that, so it was a lot quicker for them. So I think I appreciated it the most, getting that World Series win that year. Plus, it was against the Dodgers, and I'm from Los Angeles, so my family -- my mother and everybody -- was able to come out for the World Series there.
How did you view your role on that team? When guys came to New York from other places, did you help them assimilate and feel comfortable?
I don't think I did that much, but a few guys have told me that I did. Willie Randolph came and joined us in '76, and he said I was like a mentor for him, teaching him "the Yankees Way" and stuff like that. Chris Chambliss was next to me in the clubhouse when he first came over, and I had a good relationship with him.
I think I was more of a guy that just led by example and would show how to play the game right, basically. I tried to do the little things. Getting runners over, you know; with a runner on second, no outs, I could hit the ball to the other side or I could drop down a bunt. Or I could steal a base. Occasionally, I might hit one out (laughs).
The Yankees' comeback from being 14 games out in 1978 is well documented. How did the regular season go in '77?
I think Boston had the lead going into [late] June, and I remember a big series that we had with them. They had a [four-and-a-half]-game lead, and we were playing them here at Yankee Stadium. We're losing, 5-3, going into the bottom of the ninth, and Randolph hits a two-out triple. Bill Campbell, who was their closer then, was in. I was the next hitter, and I hit the first pitch out for a home run that tied the game. We won it in 11 innings on Reggie Jackson's single. We ended up sweeping them that series.
If we would've lost that first game, we would have been [almost] six out -- it could've been curtains for us. Instead, we swept. They left with only a two-game lead. We later caught them and we went on to win kind of easily that year.
Billy Martin had become manager midway through the 1975 season, so '77 marked his second full year at the helm. Did you like playing for Billy?
It was good for the fact that I now had a chance to hit second in the lineup with Mickey Rivers on the team. For a lot of my career with the Yankees, I was batting clean-up, and I was never really a clean-up man in a true sense. I was never a big home run hitter or anything. But as Ralph Houk told me, we didn't have anybody back in '68, '69, and they were pitching around Mickey Mantle. Mickey was hitting fourth. That's when Houk told me one day, "You're going to be hitting No. 4; clean-up guy." That lasted until like 1973 or '74.
The whole thought process is different when you're hitting in the four spot. You're looking for a pitch that you can drive, and ordinarily I'm just trying to hit line drives, get on base. So when Billy came in and then we had Rivers, now I got to hit second, so I could steal more bases, which happened. I was a guy that usually had 15 to 20 in the old regime, now I had like 31 [in '76]. I could hit-and-run, I could hit behind the runners, I got to steal more, so it was the kind of baseball that I liked to play.
I've read about the Bronx in the 1970s and seen pictures of fans storming the field. What was the atmosphere like playing at Yankee Stadium back then?
I don't think the fans got on the field that much. It happened in that playoff game in '76, which was when they changed everything and they started getting barricades and police out with the horses and everything to prevent people from coming onto the field. During the regular season, I don't remember it being that wild. The crowds weren't like it is now. We only drew really big when the Red Sox came in, or Kansas City -- you know, some of the top teams. If we were playing the Angels, or some of the lower-level clubs, there might only be 17,000 people in Yankee Stadium. It was quite different. Now there's 35-40,000, no matter who they're playing here.
During the '77 postseason run, you only had five at-bats in the American League Championship Series against Kansas City, and then just two at-bats in the World Series against the Dodgers. Were you platooning with Lou Piniella at that point?
I'll tell you what happened. I played left field probably 90 percent of the time in '77. I was in left, Mickey Rivers was in center, and Reggie [Jackson] was basically in right a lot. If I was hurt or Billy gave me a day off, then Lou might play left. When it came time for the Series, I think I didn't finish up that strong that year, and Lou finished pretty hot. And since there wasn't going to be a DH, Billy said that I would start against right-handers and Lou would start against a lefty -- which never happened. Lou played the whole Series. I think I pinch-hit a couple of times. That was it.
So then what was the feeling like after finally winning your first World Series?
I didn't go to the parade.
You skipped the parade!?
I skipped the parade. Both years.
Truthfully, I was a little bit bitter even though we won in '77 because I didn't get to play in that Series. I was really kind of disappointed. In retrospect, I regret it. I shouldn't have thought about myself so much and should have just been happy for the team. So I kind of boycotted in '77. I said, "Ah, I'm not going to go to the parade."
Then the next year I played the whole World Series, and we won again. And I said, "Well, I didn't go last year, I'm not going to go to this one either." Thurman and I both said, "We're just going to go home." Like I said, in retrospect, I regret both. I say, "You know, what a stupid guy you were." I should've gone to both of those. That's like a once-in-a-lifetime thing that you don't get to do. I would've put that in my book if I ever get my book out, but you get it first!
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.