Sammy White was a catcher who spent nine seasons of his career with the Red Sox. Known for his defensive prowess, White had a strong arm and is perhaps best known for his ability to get the most out of whatever rotation he worked with during his time with the Sox.
White was born in Wenatchee, Washington on July 7,1928. At Lincoln High School he excelled in athletics and was a star in football, basketball, and baseball. Though he would become a professional in baseball, he was actually best known for his basketball ability at this time, leading his school to a state championship.
After high school White did a nine-month tour with the Naval Reserve in 1946, after which he decided to attend the University of Washington where he played basketball and baseball, again excelling in basketball relative to baseball. At the University of Washington he became the second future-major league baseball player to playe in the NCAA Basketball Tournament when he lead the Huskies to the Elite Eight in 1948.
Though it was on the basketball court where he excelled, White spent time playing in summertime semi-pro leagues in addition to college baseball and ultimately decided that his future was on the diamond. Partly motivated by money after the passing of his father which caused his mother to struggle to care for her three kids, White left college and signed with the Seattle Rainers of the Pacific Coast League. During his first season, his contract was purchased by the Red Sox but he still needed time in the minors to develop his skills as a catcher, as up to this point White had spent most of his time playing first base. After several seasons in the minors with teams like Louisville, Oneonta, Scranton and even a tryout with the Minneapolis Lakers of the NBA, White was finally deemed ready to make his major league debut. Beginning on September 26, 1951, he joined the team was officially a part of the Red Sox.
In 1952 White became the starting catcher for the Sox. Though he took some time to get acclimated to the major leagues and the demands of playing at that level, White eventually posted a .281 average in 115 games during the 1952 season as he gained the confidence of the pitching staff.
In ’52, White first gained steam as a fan favorite when he hit a walk off grand slam off of Satchel Paige and crawled along the base path half-way from third base to home plate while rounding the bases, before kissing home plate upon arrival. Though he regretted the incident, he gained the favor of fans during a mostly disappointing season for the team.
Becoming more comfortable as his career began to progress, White started nearly every game, batting .273 and hitting 13 homeruns all while building an even stronger relationship with his staff. That season, he also became the first player in history to score three runs in one game during a 23-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers. He was selected to the American League All Star game that season, though did not play because Yogi Berra was behind the plate the entire game.
1954 was the best season for White and came during an otherwise lackluster year for the Sox. That season he hit .282 with 14 homeruns and 75 RBI.
Even under new management in 1955, White remained starting catcher and started nearly every game that season, though some of his numbers began to decline. His average and RBI totals both fell, but on the other hand he had a career high in runs and helped make the most out of a starting rotation that featured ten different pitchers over the course of the season.
Things began to take a turn for White in 1956. His back began to bother him, his numbers began to show more of a decline, his relationship with Mike Higgins, the manager brought in during the 1955 season, started to erode. During the second half of the season he split time behind the plate with Pete Daley. Despite the struggles, he did catch Mel Parnell’s no hitter that season.
Luckily for White, after a disappointing campaign in 1956 and then again in 1957, things began to take a turn for the better in 1958 and in 1959 he had once again found his stroke, batting .284 in 119 games. Not coincidentally, his average saw the most improvement after Higgins was fired during that season.
Despite his successes, White was traded after that season to the Cleveland Indians. With the news, he announced his retirement quickly and spent time focusing on a business venture he had been pursuing, which was a bowling alley called “Sammy White’s Brighton Bowl”. In the 1961 and ’62 seasons he came out of retirement, playing mainly back up catcher in 62 total games with the Milwaukee Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, respectively. You can see his full line of stats here!
After retiring from baseball officially, White moved to Hanalei, Kauai in Hawaii where he became a professional golfer for the “Princeville” organization. In his lifetime, then, White was a professional baseball player, golfer, and even a professional bowler, a title he acquired later on in his career with the Red Sox. White passed away in Hawaii at the age of 64.