The Bill White baseball card story just couldn’t happen today.
I mean, it would be unheard of for a young player to climb through the minor league ranks of a New York team in three seasons, smacking 20 or more home runs each summer, without landing on at least one baseball card, right?
And, if that prospect somehow did make it to the Major Leagues without a rookie card, a rookie season that produced 22 home runs, 59 RBI, 15 stolen bases, and 63 runs scored would certainly garner some attention.
And, surely, a baseball card … right?
But not necessarily in 1956, when White debuted for the New York Giants.
For one thing, that rookie season of his was sort of swallowed up in the glare of teammate Willie Mays and the lackluster performance of the Giants as a whole (67-87).
White also just so happened to debut the same season young Frank Robinson cranked 38 homers as a rookie and served notice that he was — already — one of the best players in the game.
Hard to get a ton of attention in that setting.
And then, after the season, White got his draft notice — he was headed into the Army.
In those days, Topps generally didn’t issue cards of players they knew wouldn’t be in the Majors during a given season, and White’s military duty opened up a swath of cardboard for some other deserving soul — his rookie card would have to wait.
White’s absence also sent the Giants scrambling for a new first baseman as they headed into what would be their last season in New York.
First, they traded for Jackie Robinson … who promptly retired.
Then, they traded Hoyt Wilhelm to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Whitey Lockman … who had been a longtime Giant up until they traded him west in June of 1956, made expendable by White himself.
Lockman didn’t hit much in 1957, though, while young Orlando Cepeda was tearing through Triple-A pitching for the Minneapolis Millers.
And, thus, with White still serving in the Army for the first half of the season, the newly-minted San Francisco Giants began their new era with the Baby Bull at first base to begin 1958.
Cepeda cranked a home run in his first Major League game and never really looked back en route to a National League Rookie of the Year award.
That left little room or need for White when he returned in July, and, though he made his way into 26 games, only five of those appearances came in the field — he was used mostly as a pinch hitter down the stretch.
Of course, since White had been gone from the majors through all of 1957 and half of 1958, he didn’t make the Topps cut that summer, either.
He was back in the big leagues, though, and, at just 25 years old, White had plenty of time to take back his status as an up-and-comer.
Buoyed by that promise and enough playing time in 1958 to remind folks about him, White finally made his cardboard debut the next spring, gracing card #84 in the 1959 Topps set.
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Of course, by the time that card hit store shelves, the Giants were just a sore memory in New York, where White had made his hay, and that SF on his cap must have been tough to take for the Manhattan fans who had watched him break out three years before.
And, also by that time, the whole tableau of the card was obsolete because, on March 25, 1959, the Giants traded White and Ray Jablonski to the Cards in exchange for Don Choate and Sam Jones.
It was a whirlwind series events that must have been tough to swallow in the moment, but White made the most of the move to St. Louis, and he did it right away.
That summer, White made his first (two) All-Star teams, and then in 1960, he began a string of seven straight Gold Gloves and helped the Cardinals run all the way to a World Series title in 1964 (over the New York Yankees).
These days, it’s strange to see an old card of White wearing anything but redbird red, but that 1959 Topps rookie card of his is a treasure trove of localized history.
You just have to know how to read it.
One of the funnest run of cards came courtesy of Bazooka in the 1950s and 1960s. You know, like this full box featuring Bill White, front and center …
In this one, White takes center stage, flanked by Carl Yastrzemski and Bob Aspromonte … White certainly takes the “Simplest Name” title among this trio!
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