Devon White turns 56 today.
Devon was a 6th round pick 1981 amateur draft by the Angels. He made it up to the Angels for a cup of coffee in 1985 and 1986 but his first full season in the majors was 1987 where he came in 5th in Rookie of the Year voting. He hit 24 home runs as a rookie, the most he would ever hit in the majors, and he had 87 RBI, also a career high.
The Angels grew to see him as a disappointment. He couldn’t get his OBP over .300 and didn’t show the same power he did in his rookie season.
On December 2, 1990 the Angels traded White, Willie Fraser and Marcus Moore to the Jays for Junior Felix, Luis Sojo and Ken Rivers. We can count that trade as a win for the Jays; Felix was three years younger than White but never reached his potential with the Angels. Jays manager Cito Gaston installed White in center field, and the leadoff spot for us, where he stayed until we acquired Ricky Henderson in August of 1993, and then Cito moved him to the number 2 spot in the order. The next year he was back in the leadoff spot where he stayed till he left the team in 1996.
Cito took a guy whose best on base percentage in a season to that point had been .306 and put him in as the everyday leadoff hitter, despite the team trading for Roberto Alomar who would have been terrific in the spot. But Cito felt it was important to show faith in Devon and it seemed to work, White had, likely, the best season of his career hitting .282/.342/.455 in 1991. Cito believed that if you showed faith in a player, he would give you his best.
He also hit 40 doubles, 10 triples and 17 home runs, stole 33 bases and scored 110 runs (4th in the league). He received some votes for MVP, finishing 16th in the voting. I thought he got ripped off in that vote. Cecil Fielder was the MVP, but compared to White he did precisely one thing better than White, hit home runs, 44. White had 17 homers, which is a huge edge to Fielder, 27 home runs. But White had 15 more doubles, 10 more triples, 33 more steals and a 21 point edge in batting average. Add in how much better he was defensively, I think he was a better player than Fielder. I don’t think White should have been MVP, because there were others between Fielder and White in the voting who were better. But comparing the two, I would have taken White that year.
Devon was also terrific in our 5 game ALCS loss to Twins hitting .354/.427/.409 with 3 stolen bases.
During our first World Series winning season, 1992, Devon didn’t hit near as well, batting .248/.303/.390. He still scored 98 runs, a testament to our great offense. He did hit 17 home runs and stole 37 bases. But he turned on the bat during our ALCS win over Oakland batting .348/.448/.435, though he was caught stealing 4 times.
He didn’t hit as well in our World Series win against Atlanta, but he made the catch:
I love Jerry Howarth’s call there.
It should have been a triple play, stupid umpires, but it was still an amazing catch.
Before the 1993 season, Pat Gillick signed free agent Paul Molitor, who at the time was one of the 3 or 4 best leadoff men in baseball, but Cito still decided to use Devo in the leadoff spot. So, near the end of the season, Gillick traded for the greatest leadoff man in the history of baseball (Rickey Henderson), and Cito grudgingly moved White into the second slot in the order, which had the effect of having Molitor (or sometimes Alomar) moved to the 6th slot in Cito’s batting order. Cito was nothing if not loyal to his favorites.
White had a pretty decent season batting .273/.341/.438 with 15 homers and 42 doubles, 2nd in the AL, he stole 34 bases and scored 116 runs, 3rd in the AL. And he made the All-Star team. Once again he saved his best for the playoffs, hitting .444/.464/.667 in our 6 game ALCS win over the White Sox, with a double, a triple and a home run. In our World Series win against the Phillies he scored 8 runs, hit 3 doubles, 2 triples and a homer, and drove in 7 runs, hitting .292/.393/.708. He lost out to Paul Molitor for series MVP.
The next couple of seasons were shortened by the lockout/strike. White stayed in the leadoff spot with on base averages of .313 and .334, but the team wasn’t good. After the 1995 season he signed with the Florida Marlins as a free agent and picked up his third World Series ring there in 1997. From there he went to the Diamondbacks, Dodgers and finally the Brewers where he finished his career in 2001. He had a 17 year career and finished with 208 homers, 346 steals and 1125 runs.
I think Devon was the best defensive outfielder I have ever seen. He had that great gliding, running style that made him look so smooth. He didn’t have a lot of highlight film type catches because, well, he’d get to the ball in time that he didn’t have to make the diving, tumbling catch very often. He had as much range as any player I’ve ever seen.
So, happy birthday Devon, I hope it is a good one.
Also having birthdays today:
Craig Grebeck, who turns 54. Craig was a free agent signing in 1998, and had three pretty good, if injury marred seasons with the Jays, hitting .289/.361/.383 in 202 games. He also played 7 years with the White Sox and season each with the Marlins, Angels, and Red Sox.
Tomas Perez turns 45 today. He was taken from the Expos, by the Angels, in the 1994 Rule 5 draft and then was traded to the Jays. He played bits of 4 seasons with us, hitting .234/.295/.309 in 178 games. He went on to play 5 years with the Phillies and a season each with the Rays and Astros. I have a surprising amount of affection for Tomas.
Happy birthday to all three.