Devon White turns 59 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. His first full season in the majors was 1987, where Devon 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 wouldn’t again show the same power he had 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. When we talk about the best trades in Blue Jays’ history, this one doesn’t come up, and it should. Felix was three years younger than White but never reached his potential with the Angels. So Jays' manager Cito Gaston installed White in center field and the leadoff spot.
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 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. But, of course, there is a flip side to that. You have 25 (now 26) players. You can’t show faith in all of them. Some on the roster will see that the manager has no faith in them.
I think there is a good question in there. Is it more valuable to have the best player in the leadoff spot, or would a team be better off if a lessor player is there, but he plays above his head because the manager has faith in him?
He also hit 40 doubles, 10 triples, 17 home runs, stole 33 bases and scored 110 runs (4th in the league). He received some MVP votes, finishing 16th in the voting. I thought he got ripped off in that vote. Cecil Fielder was the MVP, but he did precisely one thing better than White, hit home runs, 44. White had 17 homers, a considerable 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 Devon was the better player. 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 five-game ALCS loss to the 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. However, he still scored 98 runs, a testament to our great offense. And he hit 17 home runs and stole 37 bases.
During our ALCS win over Oakland, he turned on the bat, hitting .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:
Where was the replay challenge when we needed it?
I love Jerry Howarth’s call there.
It should have been a triple play, but it was still a fantastic catch.
Before the 1993 season, Pat Gillick signed free agent Paul Molitor, 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 favourites. It also seems that Gillick was working very hard to get Cito to use someone else in the leadoff spot. Of course, these days the GM would just order the manager to use the guy he wanted.
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, Devon saved his best for the playoffs, hitting .444/.464/.667 in our six-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 strike-shortened. 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 in 1997. As with a few other guys, I don’t understand why the Jays didn’t trade him before becoming a free agent.
From the Marlins, 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. White didn’t have many 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.
I find it funny that Omar Vizquel gets Hall of Fame votes, but White didn’t get one vote when he was on the ballot. I’m guessing that if I put up a poll asking ‘which player you would rather have on your team, most would go with Devon’. I think it is closer than I thought. White had a career 47.3 bWAR, Vizquel 45.6. I’d still take White.
Happy birthday Devon, I hope it is a good one.
Also having birthdays today:
Craig Grebeck turns 57. 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. After that, he played with the White Sox for seven years and a season each with the Marlins, Angels, and Red Sox.
Tomas Perez turns 48 today. He was taken from the Expos, by the Angels, in the 1994 Rule 5 draft, and they traded him to the Jays. He played four seasons with us, hitting .234/.295/.309 in 178 games. He went on to play five years with the Phillies and a season each with the Rays and Astros. I have a surprising amount of affection for Tomas.
Happy birthday Craig and Tomas.