Devon Markes White | CF | 1991 - 1995
Devon White (nicknamed Devo) was born December 29, 1963, in Kingston, Jamaica. It is a battle between him and Chilli Davis for the best player ever born in Kingston. The Angels drafted Devon in the 6th round of the 1981 amateur draft out of Park West High School in Manhattan. 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, and 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.
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 Blue Jays; Felix was three years younger than White but never reached his potential with the Angels.
To start the 1991 season, 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 despite the team trading for Roberto Alomar, who would have been a terrific leadoff hitter. But Cito Gaston felt it was important to show faith in Devon, and maybe it worked. White had the best season of his career, hitting .282/.342/.455.
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 MVP votes, finishing 16th in the voting. He may have gotten 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, which is 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 how much better he was on defensive, a terrific defensive CF compared to a poor 1B. I’m not saying White should have been MVP because there were others between Fielder and White in the voting. But White was better than Fielder. And he was terrific in our five-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 as well, batting .248/.303/.390. He still scored 98 runs, a testament to the great offense we had. Devon hit 17 home runs and stole 37 bases. By defensive WAR, Devon had the best defensive season in Jays' history (3.9). On June 1st, Devon did something that has only happened 6 times in major league history, he hit a leadoff home run and then hit a home run in extra innings, scoring the game-winning run.
Devon had a great time in 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 that we will remember forever.
With runners on first and second, David Justice hit a fly to deep center field, Devon ran the ball down and put a foot into the wall to get the height to make the catch, then turned and threw to first to double up Terry Pendleton. But Pendleton was already out for passing the runner in front of him, so John Olerud threw the ball to Kelly Gruber at third. Kelly chased down Deion Sanders, dove, and tagged him on his foot for what should have been a triple play. Unfortunately, the umpire missed the call, and we only got a double play out of what should have been a historic play. But the catch by White has to be one of the most incredible catches in World Series history. I don’t think any other center fielder in the league could have made that catch.
One of the unnoticed great parts about the play was how Devon turns and fires a strike Roberto Alomar, the cutoff man.
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 anyway. So Gillick traded for the greatest leadoff man in the history of baseball. Cito grudging 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. Oh well. 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 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. But he lost out to Molitor for series MVP.
The next couple of seasons were lockout/strike-shortened. White stayed in the leadoff spot with on-base averages of .313 and .334, but the team wasn’t as 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. After that 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. And he won seven Gold Gloves (five with the Jays).
I think he was miscast as a leadoff hitter, but that likely didn’t cost the Jays more than a handful of runs over the years. And maybe, due to the confidence Cito had in him, Devon hit better than he would have in another spot. He struck out a bit too often and could have walked more. With his speed, that would have helped a lot. But as a defensive center fielder, he was as good as anyone. I think he is 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. And he was as fast a runner as there was in the majors at the time, though he hit into a surprising number of double plays.
Rob Neyer had him as the second-best center fielder in Jay history. Bill James ranked him as the 81st best center major lead history; this was in 2000, so he’s dropped a few spots.
White currently works as a coach for the Buffalo Bisons.
Devon White’s place among Jay batting leaders:
bWAR: 9th, 22.3
Defensive WAR: 4th, 9.0
Batting Average: 21st, .270
On Base %: 32cnd .327
Slugging %: 26th .432
Games: 32nd. 656
Plate Appearances: 24th, 2711
Runs: 14th, 452
Hits: 24th, 733
Doubles: 24th. 155
Triples: 7th, 34
Home Runs: 28th, 72
RBI: 30th, 274
Walks: 31nd, 209
Strikeouts: 14th, 572
Stolen Bases: 6th 126