White Wants To Help Royals By Developing His Wranglers

By Bob Lutz
Updated: April 6, 2005

Frank White

WICHITA, Kansas — It was 1990 and Frank White was nearing the end. He was 39, soon to turn 40, and while his mind was telling him one thing, his joints were telling him another. It was time to retire.

White played in 82 games, batting .216. The Royals finished 75-86. It was the worst Kansas City team that White, concluding an 18-year career, played for.

Boy, what the Royals would give for 75-86 now.

There’s no more true blue Kansas City Royal than White, who won eight Gold Gloves, was a five-time All-Star and had more than 2,000 hits. He was signed out of the Royals’ Baseball Academy in 1973.

Except for a stint with the Boston Red Sox at the minor- and major-league levels from 1992-96, White has had eyes only for Kansas City.

This season, White is back for his second season as manager of the Double-A Wichita Wranglers of the Texas League. But he still bleeds blue, and it hurts to see what the parent club is going through.

“When I was in our front office a couple of years ago and we lost 100 games for the first time, and then last year — those are two crushing things for me,” White said. “You either look at it as a sign of the times and say this is where things are right now or you hang on the past, on history, and realize just how good you were.”

For most of White’s career in Kansas City, the Royals were good. They won six AL West pennants and played in two World Series, losing to the Phillies in 1980 and beating the Cardinals in 1985. When White played, Kansas City finished first or second in its division 13 times.

Since he retired, the Royals have been in a division race twice. They were four games out of first in 1994 when the rest of the season was canceled because of a labor dispute, and in 2003 they stumbled down the stretch to fall short by seven games.

White, 54, is dedicated to helping the Royals recover some of their past glory.

It’s tougher now.

“The Yankees’ payroll in those days was maybe $10 million more than ours,” White said. “Now it’s more than $100 million (more).”

Small-market teams like Kansas City can compete, but only if they get the most bang for their buck.

The Yankees and Red Sox can pay lip service to the notion of player development. For the Royals, though, it’s of monumental importance.

Which is where White fits in. Commonly, Double-A players possess great potential but could go one way or the other.

It’s White’s job to make sure as many as possible keep their arrow pointed upward.

There are days when he wishes he could do more. White’s goal is still to manage in the big leagues, and he has four more years, according to a plan he devised last year, to get there.

“Everybody has an idea of what they think will turn things around (in Kansas City),” White said. “But even if you’re a genius as a manager, it really all revolves around your talent. Great talent can make a good manager a genius.”

The Royals need talent, and all they can get.

White thinks there is an abundance of talent in Wranglers uniforms this season. He is looking forward to managing a younger team than the one he had a season ago, but also one with a lot more potential.

“That’s what we’re here for, to develop players,” White said. “And every one of them has his own development program, whether he’s an older player or a younger player. With the situation in Kansas City the way it was last year, we had a lot of players moving up and down. Hopefully it will be more stable at the top and we can keep guys here longer.”

White said he was encouraged by the Royals’ spring training performance, and especially in the way they closed the spring with two impressive games against Houston.

He saw some spunk in the team, something that reminded him of the teams he played for.

But in Detroit on opening day, the Royals lost 11-2. Starting pitcher Jose Lima was roughed up. The bullpen struggled. The offense didn’t produce.

It was disheartening.

“They key thing is for them to come back and win (today),” White said. “Then (Monday) will be forgotten.”

As a player during the Royals’ best years, White never had to, or wanted to, forget.