A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Still Waiting: White’s Hope Is Fading
WICHITA — Best I can tell, only two great players manage in the minor leagues. There are some good former players managing, names you might recognize from bubble gum cards. Most managers flamed out as players. You wouldn’t know their names.
It is no coincidence that many minor-league managers are disappointed players. Life in the minor leagues is a blur of bumpy bus trips, fried food, bugs and tiny apartments. The paycheck would be laughable if it weren’t so meaningful. Kids spin around on baseball bats and fall down between innings.
It’s as Frank White tells his Wichita players at the season’s start: “If you want to be here at the end of the season, you ought to quit right now.”
So what would drive a grown man back here? For many, the driving force must be ambition, the need to fill that empty void of an incomplete career. Some love teaching, of course. Some simply must be around the game … it’s in their blood.
But for the great players, none of those reasons fit. There is no void in their careers. If they want to teach or be around the game, there are surely better places than the minor leagues. Gary Carter, the Hall of Fame catcher, manages Port St. Lucie for a simple reason: He wants to be a major-league manager. He figures this is his best chance.
The other great player, though, doesn’t think he will get that chance. Still, he’s managing in the minor leagues with all the aging dreamers.
The other great player, of course, is Frank White.
Frank White was a five-time All-Star, an eight-time Gold Glove winner, the first MVP of the American League Championship Series. He remains the team record holder with six grand slams. He hit for the cycle twice, hit three inside-the-park homers and batted fourth in the World Series.
He was, by almost every definable measure, as good as Pittsburgh icon Bill Mazeroski. And Maz is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I bring all this up not to rehash what you already know, but to stress that White does not need this. He’s an icon in Kansas City, a retired number below the Kauffman scoreboard, a bobblehead doll on people’s shelves. Still, he manages this Wranglers team for a third season.
He sits in the front row on the long bus rides. He coaches third in some of America’s hottest places. He files a lot of reports.
“I’m not paying dues,” White says bluntly. “I hate when people say that. It’s insulting. I played 18 years in the major leagues. I paid my dues a long time ago.”
So why are you here?
“I wanted to give something back to the game,” he says. “I wanted to help young kids get better and get to the big leagues. And I thought it would help my visibility a bit, too.”
Ah yes, visibility. Frank White, like Carter, had thoughts of becoming a major-league manager too. That was part of his Wichita motivation when he took the job. The Royals had hired Tony Peña to be manager and had not even interviewed White. That hurt.
White supposed that the Royals were impressed with Peña’s minor-league managing record. Shortly afterward, he asked to manage in Wichita. He told himself that he would manage for five years and give teams a chance to see him.
If nothing happened after five years, he would try something else and feel no regrets.
Then, last season, Tony Peña quit. The Royals’ manager job was open again. White waited in Wichita, but this time the Royals were not interested in minor-league managing experience.
Now they wanted major league managing experience. They hired Buddy Bell. They did not interview Frank White. That hurt again.
“Nobody knows me,” White says. “That’s the disappointing part. Even my ex-teammates don’t know me. None of them supported me for manager. None of them have come down to see what I’m doing down here. None of them seem to know how competitive I am and how much I want to win. That’s really disappointing.”
Of course it isn’t just the Royals. Teams around baseball hire managers out of the broadcasting booth or off the Yankees’ coaching staff. Frank White played in more than 2,300 games, he coached for seven years, he has managed in the minor leagues and the Arizona Fall League.
He has never been interviewed for a managerial job.
I ask him whether he still wants to be a major-league manager.
“I don’t know,” White says. “I just don’t think about it now.”
Frank White says he used to keep a Kansas City Star sports page in the top drawer of his desk. It was the day after the Royals lost 100 games for the first time. That was 2002. It made Frank White sick. And it still does.
“I heard people say, ‘What’s the difference between 99 losses and 100 losses?’ ” White says. “It’s a big difference. If you have 99 RBIs, you want 100. If you have 99 wins, you want 100. And if you have 99 losses, you don’t want 100. That’s competition. That’s what the Royals were about when we played. Competition.”
He says that’s where a manager can make a difference — where he can make a difference. “Look, it’s about players,” he says. “Good players can make a dumb guy look smart and a smart guy look like a genius. Players win and lose games.
“But a manager can help those players prepare. That’s where he can make a difference. He can put those players in the best position possible. He can deal with the clubhouse. I know I can do those things. I’ve been doing them all my life.”
I ask Frank how he would respond if someone called and said they wanted to interview him for their manager’s job. He smiles hard. “I think the odds are pretty slim now,” he says.
Then why do this? Why manage in Wichita?
“It’s a promise I made to myself,” he says. “But I don’t think I’m going to make it those five years.”
He smiles hard again and says that while he’s made no decision, he does think about trying something new after this season. He thinks about helping the team market itself in Kansas City. He’s fascinated by the Royals’ television side. He’s almost 56. He might want a new challenge.
“If I never manage in the big leagues, I’ll still be proud of my time here,” he says. “I have given it my all. I love being with these guys. Sure, managing in the big leagues was my dream — no, not my dream. That’s wrong. Don’t say dream. It was my desire. But coming to Wichita was about more than just becoming a major-league manager.”
Why wasn’t managing a dream?
“Playing was my dream,” Frank White says. “And I did that. There are no dreams after playing. Only desires.”