Frank White is a proud man. And for good reason. He built up a very good Major League career - one of the best in Royals history - out of virtually nothing. His high school team didn’t field a baseball team, so he had to play in amateur leagues and garner the attention of professional baseball through the unconventional “Royals Academy”, the brainchild of owner Ewing Kauffman. White was the Academy’s prize graduate, and the man who once literally built Royals Stadium was soon manning second base for the team, holding the position for nearly two decades.
Frank White became one of the most significant players in franchise history, a five-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner. Typically, franchise players receive congratulatory tours in their final season, as David Ortiz enjoyed this year. Frank White received no such goodbye tour around baseball.
Because that’s the way he wanted it.
After the 1989 season, Frank White became a free agent. The All-Star second baseman had hit just .244 over the previous two seasons combined and what little power he possessed had evaporated. He needed knee surgery following the season, and he was about to hit 40 years of age. Still, he was a very capable defender, and the Royals had no ready replacement. There were bitter feelings between the two sides, but they came to agreement on a one year, $1.15 million deal for the 1990 season.
Frank got off to an awful start that year, hitting .143 in the month of April before landing on the disabled list. It took him until June to get above the Mendoza Line, and in late July he found himself again on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. His injuries left playing time to young Terry Shumpert, up from Omaha, and White admirably served as a mentor to the young infielder.
Shumpert would hit .275/.293/.363 in 32 games that season, and the club began to see him as the future at the position. It was clear the Royals were going to go in a different direction at second base, with Frank White not part of next year’s plans. Perhaps Frank could have gone quietly, taking a victory lap for a tremendous career and retiring to adulation from fans. George Brett would have such a ceremony in 1993 after announcing his retirement. He received gifts, allowed fans to congratulate him, and ended the retirement ceremony by kissing home plate, a pose that would become an iconic photo.
That was not Frank’s style.
''If I'm going to go, this is the way I want to go. I've never had it in my mind to retire in the middle of the season. And I've never had it in my mind to retire at the end of the season and have a day because I don't think it's necessary.”
On September 11, Frank White collected the 2,000th hit of his career, an outstanding achievement that at the time only 13 other second basemen in baseball history had accomplished. He would start just one of the next eight games.
Of the last 34 games of the 1990 season, a losing season for the Royals, Frank White would start just 14 times. It wasn’t even that the Royals were wanting to get a good look at Terry Shumpert - they played utility infielders Steve Jeltz and Bill Pecota at second down the stretch and moved third baseman Kevin Seitzer over to second at times to start instead of Frank White. An outside group sponsored a “Frank White Day” to honor the legendary second baseman. Frank White was not in the lineup for “Frank White Day.”
White would start the last home game at Royals Stadium that year, going 1-for-4 with a double in a 3-2 loss to Oakland. In Anaheim, he entered a game in the ninth inning of a tie game to serve as the fifth infielder. The icon who epitomized what it means to play second base in the 1970s and 80s technically spent his second-to-last game in a Royals uniform as a right fielder.
On September 30 in Anaheim, Frank White would hit into a double play in the sixth inning. When he came up in the ninth, he was lifted for pinch-hitter Bo Jackson (who hit the game-winning home run). That would be the last time Frank White would ever play in a Royals uniform. The Royals wrapped up the season on October 3 in Cleveland, with .155-hitting Steve Jeltz at second base.
The Royals did not offer a contract to Frank White for the 1991 season, but Frank was determined to keep playing. The 40-year old threatened to play in Japan, but ultimately, he found there were no offers. Rather than accept the fact his age and declining numbers were the reason there was no interest, White instead blamed the Royals, accusing them of bad-mouthing him to other teams.
“The Royals did a good job of convincing people that I couldn't play. They did a good job of convincing people that I had retired.''
Ultimately, Frank hung up his cleats and went into coaching in 1994 with the Boston Red Sox. He rejoined the Royals organization as a coach in 1997 and managed in the minor league from 2004-2006 although he was passed over for managerial jobs, leading to further bitterness. He joined the front office and began broadcasting games for Fox Sports Kansas City in 2008. In 2011, his contract was not renewed, reportedly for White’s criticism of the club, and Frank vowed never to step foot in the stadium again. He would not even return to be honored for the 2014 World Series.
Frank White and the Royals have always had a tenuous relationship, with both parties bearing some responsibility for the disagreements, including the current estrangement. Perhaps the Royals are the ones that need to make the first move to repair the fractured relationship. Frank White is a proud man, but having a chip on his shoulder seems to be hurting just one person - Frank White.
Fans would have loved to have given Frank White the proper send-off he deserved. They would have loved to have rained applause and cheers on him at the 2014 World Series. They would love to see him be a fixture at Kauffman Stadium. Hopefully one day Frank White and the Royals can bury the hatchet, because it has already deprived fans of too many opportunities to honor the greatest second baseman in Royals history.