Just before Devon White headed out for batting practice in Buffalo, where he’s now a hitting coach with the Bisons, the former Gold Glove centre fielder talked to Sportsnet about his time with the Toronto Blue Jays, the underappreciated Pat Borders and the madness of comparing him to Willie Mays.
You’re the Buffalo Bisons hitting coach, but you must get asked for fielding tips constantly.
White: No, it’s been very surprising.
Some of the guys are set in their ways and they’ve never seen me play. They’re looking at the players of the present instead of the players of past, because they think we’re dinosaurs — we didn’t play the game.
Oh my goodness. Pull out your phone and show them clips.
[Laughs]. Well, that’s what I tell them: “Go to YouTube.”
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You won seven Gold Glove awards. Do you still have your glove from your playing days?
I have a gamer and I have a backup glove. I used the gamer all 17 years in the majors. Every year, I take care of it: I lotion it up, moisturize it so it doesn’t dry rot. You take care of something and it takes care of you. It took care of me for 17 years.
You had a different style of catching than most players — with a support hand behind your glove, or with the glove against your chest. How come?
I think a lot of people have started to do that — I know Andruw Jones did it for a while. But that’s something I did to see the ball go in the glove, and it became my style. Everyone I talk to says, “Devon, I always practice that catch and I can never make it.” So… [Laughs.] It’s just something I did.
During the ’92 World Series, you said: “Most of the time I know I can get to any baseball. I don’t want to sound cocky.”
Well, I think when a ball is in the ballpark and it’s not a hard line drive, I’m going to get to it. Maybe it was the ego — [but] it can’t be ego if it happens. I know I can catch the ball if it stays in the ballpark. It’s something I pride myself on. And I was also fortunate to be on teams that built up the middle, and I was one of the guys they always wanted.
What was your best catch ever?
It really is tough to say. I remember one in Toronto: It was a line drive in front of me, and most of the time guys would slide and try to catch it, or short-hop it. I just kept running and the ball stayed up and I stuck my glove out and it hit the palm of my hand and was coming out — it literally came out of my glove — and I caught it again. I think that was one of the toughest balls I ever caught.
Of course, the ’92 World Series, that catch [in Game 3], it was basically myself and the ball reached the wall at the same time. That’s in there too, and it highlighted my career because it was a World Series. There’s other catches where I’ve jumped over the wall, but that was a timing play. Those catches would definitely be up there too.
That big catch in the ’92 World Series was the start of what should have been a triple play. [Editor’s note: The umpire missed the call on the third out, when Kelly Gruber tagged Deion Sanders]. Could you tell Gruber made the tag?
I couldn’t tell but I always tease him about it: Why does a white guy try to chase down one of the fastest black guys in the game? [Laughs.] And he’s like, “Devo, I caught him. I caught him.” I’m like, “You did.” People ask, “Do you wish it was a triple play?” And I say no. The truth of the matter is we went on and won the World Series, so if that would have happened, everything changes, right?
After that catch, you were compared to Willie Mays.
No comparison. [Laughs.] I shouldn’t even be in that class. A guy like Willie Mays, I’d seen him play when I was younger and the things that he has done? It’s really hard to compare any player this day and age to a player before his time. They can say it’s a Willie Mays-type play, but no need to compare me. That’s an insult to him, I think.
That ’92 season, a couple players have said they knew they were going to win. Did you?
No, not at all. We go into the season and basically want to stay healthy, want to win ballgames. If all of the above happens, then great, but no one can predict that. If they did, why didn’t they go to Vegas and bet? [Laughs.] But we were such a good team, we knew what we had. We knew if there was a close game, we were gonna win it. You might say it was cocky but we had a lot of self-confidence and we knew what we were capable of up and down the lineup and among the pitching staff. We had it all. It was tough to beat us.
Was the win in ’93 more satisfying than the year before?
I think it’s a lot harder to do it back-to-back because people are hunting for you.
It must have been fun to lead off that potent lineup.
I was fortunate to be in that position, with three Hall of Famers that I played with during those two years in [Dave] Winfield and [Paul] Molitor and, of course, Robbie Alomar. And Rickey Henderson, can’t forget him, he was with us two months. That’s the highlight of my career, being able to say that I played with a lot of Hall of Famers.
Were you a leader in that clubhouse?
There was no one person in Toronto. I know it appears to be different, when Winfield came. But he pretty much said to us, “I came to be with you guys. You guys have been successful and I want to be a winner, too.” We asked him to be the spokesperson because he was the older guy on the team, so we said, tell the fans what we want.
He wanted noise.
We told him to tell them that’s what he wanted. [Laughs.] But we all did our jobs. Robbie, Joe [Carter], John Olerud was a leader in his own way. A lot of people don’t mention Pat Borders, but he’s a big part of the game. They don’t say his name a lot, but he handled all those pitchers and all you hear about is WAMCO [White, Alomar, Molitor, Carter and Olerud]. You don’t hear about Pat Borders. He’s working with Philly right now and I see him in spring training and I’m like, “Pat, people really don’t acknowledge what you did. You were the catcher that whole time, and you’d been there for a long time.” I respect guys like that who play every single day and catch and you never hear any griping or “Oh, I’m tired,” or anything like that. And that’s how the whole team was.
What do you remember about the day you found out you’d been traded to Toronto?
I was very happy. At the time, I wasn’t happy anymore in California [with the Angels]. There was a lot of misleading information out there, saying I was a bad apple and things like that. It came from the manager, and I don’t know why that was. Fortunately, I had an outstanding career, so he did me a favour by telling them to trade me. I thanked the general manager, and every time I went back to Anaheim, I gave it to them. [Laughs].
What did you know about Toronto before you moved there?
We were in the American League, so I played in Toronto a lot. I knew it was a diverse community, I knew there were a lot of Jamaicans there. I’m Jamaican, of course. I felt at home when I got there.
Did you ride the TTC, and do Toronto things?
No, I didn’t do any of that until recently, like two years ago. I finally went on the train. All these years I’ve been coming to Toronto, finally ride the train. The good thing is, nobody knew who I was.
Do you have a favourite restaurant in the city?
The Real Jerk. That was on Queen Street then, but they moved it somewhere else. Drake did a video there, and it’s the same owners.
What’s your fondest memory of playing in Toronto?
Just recalling stadiums being full every single night, and everyone’s calling you for tickets because people couldn’t get them. It was the hottest thing for three years. People forget about ’91 — we were in the playoffs, we ended up losing, that was the first full year I was there. And then ‘92 we won, ‘93 we won and, of course, ‘94 was the strike year and we weren’t very good [laughs.] The fondest memory, I would say, is having the sellouts and having the fans behind you.
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