Fred White has died at the age of 76, one day after announcing his retirement.
ANAHEIM — Fred White, a Royals radio voice for 25 years and associated with the club for 40 years, died on Wednesday due to complications from melanoma. He was 76.
White’s death in hospice care came just one day after the team announced his retirement as director of broadcast services and the Royals Alumni. Funeral arrangements are pending.
“All of us are just shocked,” said Royals owner David Glass.
White was best known for the 25 years, 1974-98, that he teamed with Denny Matthews in the Royals’ radio booth.
“I had great admiration and respect for Fred and even after he left the broadcast booth, he did a fantastic job with our radio network,” Glass said. “Fred and I used to talk about the fact that the Cardinals used to have the real radio network covering so many towns with so many stations. And I think that what Fred put together for us probably was second to what the Cardinals did but he had a great feel for it and he did just a super job for us.
“And Fred was really good with the alumni and provided a lot of leadership there. So we’re just really proud of our association with him and we send our sincere condolences to Fred’s family. It’s a shock to all of us and he’s really going to be missed.”
White joined Matthews, one of the Royals’ original broadcasters, when Buddy Blattner left the club.
“The thing I remember most is how we assimilated with each other in the booth. I think it takes the better part of a year working with somebody you’ve never worked with before, to figure them out and what their style is and their sense of humor. And we got along, I thought, very, very well,” Matthews said.
“I told people before, it’s a long season and it’s a small booth so you better get along. And I don’t think either one of us was possessed of big egos. If you’ve got two guys and one of their egos is running free, then you might have a problem, but we never ran into that. I thought we respected each other and played off each other very well. We had a lot of fun times, a lot of laughs in the booth.”
White left the booth when Ryan Lefebvre was hired for the Royals’ broadcasting team in 1999. Afterward, White occasionally did games on a fill-in basis.
White had some memorable moments, including calling George Brett’s classic home run off the Yankees’ Goose Gossage in the 1980 postseason and Brett’s 3,000th hit against the Angels in Anaheim. He covered several playoffs and the World Series teams of 1980 and 1985.
“You remember the fun times. He jumped in at the perfect time because, all of a sudden, the team was very good. Away they went and we got to enjoy the glory days of the boys in blue,” Matthews said.
White also called Bo Jackson’s mammoth first big league home run, saying: “I mean he crushed it. That might be the longest home run hit in Royals Stadium!” And it was.
Matthews also remembered some small moments from his association with White, like one long night in the booth at Oakland.
“It was depressing, it was cold and it was just miserable. It was a 14-1 game or something, a blowaway,” Matthews recalled. “Fred was on in the seventh inning and there wasn’t anybody there. Fred said something like, ‘Well, there can’t be more than 50 people here now,’ and then he said, ‘I don’t know who would even be here. Look at those two guys way down the right-field line, as high up in the upper deck as they can possibly get and still be in the ballpark.’
“I was just sitting there and chuckling about him talking about the two knuckleheads in the upper deck. Finally I grabbed my binoculars and it was two empty seats — the guys when they left pushed the seats up so they were two different colors than every other seat so, from a distance, in your mind, it would be two people up there. So I sat there with a straight face and said, ‘Fred, I don’t know how I’m going to break this to you. But those two guys you’ve been talking about for the last 10 minutes are two empty seats.’ And we laughed about that for the next two innings.”
White, originally from Homer, Ill., did his first baseball broadcasts calling American League games in Hastings, Neb. He became the voice of Kansas State University athletics in the 1960s-70s and was sports director of WIBW in Topeka. He was nationally known for his TV basketball coverage, notably in the Big Eight and later the Big 12.
Don Free, the producer-engineer on Royals radio broadcasts, worked with White as far back as 1967 at the Topeka station.
“Fred was such a good guy. He always took care of people,” Free said. “When I was working at the station, I was still in the Air Force when I started and I couldn’t always get home for the holidays but he always made sure I had someplace to go for Thanksgiving or anything like that.”
Then they worked together for years in the Royals’ booth.
“When I got the [Royals] job in ’86, he made sure I knew all the ballparks, where the booths were and just gave me a great tour of everything,” Free said. “Everybody respected Fred White — everybody.”
Steve Physioc, now a Royals TV announcer, grew up in Kansas City listening to White.
“I remember my mom on a fall afternoon on a Saturday saying, ‘Steve, you’ve got to rake the leaves in the front and back yard.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll rake them at 1 o’clock. That’s when Kansas State football comes on and I want to hear Fred White make the call.'”
Physioc later attended K-State, got into broadcasting and White helped him land his first jobs. Physioc eventually succeeded White as the voice of the Wildcats.
“If I ever had a career decision, he was my counsel. Outside of my father, he’s probably been the most important man in my life,” Physioc said.
Lefebvre, while doing Minnesota Twins TV pregame shows in 1995 at age 24, remembered sidling up to the doorway of the visiting booth at the Metrodome to study the style of the play-by-play announcers.
“After an inning or so, Fred turned around and noticed I was standing there. I kind of took a half-step back because I didn’t want to offend anybody that I was eavesdropping,” Lefebvre said. “And he had this warm smile and just kind of waved at me and said, ‘C’mon in.’ It seems like a lot of people in our business have a Fred White ‘c’mon in’ story where they just felt welcome. Whether it’s somebody just getting their broadcasting career started or hoping to be a broadcaster, he made them feel like they were important and their career was important.”
When Lefebvre replaced White in 1999, some Royals fans did not take to the newcomer.
“My first couple of years were pretty rough because they grew up with Denny and Fred and they didn’t care about any stranger from Minnesota,” Lefebvre said. “But he would go on radio show after radio show and when he was quoted in print, he would plead with Royals fans to give the new guy a shot.”
White confided to Lefebvre that he’d experienced similar negative feedback when he replaced the popular Blattner in 1973. And when Matthews cut back on travel in 2001, White often filled in and joined Lefebvre in the booth and further helped him to be accepted.
“It’s kind of old line now but it’s true: Fred’s firing led to me sitting in his chair but his support led to me having this job for 15 years,” Lefebvre said.