These days, Jerry White is the first base coach of the Minnesota Twins, but a big part of his heart will always be with the Montreal Expos.
A valuable outfielder during his 10 seasons (1974 to 1983) with the Expos, the California native loved playing in Montreal.
“It was a beautiful city,” he said in a phone interview in late January. “There were some great restaurants. Me, Andre (Dawson) and Cro (Warren Cromartie) were always together. We were into fashion. Actually, I got those guys into fashion. I taught them how to dress.”
When he wasn’t making sure his teammates were looking dapper, White was a productive player on some of the most successful teams in Expos history. Born in Shirley, Mass., in 1952, White grew up in California and was a multi-sport star at George Washington High School in San Francisco.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound switch-hitter was selected by the Expos in the 14th round of the 1970 First-Year Player Draft and was assigned to their Rookie Ball Gulf Coast League squad, where he would hit .289 in 55 games. Over the next two seasons, he would progress all the way to the Expos’ Double-A affiliate in Quebec City, where he would he struggle in 1972, before being shipped back to Single-A West Palm Beach.
“That’s where I met Gary (Carter),” he said. “You could see the talent that Gary had because he was so strong and the ball jumped off his bat. But he was a front foot hitter and he was hitting everything out in front and the ball was going 10 miles up in the air. But you could just feel the power behind his swing. And I’ll tell you what, he got that swing straightened out and the ball jumped off his bat.”
White would return to play 21 games in Quebec City in 1974, before being promoted to Triple-A Memphis.
“Quebec City was a pretty city, it was just beautiful. I can’t say anything bad about that whole province up there,” said White. “If you’ve never gone to France, you’ve got a little bit of it there.”
His performances in Quebec City and Memphis would earn him his first big league call-up that season. He would make his major league debut on September 16, 1974, starting in centre field against the New York Mets at Jarry Park. He would go 0 for 2 against Mets’ right-hander Randy Sterling.
But he would proceed to register four hits in his final eight at bats that season. His first big league hit came against Cubs left-hander Dave LaRoche at Wrigley Field on September 24, 1974. Almost a year later, on September 8, 1975, he would belt his first career home run off of Mets right-hander Hank Webb at Jarry Park.
“Jarry Park was fun, but it was cold,” reflected White. “I thought it was a good hitter’s park. It was the big leagues, so my first fond memories of the big leagues were of Jarry Park.”
Over the next two seasons, White developed into an effective outfielder and pinch-hitter. He would record a career-high 15 stolen bases in 1976, before being dealt to the Cubs on June 23, 1978 for Woodie Fryman. The Expos then reacquired White that December.
The easygoing California native would enjoy his finest big league campaign in 1979, when he hit .297 and registered a .391 on-base percentage in 88 games. The following season he would club a career-high seven home runs.
White was also a member of the 1981 Expos squad that advanced to the post-season and would sock a game-winning, three-run homer off of Jerry Reuss in the sixth inning of Game 3 of the National League Championship series.
Unfortunately, he was also the final out in fifth-and-deciding game of that series – a contest known as Blue Monday in Expos lore. After watching Dodgers outfielder Rick Monday homer off of Steve Rogers in the top of the ninth inning, White came to the plate with runners on second and third with two out in the bottom of the frame. Prior to the at bat, Carter told him to be aggressive and to be ready for a fastball. Unfortunately, Dodgers pitcher Bob Welch threw a sinker and White grounded out to second.
“We had a great team,” said White of the 1981 club. “We came up from the minor leagues together and it was a heckuva team. We got close and it didn’t happen, but at least we got there.”
White would toil for the Expos for two more seasons, before playing two campaigns in Japan and then returning to suit up for one final big league season with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1986.
Following his playing career, White joined the Minnesota Twins as a roving hitting and outfield instructor in 1987, prior to being named the first base coach and base-running instructor for the Detroit Tigers in 1996. White would return to the Twins in 1999 to become their first-base coach and he continues to serve in that capacity.
In the off-season, he lives in San Leandro, Calif., and has three grown children,
He hasn’t been back to Montreal since an interleague series between the Tigers and Expos in June 1997, but he keeps in touch with his former Expos teammates.
“I still talk to a lot of those guys,” he said. “Andre and I, we keep in touch. I talk to Jerry Manuel. I used to see Tim (Raines) when he was with the White Sox. And Cro calls here and there . . . It was just fun playing in Montreal. I’ll always remember those times.”