Liam, 11, stands nervously in front of the stage, microphone in hand. He’s wearing a blue Royals t-shirt.
The host asks his name.
“Liam,” the boy answers.
“Do you play baseball?”
“Yes, but for only two years,” Liam responds, and then delves into his question for the host. “I’ve always wanted to ask a baseball player this question and now I’m getting to ask one of the greatest baseball players in history,” Liam said. “Knowing you’re a good player, if you go up and make an error, if you strike out, does that affect you at all?”
Frank White, yes, the Frank White, looks surprised. He smiles, then a look of contemplation comes over him. Mistakes. He’s certainly made them – everyone has – yet he hasn’t let them hold him back.
Today he is at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, discussing the Royals’ recent win in the World Series, how life has been and baseball in general.
Life has been busy.
After he resigned from his broadcast position with the Royals, White took on a number of roles. He worked for a roofing company for three years. He began to coach little league baseball. He became a Jackson County elective. Even during his time with the Royals, he was a sort of jack-of-all-trades. He was both a former major league baseball player and Hall-of-Famer, a commentator on Royals broadcasts and analyst for Royals Live. His goal was to move into a management position for the Royals, but once the team made clear that was not what it wanted, he moved on. He continues to grow and is trying to get as much out of life as he can.
“Since the Royals, I’ve been trying to stay a real busy person,” White said. “I love fishing, hunting, playing golf reading autobiographies … and I just love to be a bum at times and do nothing. I like coaching little league baseball…I’m never without anything to do.”
White’s relationship with the Royals has been a subject of controversy since they parted ways. The reason he left was a respect and salary issue, according to White. He felt that he had provided years of good service and wasn’t being respected, referring to the team’s decision to hire another team manager instead of him and terminate his contract.
“[Being a part of the Royals and leaving] taught me that sometimes it’s better to be respected than to have a job,” he said. “After so many years of good service, I thought I deserved better than what they were offering, and when that wasn’t happening, I decided to move on.”
The former player’s respect and reputation are at the forefront for him. He has moved on from the past and is looking to the future. In 2014 he was elected to the Jackson County office. He said that the reason he was elected was because people trust him. He’s not in it to be a career politician. He wants to make a difference.
White draws many comparisons and highlights the differences between major league baseball then and now. There is a sense of nostalgia in his words, an aching for things to return to where they were.
During his early baseball career he was a part of the Royals Academy, a program designed to train players for preparation to play in the Major Leagues. He says the program taught him the fundamentals of baseball. He was married with children at the time he entered the program and it was hard on his family. He would wash dishes with another player to earn money just to make phone calls home, which cost $2.30 per minute. He jokes that they had to write all of their questions out in preparation for the call to save money.
“Internally you still have to be mentally tough enough,” White said. “You have to convince yourself first that you can play at that level and then you have to sustain it every year. The tough part was playing at the same level every day. Once you convince yourself that you can do something, you go out and do it.”
White noted the changes in professional baseball both on the field and off.
“It’s gotten gentler,” White said. “It’s gotten kinder… Striking out isn’t bad anymore. You know, striking out for us was bad… Social media. Players are on Facebook and Twitter, letting you know what they’re doing. For us then, you probably didn’t even know who we were.”
People definitely know who he is now. He recognizes that the boy standing in front of him is him. Just another kid who loves the game and wants to learn as much as possible.
“I think Babe Ruth had a saying,” White began his answer to Liam’s question. “’Never let your fear of striking out keep you from playing the game…’ An error, we’re going to make them because we’re human… Baseball is a game of failure. You can fail seven out of 10 times as a hitter and still be great. Baseball is a game where you almost have to fail first to hit it right. You have to make your mistakes in baseball, you gotta admit your mistakes in baseball, and you have to get better at your mistakes.
“The advice I was given when I came into the big leagues was, ‘I don’t care if the sun is shining, if it’s raining, snowing, cold. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t make the play, just admit you didn’t make the play and move on.’ They didn’t allow you to play in the gray area. They said you can do the job or don’t do the job. It’s that simple. In baseball, you don’t strike out. You don’t make mistakes. It’s how you respond to it. It’s how you bounce back. Stay strong. Stay confident. Just learn from all of the mistakes we’re going to make until we leave this earth. Okay?”