Broadcaster Fred White, who became an icon with the Royals over the last 40 years, announced his retirement Tuesday because of what the organization characterized in a news release as “recent health issues.”
Club officials and the family offered no specifics on the nature of White’s illness, and asked for the public to respect a request for privacy, but several close friends described it as serious.
“Fred White has been synonymous with Royals baseball for as long as anyone can remember,” said Mike Swanson, the club’s vice president for communications and broadcasting.
“It’s unfortunate the circumstances with which he has had to step down. The family has asked for privacy, and we’re allowing that.”
White teamed with Denny Matthews as the Royals’ primary broadcast team from 1973 to 1998. White served more recently as the club’s Director of Broadcast Services and Royals Alumni.
An Illinois native, White was the sports anchor at WIBW-TV in Topeka and the broadcast voice for Kansas State athletics before joining the Royals.
“Before the 1973 season, (the Royals) called me and they wanted to have a third guy when they televised games,’’ White told the Topeka Capital-Journal in a 2012 interview.
“All they had was Buddy (Blattner) and Denny, the two of them, and they split ’em up. They came to Topeka and wanted to know if I’d be interested, and I think I pinned the guy to the restaurant floor.
“‘Yeah, of course,’ I was interested. So I started doing games — 40, 45 games was all they televised. That’s how it all started, part-time stuff in ’73, and it ballooned from there.’’
Current Royals broadcaster Steve Physioc, who grew up in the Kansas City area and attended Kansas State, cited White as a long-time friend and mentor.
“Outside of my father, he was probably the most influential man I’ve ever been around,” Physioc said. “He did things for me time and again in my career. And every time I had a career decision to make, I called Fred.”
Don Free is in his 28th year as the producer/engineer for Royals’ radio broadcasts. He, too, counts White as a long-time friend.
“I met Fred in 1967 when I went to work at WIBW,” Free said. “Fred came a couple of months later to do K-State and be the sports director. I was a young kid. Single, of course.
“Fred always made sure I had some place to go for holidays. I hate to see him retire.”
White said it was a bonus to join the Royals in 1973 because that was the year that then-Royals Stadium opened and served as site for the All-Star Game.
“That was really the icing on the cake,” he told the Capital-Journal in that 2012 interview. “Just the thrill of getting started, doing what was a lifelong dream, the team on the rise, a new stadium being opened, George Brett, Hal McRae and Frank White joining the team that year
“I probably felt I’d died and gone up the first steps to heaven.”
White spent his baseball off-seasons by calling basketball games for the Big Eight and Big 12 television networks. He also regularly drew national assignments with ESPN, CBS Sports, NBC Sports and Turner Sports.
“He was one of the best behind the mic,” said former Missouri All-American Jon Sundvold, who teamed with White on numerous basketball telecasts.
“And for a guy like me who got to listen to him and finally work with him, it was quite a thrill. One great memory is when we were stuck in a blizzard in Iowa.
“We got stuck on I-35 in a blizzard and hung out in a tiny little gas station for seven hours before we made our way behind some plows to Ames. ... It looked like a war zone with all kind of cars in ditches.
“Those are the things you keep in your memory bank.”
When White left the Royals’ broadcast booth — a move that drew heavy criticism — he remained with the club by overseeing the Royals Radio Network, which spans seven starts and remains one of the largest in the major leagues.
White also began directing activities for former players in the Royals Alumni program, which included coordinating appearances at clinics and the Royals Fantasy Camp.