Wednesday, April 17, 2024

RIP Whitey Herzog

If you grew up in the St. Louis area in the 1980s like I did, then chances are you'll never have a more favorite Major League Baseball team than those St. Louis Cardinals ones from the early to the middle part of the decade. Likewise, you probably don't have a more cherished manager than Whitey Herzog.

"The White Rat" took the "Runnin' Redbirds" to three World Series over a span of six years and while he only one won of them, he was the perfect mix of old-school militant leader - with a perfectly square head and buzzcut - and innovative playcaller of "Whiteyball" who valued offensive speed and defensive craftiness over brute home-run power. 

Whitey Herzog has passed away at age 92. 

His Cardinals won the World Series in 1982 and those were some thrilling games. Even though they weren't champions, the 1985 and 1987 teams may have been my favorite teams. I don't think I ever watched more baseball that I did in 1985 with Jack Clark, Tommy Herr, Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Terry Pendleton, Ozzie Smith, Andy Van Slyke, Joaquín Andújar, John Tudor, Bob Forsch, and Todd Worrell. Meanwhile, the 1987 team with many of the same players went back-and-forth until the very end in losing to the Minnesota Twins in seven games.

Whitey always felt like one of Cardinal Nation's own, which may have helped because he grew up near St. Louis in New Athens, Illinois.

Some interesting facts about Herzog:

  • His real name was Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog.
  • A broadcaster covering his games in the minor leagues nicknamed him "Whitey" because of his light blond hair. 
  • He was in the Army Corps of Engineers for two years.
  • Herzog was mentored by iconic New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel as a Yankee minor leaguer and said, "Instead of thinking about girls, I would be thinking about what the hell he talked about all day. Casey broke it down into the hundred little things that would make the difference. Once I began coaching and managing, I kept passing them along to my own players. In Casey, I had an Einstein."
  • He played eight seasons in the majors, with the Washington Senators, Kansas City Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, and Detroit Tigers.
  • He didn't last a full season in his first MLB managerial stint with the Texas Rangers in 1973.
  • Before joining the Cards, he was hired to manage the Kansas City Royals and lost to the New York Yankees three years in a row in the AL Championship Series.
  • Royals fans are not likely to forget Whitey either. He surpringly called his 1977 team the best he ever coached, and they finished 102-60 in the regular season and featured Darrell Porter, Frank White, Amos Otis, George Brett, and Dennis Leonard.
  • Bruce Sutter, the Hall of Fame closer on that 1982 Cardinals team, told The New York Times, "How many managers can you blow a game for and go out fishing with him the next morning?"
  • He was the second-oldest living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame behind Willie Mays.

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