Whitey Herzog will take his place in Cooperstown today after a stellar career in baseball. Herzog made his name managing the St. Louis Cardinals for 10 seasons highlighted by their 1982 World Series championship. The style that won him that championship and so many other games was new and exciting; Whiteyball was about stealing bases and playing defense — small ball — rather than hitting home runs and doubles. Today, many teams follow his blueprint for success and that impact earned him a place in the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is the ultimate honor and Herzog earned it.
Now, let’s take a look at how Whitey is being remembered. [...]
He always knew the right thing to say, and the right time to say it. As a manager, he was smart, brash, fearless, calculating and innovative, all of which make him a Hall of Fame manager. Sunday in Cooperstown, N.Y., he will be inducted into the Hall. Surely, his speech that day will make many people laugh. Just as certain, he will cry.
I think it’s very, very deserving. He’s a guy who is probably one of the most innovative people that the game has ever seen, not to mention one of the brightest. He certainly was a guy that changed my life. I don’t know if things would have been the same had he not gotten on a plane and come out to San Diego way back in 1981. And life has just been wonderful since my transition from San Diego to St. Louis and Whitey was certainly a big part of that. So, I’m looking forward to him getting inducted later this month.
While playing for Manager Ralph Houk at the Class AAA Denver Bears in 1955, coach Johnny Pesky told Herzog: “You’re the spitting image of Bob Kuzava,” the one-time Yankee pitcher called “White Rat.” Later, it was shortened to Rat. He was dubbed Wild Child by Satchel Paige as minor-league teammates in Miami, but Herzog said, “He called everybody Wild Child.”
On whether Whiteyball would work in today’s game: No, he said, because the use of speed and sound fundamental baseball have been replaced by home runs in smaller stadiums than those he managed the Royals and Cardinals in. “The home run is so prevalent that the running game got hidden,” he said. “The players are bigger, the parks smaller, the ball jacked up.” He sounded wistful for when his Cardinals didn’t need a base hit to score a run and could win the 1982 World Series with 67 home runs.
“We could run like hell,” he said.
Seeing that he’s joining the other baseball immortals in Cooperstown, it’s hard to make the case that Herzog was underrated. But I do believe this: Herzog’s historical influence on the game was even more profound than we probably realized at the time.
Not many figures in baseball history have played a lead role in altering the very essence of how the game is played, and Herzog stands among them.
Baseball was primarily a station-to-station display of powerball until Herzog’s teams in Kansas City and St. Louis began a new movement. They kicked up dirt on the basepaths to score runs with their speed, then used their swiftness to vacuum grounders and chase down flies with amazing alacrity.
What Whitey did took a lot of guts. He took on the established way and turned it upside down. He broke the prototype. He led the way. It didn’t always click. But the risk is what made it so gutsy.
When it came to evaluating players, commanding the game, the media and the fans, Whitey is the greatest manager in the history of the game, I believe. No one did all four things better. When he got to St. Louis, we were drawing 1.3 million per year. Within a few years, we were drawing 3 million a year. His relationship with the fans superseded his relationship with the players. In the stands, there were as many Herzog jerseys as [Willie] McGee jerseys. You just don’t see that happening anywhere else.
And now, Whitey Herzog on what he is most proud of from his Hall of Fame career:
What I’m most proud of is our teams in Kansas City and St. Louis set home attendance record 11 times in the 18 years I was there,” Herzog said. “I loved Kansas City, but my 10 years in St. Louis were the most enjoyable years of my life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll go out around St. Louis — to the bank, the grocery store — and people come up to me, shake my hand and thank me for 10 years of exciting baseball. They’re still talking about it.
The induction ceremonies will be on the MLB Network, so enjoy the day for those of you who have it. And Congratulations to Whitey Herzog, Cardinals Hall of Fame manager.