While reading You’re Missin’ A Great Game by Whitey Herzog the other day, I thought to myself, “Why isn’t Whitey working with the team in some capacity?” Herzog still has a keen mind and a terrific eye for talent, and, most importantly, he has an idea when he approaches team-building. He would be a terrific asset, yet he avoids working with the team in any capacity other than the most basic level (he’ll be at Winter Warm-Up signing autographs).
This seemed odd to me because, as a longtime Cardinals fan, I am accustomed to seeing former greats and beloved players stick with the organization in various ways. Stan Musial and Bob Gibson have long track records with the organization after their playing days ended. Lou Brock continues to work for the team as a special hitting instructor. Former GM Bing Devine worked as a scout until he was seventy. Mike Shannon and Al Hrabosky work the booth every day as the voice of the radio Redbirds. Red Shoendienst has been so much a part of the team after retirement that he will probably show up in the dugout in uniform three weeks after he dies. These men built the Cardinal family. They view it as a lifelong connection, a rich tradition that grows and deepens with the continued contributions of those who have come before.
So where is Herzog? Sure, he’s fishing … and? Where is Ozzie Smith? Tommy Herr would be a terrific coach somewhere in the organization. Bob Forsch has thrown two no-hitters; do you think he might have some valuable information to pass along to our younger pitchers? Same with John Tudor. I would personally love to see Vince Coleman teach some of his baserunning techniques to this squad, who couldn’t go first-to-third without a blockade of police cruisers escorting them. Joaquin Andujar lives in the Dominican Republic, a place that the Cardinals are interested in scouting for new talent – could he be a coach down there? Most curious of all, where’s Willie McGee? I realize he’s shy, but the man knows about work ethic and is so popular in St. Louis that I’m surprised we don’t have a statue of him leaning against the Arch.
So … where are these guys?
Conspiracy theorists think that some of these players avoid the organization because of the presence of Tony LaRussa. While it’s certainly true in the case of Ozzie (and probably Herzog as well), I don’t think LaRussa has driven all of these guys away. Perhaps some of them are tired. Maybe they simply want to have nothing to do all day while they enjoy the money they made in their careers. That seems somewhat strange to me considering the fire these men carried in their bellies for baseball and the team.
Out of more recent Cardinals players, only two have shown the kind of devotion to the organization that former greats have in the past: Mark McGwire and Larry Walker. While I am not a fan of McGwire due to his steroid use and his lack of qualifications as a batting coach, it is admirable that he chose to work with the Cardinals despite playing here half as long as he did in Oakland. Walker, on the other hand, played in St. Louis for less than two years, yet he has continued to work with the club every spring since. These guys are the type of skilled and devoted players that the organization really needs throughout the system, instilling an appreciation in the younger generations for the value of the Cardinal tradition.
Perhaps, like prodigal sons, great players and managers like McGee, Ozzie, and Herzog will come back into the fold later in life. Their best years were spent as integral parts of one of the most respected and decorated sports franchises in America, and their contributions have never been forgotten by a loyal fanbase that still loves them. This is an organization that could use their knowledge, skill, and insight to build up new generations of players, new sons, that will further enrich the sport and the organization, our Cardinals family.