The Friday Kiwanis Club luncheon at Grant's Cabin on Watson Road in St. Louis began with a spirited singing of America. Then Monsignor Richard J. Gallagher delivered the invocation. He threw a changeup.
"...we thank You for the Smiths, for the Hernandezes and for Whitey Herzog, the Harry Truman of baseball...."
Herzog was being honored on this day as the South Side Kiwanis' 36th Sportsman of the Year, following in the footsteps of such Cardinal luminaries as Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Ken Boyer, Lou Brock, Joe Torre and, oh well, Mike Tyson. Herzog was given a silver tray by chapter president Hellmuth (Red) Reninga, which seemed only fair since Herzog was about to serve to St. Louis, on a platter, its first baseball title of any sort in 14 years. At the end of last week Herzog's Cardinals—and these are his Cardinals—led the National League East by a commanding 5½ games.
Which is why last Friday he was being toasted by a gathering that included the Big Eagle himself, 83-year-old beer baron and team owner Gussie Busch. "He is one great guy, and I call him The Rat," growled Busch. "He knows more about baseball than you or I will ever know. Congratulations again, and the best of everything to you, my good friend."
Dorrel Norman (Whitey, The White Rat, Relly) Herzog, the Harry Truman of baseball, couldn't have been enjoying himself more. Here he was, in front of an adoring crowd of 240 people, one of whom was his club's owner, 30 miles from the town in which he was raised, just a few days short of clinching a division title for the team he loved in his youth.
Just a little more than two years ago, after Kansas City had fired him, Herzog came to Busch's retreat at Grant's Farm in St. Louis to talk about a job. "I knew we were going to get along," Herzog told the Kiwanians. "He thought almost the way I did. Whenever I ask him about something he just says"—and here Herzog changed his voice to a foghorn—" 'Do it.' "
Herzog did it, all right. Taking a team that had forgotten how to win, he cleaned house and guided it to the best record in its division last year and to its present eminence this year over better teams, at least on paper. But then, Dewey looked better on paper than Truman.
"The two men [Truman and Herzog] just struck me as being similar," said Monsignor Gallagher, pastor of St. Raphael's in St. Louis. "Perhaps it was because of the way they both assault the language. Maybe it's because with both men, you know who the boss is. You can tell that when Whitey takes the ball from one of his pitchers."
"Nobody ever called me the Harry Truman of baseball before," said Whitey. "They called me a lot of other things, though...."
Growing up in New Athens, Ill., Herzog was called Relly. He lived and died with the Cardinals and copied Stan Musial's batting stance. "I've been in a slump ever since," he says. New Athens was a small town of 1,500. Herzog's father worked on the highway crew and his mother was a housewife. Mary Lou Sinn gave him a valentine when he was in the sixth grade and she was in the fifth, but they didn't start dating until after high school and didn't get married until he was in the service. Obviously, his eye for talent was still developing. In the meantime, he played baseball and worked at a variety of jobs.
Herzog signed with the Yankees right after graduation. His rise through the minors was interrupted when he joined the Army Corps of Engineers and was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where he managed the baseball team and once beat a Fort Carson, Colo. team managed by Billy Martin. "In two years we went 85-6 and 86-5," says Herzog. "Of course, you could become a free agent after only two years." The team's bat boy was Mike McKenzie, whose father was an athletic and recreation officer at the base. "Once Herzog's troops wanted a holiday pass to go to a game in St. Louis but had a doubleheader scheduled," recalls McKenzie, a writer for The Kansas City Star. "So Herzog got some soldiers to flood the field with hoses during the night, and the games had to be canceled because of wet grounds on a day the temperature went over a hundred degrees."
After the service, while on the Yankees' Denver farm club, Herzog came under the influence of Manager Ralph Houk, of whom Herzog says, "Nobody could handle players better than he could." Herzog also got a nickname that would last a lifetime. "Johnny Pesky, our coach, said I looked like a pitcher named Bob Kuzaba," says Herzog. "And they called him the White Rat."
In Denver, Herzog and Mary Lou had bought a mobile home. In 1956 the Yankees traded him and four other players to the Washington Senators for Mickey McDermott. The Herzogs took the mobile home with them to Washington; the unusual quarters earned Whitey his first national publicity.
Herzog was a useful major league outfielder, playing for the Senators, A's, Orioles and Tigers. While with the A's in Kansas City, he and Mary Lou decided to settle in Independence, Truman's hometown, and they have lived there ever since. One night in 1958 McKenzie and his father went out with Herzog for pizza. Recalls McKenzie, "Whitey told us the A's had obtained a rightfielder with a great arm and bat. 'He's capable of breaking Ruth's record,' Whitey said." Of course, the man Herzog was talking about was Bob Cerv. Just kidding. It was Roger Maris. Herzog's legendary eye for talent did not extend to cars, however. He was driving an Edsel at the time.
Herzog's career was cut short in 1963 when he came down with a virus in spring training with the Tigers. It affected his inner ear, and to this day Herzog can have occasional dizzy spells if he bends down suddenly.
After the ailing Herzog batted .151 for the Tigers in '63, he went back to Independence. He had a lot of work experience to draw from besides baseball, having driven a hearse, dug graves, sold bricks and worked in a brewery and a bakery. By night he studied surveying and by day he supervised a construction crew. "I had 35 guys working for me on this job, and only about 15 of them wanted to work," he says. When the weather got cold, half of the crew had to be laid off, but to make sure they were the right half, Herzog laid them all off and told the ones he really wanted to come back on Monday. This violation of seniority rules didn't sit well with the union. Rather than put up with the rules, Herzog quit. Seventeen years later, though, he would do the same thing with the Cardinals and succeed.
Hank Peters, now general manager of the Orioles and then the farm director of the A's, offered Herzog a scouting job for $7,500 a year. "I signed 12 players for $120,000 and seven of them eventually made the major league roster," Herzog says. "The best was Chuck Dobson, the pitcher. I could have had Don Sutton for $16,000, but Charlie Finley wouldn't give me the money." Herzog later became an A's coach but quit when Finley wouldn't give him more money.
Herzog went to work for the Mets in 1966 and served them for seven years as a coach, a scout and the director of player development. Some of the talent he spotted or taught included Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and Amos Otis. He worked with Joe McDonald, the director of minor league operations; last spring Herzog handed McDonald the general manager's hat he wore while restructuring the Cardinals.
After the 1972 season Herzog accepted an offer from Texas General Manager Joe Burke to take over the Rangers. With typical bluntness, Herzog called them "one of the worst major league teams I've ever seen." They justified his appraisal by going 47-91 before owner Bob Short fired him and hired Billy Martin with 23 games to go in the '73 season.
"It really wasn't fair," Mary Lou was saying last Friday evening during the Cardinals' 3-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs. "If he'd known that his job was on the line...hurry, Tommy [Herr], hurry!...he'd have managed completely different."
Mary Lou is a splendid woman, as candid and talkative as her husband. They must have some wonderful fights. They fish and ski together, and even talk baseball. She sits right behind the plate and roots, roots, roots for the home team: "He does bring the game home with him, and he'll sit around the table talking things over with me and our sons, David and Jim.... C'mon, John [Stuper], don't lose him!—John's having control problems tonight, probably nervous.... I don't think he takes my suggestions very seriously. I did tell him he should use Mike Ramsey a little more, but that was about the time Ozzie Smith got injured anyway.... Pop him up, John!"
Herzog may take the game home with him, but he once forgot to take his son home. "When Whitey was managing in the Instructional League for the Mets, he once took Jim, who was about nine, to the ball park," says Mary Lou. "At the end of the day Jim told Whitey he had to go to the bathroom.... C'mon, Lonnie! [Smith strikes out]. Oh, baloney!...and Whitey forgot about it and left him."
Although Whitey doesn't mind being called Rat, Mary Lou is not too crazy about it. "In school they'd call our children the little white mice," she says. "One of our neighbors in Independence used to put a sign on our lawn that said WHITE RAT. Whenever Whitey went away, I'd take it down. People thought we were selling them critters.... I never noticed Darrell [Porter] crouching that low before."
Actually, zoologists tell us that the white rat has some admirable qualities. He is easily handled if not misused, and he will fight to protect his nest.
Herzog is even proud of some of the Rat caricatures drawn of him by 70-year-old cartoonist Amadee Wohlschlaeger of St. Louis. They hang on an office wall with the pictures of Casey Stengel, Stan Musial and current Cardinal players, a gag trophy honoring Herzog as New Athens Man of the Year 1980 and a reminder from a Marine general that says DFIU—Don't Foul It Up. "I'm going to have a lot of moving to do when I get my butt canned from this job," says Herzog.
Burke knew Herzog had gotten a raw deal in Texas, so after he became general manager of the Royals, he hired Herzog to replace Jack McKeon as manager in the middle of the '75 season. Kansas City finished second that year and then won the next three American League West titles. Herzog installed Frank White at second, made George Brett his No. 3 hitter, put Larry Gura in the rotation, started Willie Wilson, etc. He made a lot of changes, stressing speed and defense, and the Royals still bear his stamp. Indeed, the Cardinals were made in the Royals' image.
After K.C.'s second division title in 1977, Herzog was honored on the courthouse steps of Independence. The only other to have "that honor was Truman. Actually, Herzog had met Truman several times when he played for the A's. And he was in the Truman house shortly before the President died in 1972. "It was eight days before Christmas," says Herzog. "I was quail hunting on a friend's farm just north of Independence when an ice storm hit. The friend asked me to do him a favor. He said he sent a turkey to the Trumans every year at Christmas, but that he was afraid he couldn't get through, and he asked me to take it. I said sure, but when I was driving back, I realized I couldn't go to the Truman house dressed in my hunting clothes. So I put the turkey in the freezer, and the next day I put my suit on and took the turkey over there. I just drove around to the back. Bess answered the door; she was on the phone at the time. Harry was upstairs, I guess. When she got off the phone, she thanked me—they were terrific people—and asked me to wish my friend a merry Christmas. Then I left.
"What bothered me was how easy I got into their house. But that spring I was playing golf in a foursome down in Texas. When I introduced myself to this guy, he said, 'Yes, Whitey Herzog. You delivered a turkey to the Trumans on December 17.' Turns out he was a Secret Service man stationed in the house across the street. The Trumans didn't want any more surveillance than that."
On the day Herzog was honored in Independence he was given a Jeep and an English pointer, and Royals owner Ewing Kauffman said, "He can be my manager forever."
Forever lasted two more years. Burke and Herzog quarreled over some personnel moves in 1979, and Herzog also openly criticized the one-year contracts the Royals always offered him. Kauffman chided Herzog for bunting too much, once in the manager's office, once in the press hospitality room. Herzog had lost the respect of some of his players for his harsh treatment of First Baseman John Mayberry, who was also a Kauffman favorite. Hostilities built and never disappeared, and Herzog got fired. He actually criticized Burke for not firing him earlier, when the Royals could have used the spark a new manager often brings.
Herzog still remains a very popular figure in Kansas City, both in the community and in the clubhouse. "He was a great strategist, even on defense," says White. "All the guys enjoyed playing for him." Brett, a friend of Herzog's, says, "If I ever managed, I'd try to do the things Whitey did. He gave players confidence, but he wasn't afraid to stand up to them. He'd play hearts with you. I remember once going to his house for a quail dinner. Next game I went four-for-four. Later in the season I was struggling a little and one day Whitey walks into the clubhouse with a couple of quail that Mary Lou had sent me."
That ability to be a player's friend and still be his boss is Herzog's secret. A lot of managers know talent and a lot of them know when to hit and run, but Herzog combines those assets. "He's a great manager," says Reliever Bruce Sutter, who Herzog admits has been the Cardinals' salvation. "He tells everybody straight out what their job is. He doesn't put any pressure on you or second-guess. And he's one of the guys." Leftfielder Lonnie Smith says, "The only thing I don't like is we can't have music in the clubhouse. But at least we can have Walkmans."
One day recently Herzog took Sutter, Porter and utility man Gene Tenace to his favorite fishing spot in Freeburg, Ill., not far from New Athens. The four of them were fishing from a pontoon boat when Tenace, reeling in his line, accidentally snagged Herzog's line. "Whitey's there shouting, 'I got one, got a big one,' " says Tenace. "When he finds out what's really going on, we all start laughing. I wish I had it on film, you know, This Week in Fishing."
On some mornings when the Cardinals are at home Herzog will get up at five, drive out to his friend Herb Fox's cabin in Freeburg and fish for large-mouth bass by himself till 9:30. A week ago Wednesday he had a good day, bringing home 14 bass. "First of all, I like to eat them," he says. "Second, it's the most relaxing thing I can think of. No phones, no baseball, just some deep thinking. I also like the challenge of finding out what they're hitting on." Just then Porter stops by to recommend a green jig with a black frog. "They must be down deep," says Herzog.
Herzog's coaches are even more taken by him than his players. "In all the years I've been with him," says Third Base Coach Chuck Hiller, who was on Herzog's staff in Texas and Kansas City, "I've never known him to mistreat a player." Says Red Schoendienst, who was the Cardinal manager for 12 years and is now a coach, "He doesn't criticize players. He talks to them. He knows what he's doing, I'll tell you that. Except when he's fishing. He always yells, 'That's a keeper,' and then pulls up a fish four inches long." Butch Yatkeman, the clubhouse man who's retiring this year after 59 years with the Cardinals, says, "He's the best man I've worked for, and there have been a lot of nice ones. Last year I was supposed to retire. When we were about to resume the second season, Whitey and I were alone in the clubhouse one day, and he said, 'Butch, you don't want to retire after this kind of a season. Why don't you stay on another year?' It wasn't like I was indispensable—he was just thinking of me."
Gussie Busch rarely talks to his manager about baseball. "When he hired me that June," says Herzog, "I was afraid he might bring in a general manager who I couldn't get along with. I think he was thinking along the same lines when he offered to make me general manager." At the winter meetings that December, Herzog set about clearing house, acquiring Sutter and assorted others. During the season he added Joaquin Andujar. Before this season he got Lonnie and Ozzie Smith. Lonnie has a chance to be the first player since Ty Cobb to have 70 RBIs and 70 stolen bases in a season, and Herzog estimates that Ozzie's spectacular play at shortstop has saved the Cardinals 100 runs. Andujar, who wasn't a regular starter in Houston, was 15-10 through Sunday. Somehow Herzog traded away the 1981 American League Cy Young and MVP winner, Rollie Fingers, and a strong 1982 Cy Young candidate, Pete Vuckovich, and came up smelling like a rose.
On Friday he told the luncheon crowd, "I've got a wife who's been pretty good to me, five of the greatest coaches a manager could have and my players. Good players make a good manager, and you can't be a smart manager without a good bullpen. I am worried about our hitting, though. We haven't done much yet, unless we win the world championship."
Give 'em hell, Whitey.