They say you have to get up pret-ty early in the morning to catch Whitey Herzog. They're right. It's 6:15 a.m., and the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, who are sitting atop the NL East, is sitting atop his bass boat, trying to catch fish in a lake in Freeburg, Ill., 25 miles from Busch Stadium.
The sun has begun its climb, chasing the dew off the surrounding fields, which bear an uncanny resemblance to the top of Herzog's new-mown head. It's now summertime, and though the living is easy, the fish are not yet jumping. The stillness of the Illinois morn is suddenly disturbed by the call of the White Rat.
"The sonofabitch bloops the ball over the goddam bag to beat you, and then he tells the goddam press that he sees the ball better in our park. Jeeez." (Herzog is still obviously bothered by a bloop double off the bat of .138-hitting catcher Jeff Reed that helped the Montreal Expos beat the Cardinals the night before.) Then he reels in his line, and all's quiet again.
While most lakes have romantic names, this one is known as Herbie Fox's Strip Mining Pits. Herbie Fox himself is in the back of the boat, while Herzog's son-in-law, Kirk Urich, is amidships. Herzog, born Dorrel Norman Elvert Herzog 55 years ago in nearby New Athens, Ill., often goes fishing on the morning of a game.
July 5, 1987
He's a sportsman, of course, but the fishing also gives him a chance to get his thoughts together. Besides, he says, "the goddam phone don't ring out on a lake." So there he is, trolling along the shore, pulling in an occasional bass, casting out an occasional baseball idea. "Now if I can get [Ricky] Horton into the rotation next year," he says to the fish, "that would give me four lefthanded starters. What the hell am I talkin' about next year for? I gotta worry about this year."
At 8:30, after catching a dozen fair-to-middling bass, Herzog and his son-in-law head back to Columbia, Ill., 15 miles away, where Mary Lou, Dorrel's childhood sweetheart and wife of 34 years, has breakfast waiting. After eating, Herzog plays catch with his five-year-old grandson, John. 'The kid's lefthanded," says Herzog. "Hell of an arm. I asked him if he was going to the game today, but he said, 'No, grandpa, too hot. I think I'll go swimming.' "
Herzog walks into the Cardinal clubhouse at 10:30 and sees Ken Dayley, one of his lefthanded relievers. "Can I use you today?" he asks Dayley, and the pitcher says, "Yes, sir." It's the simplest of conversations, but it conveys both the consideration Herzog has for his players, and the respect they have for him. By 10:40 the manager is dressed and filling out his lineup card. "These suckers better hit," he says. "This is a crazy goddam game. Two years ago, we lose Bruce Sutter, and everybody says our relief will be a problem. Well, we don't blow a lead that year until the 174th game of the season. Last year, we lose Andujar, and everybody says our starting pitching will be hurting. Our starters were fine; we just couldn't hit worth a damn. Then this year, everyone says we've got good starters, but we didn't do anything to help our offense. What happens? We score runs in bunches, and my starters go south."
For a man whose team is 4½ games in front, Herzog seems to do a lot of worrying. Today he is worried about rookie starter Joe Magrane, who hasn't pitched in 22 days because of a tender elbow. "If Magrane doesn't come back, we could go down the goddam tubies," says Herzog.
At 11, Herzog does his defensive charts. They are elaborate schemata of where each opponent hits the ball—a broken line for a ground ball, a solid line for a ball in the air—off each of his pitchers. He keeps a different page for each opposing player and a different colored pencil for each of his pitchers: green for Danny Cox, pink for John Tudor, dark blue for Bob Forsch, brown for Todd Worrell, etc. It's actually kind of cute to see a 55-year-old man with the crewcut—and the language—of a Marine drill sergeant using a ruler and colored pencils like a sixth-grader.
One of Herzog's baseball idols is Casey Stengel—there's a framed drawing of Case on the wall of his office, along with a poem entitled The Day Of Casey's Funeral. Herzog manages much as Casey managed. He is a realist when assessing his team's chances and makes optimum use of his bench, just as Casey did. Herzog also plays the press much as the Professor played it—with humor and candor. His curtness may annoy the national media in postseason play (five times in 13 years of managing), but the regular writers who cover the team have genuine affection for him.
By noon Herzog is holding court on a variety of subjects ranging from expansion to politics to the rabbit ball to golf. But once the game starts, he's all business. He rarely moves from his roost in front of the runway leading to the clubhouse. "His concentration is intense," says coach Nick Leyva, who is Herzog's righthand man. "He's thinking two or three innings ahead." Sunday's game is an easy one for Herzog. In the first, Ozzie Smith walks, steals second and scores on Jack Clark's single. In the second, Steve Lake walks, Magrane gets his first major league hit, Vince Coleman triples to right center and Smith doubles. Four-zip.
Magrane, meanwhile, is tooling along quite nicely. Every once in a while, Herzog checks with pitching coach Mike Roarke as to how many pitches Magrane has thrown—they want him to throw between 80 and 90. "Fifty-five, right?" Herzog says to Roarke, who has a counter, in the fifth. "Fifty-five," says Roarke. Then in the sixth, Mitch Webster of the Expos singles, Tim Raines hits a ground rule double and Tim Wallach hits a 2-and-0 fastball over the leftfield fence to bring the score to 4-3. Herzog, showing the patience of a fisherman, lets Magrane pitch through the seventh, 87 pitches in all. In the eighth, the Cardinals put the game away with a three-run rally. When the Expos' Andres Galarraga hits into a double play to end the game, the Rat finally ventures out onto the field to congratulate Bill Dawley, who got the save.
"And so, gentlemen," Herzog tells the writers in his office after the game, "through my ingenuity, we are now five games in the lead. [Pause.] Ingenuity, my ass. We're hitting the ball."
His modesty aside, the other managers in the NL East will have to get up pretty early in the morning to catch Whitey Herzog.