Cardinal Managers: From Huggins to Herzog

This article was written by Bob Broeg

This article was published in the Road Trips: SABR Convention Journal Articles


This article was originally published in “St. Louis’s Favorite Sport,” the 1992 SABR convention journal.

 

When Miller Huggins found he couldn’t own the Cardinals—or at least a good hunk of them—he opted for a job for which he had been recommended by Ban Johnson, the founder of the American League, and endorsed by J. G. Taylor Spink, salty young editor of The Sporting News.

Before Hug took the train to New York in late 1917 to be interviewed by the Yankees’ Jacob Ruppert, Spink had a piece of advice for the pasty-faced little manager, then 38. “Don’t wear that damned street cap,” snapped Spink. “Ruppert doesn’t like ’em and, besides, it makes you look like a jockey.”

You know the rest, of course. Huggins got the job and managed the Yanks to six pennants and three world championships. Here, in a review of St. Louis Cardinal managers, the mighty midget may have rated as the best ever if he had stayed here. But he didn’t, so who rates the top honors?

Through research, bull sessions, and observation, having watched the ball club since 1927 and covered them regularly or part-time since 1946, I’d vote for Eddie Stanky as the best teacher and Whitey Herzog as the best overall and all-around. I know it takes gall if not guts, but I guess I’m beginning to believe my press clippings, like Hall of Fame recognition, i.e., the Spink Award; the first University of Missouri journalism medal presented to a sportswriter; and St. Louis SABR’s inexplicable move in naming the local chapter after me. Of course I flubbed Ralph Horton’s question as to which St. Louis manager has won the most pennants. Before I could say Herzog and Southworth with three each, Ralph grinned and said, “Charley Comiskey with four.” Sure, back in the 1880s, but nobody can go back that far now!

So this piece begins with Huggins, who twice brought the rag-tag Redbirds home third with second-division talent. He was succeeded by Branch Rickey, who came on board as president and business manager and soon became field manager to save expenses. At the time the club was so poor that B.R. “borrowed” his wife’s finest rug to impress a visitor to the Cardinal offices.

After former New York bank clerk Sam Breadon took over full financial control and made himself club president, Rickey continued to manage, finishing third in 1921 and 1922. But the team then flattened out, and Singin’ Sam wanted the teetotaling Rickey to step down before the 1925 season. B.R. resisted, but Breadon took a long look at the lousy Memorial Day advance-ticket sales and fired Rickey as manager.

Rickey was a good teacher and masterful at giving signs, using a bat on the bench beneath his legs to wig-wag instructions. But maybe he did over-complicate a simple game. Breadon did Rickey a favor by broadening his base as general manager, where he expanded on the success his farm system was already starting to produce.

His successor as field manager was tough-talking Rogers Hornsby, whose first command was, “Throw that damned blackboard outta the clubhouse. This ain’t a football team.” Hornsby’s simplified form paid off in a historic pennant and World Series in 1926, his first full year.

Trouble was, the Rajah’s animosity toward his old field boss Rickey paid off in a brief fist fight. But Hornsby’s biggest problem came after owner Breadon went into the clubhouse after a loss and informed his manager that he couldn’t cancel a late- September exhibition game in New Haven. To quote sportswriter J. Roy Stockton, the irritated manager “recommended an utterly impossible disposition” of the game to the boss.

Nobody talked like that to Breadon, and the proud stubborn Irishman was determined that the equally-stubborn Texan had to go. When Hornsby demanded a three-year contract for $50,000 per, Breadon offered a one-year deal, period. After a knock-down, drag-out office argument, Breadon shocked St. Louis just before Christmas by trading Hornsby to the Giants for Frankie Frisch and Jimmy Ring. The Chamber of Commerce condemned him by resolution, and fellow Key Club patrons walked out of their exclusive rooms when Breadon walked in. Fans festooned his Pierce Arrow auto agency and fashionable home with black crepe paper.

Fortunately, Frisch took Breadon off the hook with a spectacular season in 1927, and the Cardinals won three more games than the year before while drawing more people. If Ring hadn’t hung around long enough to go 0-4, the Birds might have repeated as pennant winners. “I never again was afraid to trade a player,” Sam recalled years later. “I knew then that it’s the club and where it finishes that counts most.” He learned not to be afraid to change managers, either, having six managers in a six-year stretch (counting Bill McKechnie twice) and still winning four pennants!

If Hornsby was too hard-nosed, his successor in 1927, catcher Bob O’Farrell, was as bland as he looked. The round-faced, fair- skinned blond backstop was injured much of the year, shortstop Tommy Thevenow suffered a broken leg, and the Cardinal came up a length and a half behind the Pirates. O’Farrell was eased back into the playing ranks and actually rewarded with a $5,000 raise to $30,000. But Rickey and Breadon got nervous any time a player’s salary approached $15,000, and O’Farrell was soon traded to the Giants. Between Hornsby and Musial, Frisch’s $28,000 was the top Cardinal salary.

Bill McKechnie, who had already won a pennant for Pittsburgh, was the next manager. Frisch praised him highly, saying, “Bill really knew how to handle pitchers, and he was the best I saw at withholding his best pinch-hitter until the proper moment.” The Cards won the pennant but were ripped four straight in the World Series, and Breadon thought the Deacon hadn’t had himself or the ball club sufficiently animated.

As a result, McKechnie swapped jobs with Billy Southworth, who had piloted Rochester in his first year after retiring as a player. At 36 years old. Billy the Kid was abrasive, probably too aggressive, and certainly unwise in trying to handle his ex- teammates. When Southworth addressed the 1929 spring squad with a military air about a train trip from Bradenton to Miami for a few exhibition games, star catcher Jimmy Wilson said, “If you don’t mind. Bill, I’ll drive. I’d like to take Mrs. Wilson and my son.”

“If you do it’ll cost you 500,” snapped the manager, using a figure with boxcar proportions at the time. One of the future Hall of Famers, Chick Hafey or Jim Bottomley, was heard to growl under his breath, “Heel!”

By mid-season the Cardinals were out of the race and Breadon reversed himself, sending Southworth back to Rochester and bringing McKechnie back to St. Louis. Breadon was content to stay with McKechnie for 1930, but Deacon Will knew better and took a long-term contract with Boston. So Sam turned to coach Charles “Gabby” Street, a droll man with World War I stories that prompted all to address him as “Sarge.” Coaching for McKechnie, Gabby had flunked a key test, keeping Grover Cleveland Alexander in playing shape, but heck, he worked cheaply, signing for only $7,500.

By August the team seemed out of it again, in fourth place 112 games back, when Breadon did a most unusual thing. He rehired Street for ’31 and ’32. Gabby’s guys, bolstered by the mid-season addition of Burleigh Grimes to the pitching rotation, immediately caught fire, taking four out of five from first-place Brooklyn. The hot streak continued through 39 wins in the last 50 games for a miracle pennant. A year later that well-seasoned team won the pennant handily and took the world championship, too.

Late in spring training in 1932, traveling secretary Clarence Lloyd asked close friend and drinking buddy J. Roy Stockton if he foresaw another Series check ahead. The cagey Stockton saw Frisch come in heavy from a round-the-world cruise after a post-season series in Japan, and other members of the World Champions were living the high life on the Gulf Coast. So J. Roy told Clarence that the Cardinals were in for a fall. And fall they did, all the way to a tie for sixth place.

One reason was that Street was beginning to think of himself as a smart manager. All along, capable veterans like Frisch, Bottomley, Wilson and Grimes had made helpful suggestions. This aid from others had been subtle. Like in the seventh game of the ’31 series. As Grimes pitched shutout ball in a bid for the decisive win, catcher-coach Mike Gonzalez had strolled from the bullpen to the dugout, ostensibly for a drink of water.

There, the Cuban later recalled in his cracked-ice English, “To look at Grime eyes. Ah, she tire. So I go back and holler to ‘Moong’ (Bill Hallahan), ‘Hey Moong, you get ready. Grime, she tire. No game tomorrow, amigo.’” Hallahan was warmed up and ready to get the last out after Grimes collapsed with two down and allowed two runs. Now in 1932, however, ol’ Gabby testily told the others to keep their ideas to themselves.

Street took out his displeasure on captain Frisch, who jogged to first on some infield grounders. Before Street insisted on a $5,000 fine for “laying down,” Stockton confronted Frisch with the accusations. The overweight star took the writer to his room and pulled down his pants, showing both legs taped from thigh to ankle. “Dammit, Roy,” Frisch said, “I’ve apologized to Sarge for not getting into shape after too many weeks shipboard, but he’s playing me because I’m better on one leg (than Jimmy Reese is on two). I don’t want the old bastard’s job, but if ever I do manage a ball club and use a player not perfect, I’ll be damned certain the press knows about it.” And in his later years as a skipper, Frisch always said when he used a player who was less than 100.

The five grand fine was never levied, and Frisch eventually took Street’s job in July of 1933. Frank had wanted to succeed John McGraw in New York a year earlier, but Breadon was not about to trade him, so Bill Terry got the Giant job. Frisch got to head the Gas House Gang, winning one pennant and finishing second twice.

The Cardinals sagged to fourth in 1937, and Rickey insisted that Frisch hold an advance camp in Winter Haven before the start of spring training in 1938. Demonstrating sliding to the rookies, Frank broke a bone and was through as a player.

With the Cardinals in sixth place in September, Frisch was fired by a tearful Breadon. Uncle Frank summed himself up pretty well, I thought. “Managing when playing hurt me as a player, but once I couldn’t lead by example, I lost something as a manager.”

Frisch’s successor, Ray Blades, was hand picked by Rickey. Brisk and brusque, he did a helluva job in 1939, finishing a close second by using a bullpen almost as fully and adroitly as now. He turned two of the three players acquired from Chicago for Dizzy Dean (along with a cool $185,000) to profitable use. Blades made southpaw Clyde “Hard Rock” Shoun into a good short reliever. And he used rangy, side arming right hander Curt Davis so much in and out of turn that the pale-faced “Coonskin” was 22-16 and also served as the team’s top right-handed pinch-hitter.

Early in 1940 the bullpen and the team flopped, and Breadon blamed Rickey and Blades. Without telling his general manager, Sam flew to Rochester and brought back Southworth, who had turned out repeated pennant winners in the minors. This was a different Southworth from the insecure young manager of ’29. After he had taken a swing at Bill Terry while coaching for the Giants in 1933, Billy had quit drinking and become one of Rickey’s reclamation projects. Southworth was now quick, alert, and orderly, using a clipboard for efficient organization. He was definitely the right man at the right time.

Rickey’s double-decade farm system was at its booming peak. Southworth rallied the Cards from seventh to third in ’40, then almost won in ’41 despite an incredible string of injuries. Their pitching was so deep that one prospect, Hank Gomicki, pitched a one-hitter in his only start and was still shipped out at the cut-down date! Southworth knew how to handle men by this time, and he had plenty of speed, defensive ability and pitching to work with. The St. Louis Swifties came from far behind to win the 1942 pennant. They had a dazzling 43-8 record in the final third of the season and won 106 games overall, yet didn’t clinch the pennant over the Dodgers until the final day. Although G. M. Rickey left the club that fall, Terry Moore was the only regular over 30 on this brilliant young club, and despite losses to the armed services, the Cardinals breezed to pennants in 1943 and ’44. Not until Stan Musial joined Moore and Enos Slaughter in the service in ’45 did the Cards lose a close race to the Cubs to break their championship run.

With the war over, Southworth fled to Boston, where the owners had an open checkbook. Relying largely on St. Louis castoffs. Billy led the Cape Cod Cards to the 1948 pennant. Back in St. Louis, new manager Eddie Dyer was expected to win the 1946 pennant with ease. But ’42 pitching heroes Johnny Beazley and Ernie White had sore arms, and Mort Cooper had been sold to the Braves.

Lefty Max Lamer started 6-0 but then jumped to the Mexican League with teammates Fred Martin and Lou Klein. Dyer, an Irish- Cajun from Houston who had been a college football star at Rice, had a shrill, exciting manner that tensed some players. As he would say almost in self-recrimination, “Football and baseball are different games. In football you can have at ’em physically. Baseball is a game of loose wrists, a game that requires physical relaxation.”

Indeed, Pepper Martin’s cacophonous Mudcat Band had kept the Gas House Gang loose. So did Doc Weaver’s mandolin and jukebox in the immediate postwar clubhouse. But the Cardinals couldn’t bunt and run like they had before the war, Breadon had dealt away many still-useful players, and the team finished the regular season tied with the Dodgers. At what was to have been a season-ending victory party, Roy Stockton irritated Breadon with the remark that, “Looks to me, Sam, that you might have sliced the baloney too thin.” The Cardinals did win the playoff and World Series in 1946, but gaps existed. Farm-system superiority was gone, and St. Louis was late in entering the pursuit of black players. It would be 18 years until they won another pennant. Dyer brought them home second in 1947, ’48, and ’49 before a late slump in his last year (1950) dropped them to fifth.

New owner Fred Saigh, who had teamed with politician Bob Hannegan to buy out the ailing Breadon in 1947, hired lanky shortstop star Marty Marion to manage in 1951. His playing career diminished by an aching back, Marion missed himself at short yet still won 85 games and finished third. But Saigh canned him, maintaining that for home dates when he expected the manager to sit in and help him run the club, Marion wasn’t available. Still, I suspect that losing 18 of 22 to traditional rival Brooklyn had been a bitter subliminal blow.

For a replacement, pint-sized Saigh viewed with attraction another short-snorter, Eddie Stanky, who had been on pennant winners with the Braves, Dodgers and Giants. To get the Brat, the Cards traded aging left hander Lanier and defensive outfielder Chuck Diering.

Musial worked hard in the off season to get into good condition, but still played a platoon role in 1960. Hemus’ handling of The Man didn’t impress the fans or the press, but Musial played his way back into the lineup with a torrid three-week stretch just for the 1960 All-Star Games. The Cardinals stayed in the pennant race into late August, aided by three late-inning homers by Musial against first-place Pittsburgh. St. Louis finished third in 1960, up dramatically from seventh in ‘59.

But Hemus’ feuding and fussing with umpires, even if it was funny (“Hey Landes, move around, you’re tilting the infield!”) helped do him in. Devine unloaded him in Los Angeles in early July, 1961. Hemus didn’t take the dismissal pleasantly, questioning the loyalty of his old friend and mentor, Johnny Keane, who had been brought in as a coach. I was ashamed of the Mouse then, but not years later when he quietly and anonymously donated $5,000 toward the cost of Ken Boyer’s cancer treatments.

Keane made two quick changes. Staff ace Larry Jackson had been in the bullpen since suffering a broken jaw in spring training. Keane said he’d go nine innings in a game during the next series in San Francisco. He did, winning a sloppy 9-7 game, and was back in the rotation. And Keane told part-time center fielder Curt Flood that he was in the lineup to stay.

Musial had hit .288 in 123 games in 1961, and I asked Keane before the World Series if Stan would play even less in ’62. Surprisingly, Johnny replied, “I want him to play more, not less. I told him that if next season would be his last, I wanted it to be one we’d all remember.”

It was. Buoyed by Keane’s confidence and expansion pitching, Musial played 135 games and hit .330 with 19 homers and 82 RBI. He turned 42 one month after the season ended. The Cardinals came home in sixth place in the new 10-team circuit.

When Musial and Devine decided late in the summer of ‘63 that it was time to quit, I made the announcement at a players’ family picnic at Grant’s Farm. Near tears, soberly, Musial said, “I’d like to go out with one more winner.” The Cardinals nearly did it. In late August and September they won 19 out of 20 to close to within one game of Los Angeles. Musial’s bat played a prominent part in the drive, and he hit his final home run in the first game of the showdown series against the Dodgers. But L.A. swept an extremely well-played series to put the race away.

In 1964, the Cardinals got off slowly but Devine called up young Mike Shannon and old Barney Schultz, and acquired Lou Brock in trade. When Devine didn’t dismiss assistant Art Routzong, and Gussie misread a bit of gossip, Busch fired both men. Keane would be next, a strong rumor made stronger by the way new G. M. Bob Howsam avoided him like the plague.

The turning point came in New York. The Cards lost a game to finish the first half 40-41, but that night Dick Groat apologized for having popped off after Keane removed Groat’s automatic hit-and- run privilege. Trouble was. Groat had told Eddie Mathews, who was then courting Busch’s daughter Elizabeth. Liz told Pop, and Gussie later confronted Devine and Keane about withholding information from him. In their minds, the Groat matter had been patched up long before, so it didn’t occur to them that was what Busch was talking about. Devine and Routzong were fired in August, with Keane scheduled to go any time. But the Cardinals rallied to win the pennant in a breathtaking finish and capped it off by beating the Yankees in the Series.

Now Busch had to withdraw his private offer to Leo Durocher and called a news conference to announce Keane’s rehiring. But on the same day that China dropped its first hydrogen bomb and the Soviet Communists ousted Nikita Khrushchev, Keane resigned (as in quit) rather then re-sign (as in approve a new contract). He then signed with the Yankees, suggesting that he had been contracted previously, where he lasted just over one season.

With St. Louis native Keane gone and Durocher out of the picture for P. R. reasons, the Cardinals turned to the popular redhead, Albert Fred Schoendienst. The freckled farm kid from nearby Germantown, MI., had just finished his career as a pinch- hitter with the Birds and had stayed on as a coach. When he signed as manager, his old roommate Musial said, “I think he’s going to be such an effective, relaxed manager, he’ll last a long time, like Walter Alston.” Bingo! Red lasted 12 years on the job, the club record. He outlasted G. M. Howsam, who quit after 1966, and G. M. Musial, who spent just 1967 on the job, and served most of his tenure under Devine, who was rehired in 1968.

After second-division finishes in his first two seasons, Schoendienst adopted a five-man pitching rotation and won a pennant in 1967. A mid-season broken leg for Bob Gibson didn’t stall the team, as youngster Nellie Briles came out of the bullpen and won nine in a row. Schoendienst wanted Gibby ready to pitch three World Series games, if necessary. They were and he did, winning all three to lead the Cards to a seven-game win over the Red Sox.

Schoendienst managed the way he played, low-keyed. With highly professional play from the likes of Roger Maris, Curt Flood, Brock, Gibson, and the rest, his Redbirds repeated in ’68. After that there were no more pennants, but Red’s Birds came close a couple of times, finishing just a game-and-a-half back in both 1973 and ’74. In the last game of that latter year, Schoendienst allowed the battling Gibson to face left-handed Mike Jorgenson with one on in the eighth inning of a one-run game even though he had ace lefty Al Hrabosky in the bullpen. Jorgenson hit a two-run homer to kill the Cardinal pennant chances, but the Redhead and Gibby were so popular that complaints about the strategy were limited.

After the team slipped badly in 1976, Busch wanted a tougher manager. He got one in former hometown catcher Vern Rapp, who had been a minor league straw boss for Howsam in the Cincinnati organization. Maybe Rapp was too tough, but I don’t think he got a fair shake. After a third-place finish in 1977, he hurt himself in ’78 with a injudicious remark, describing Ted Simmons as a “loser.” Simmons may not have been the greatest catcher, but he was one of the toughest, a durable competitor and a good hitter. Rapp took the rap for that slip and was fired in ’78, just when he was honestly trying to ease up.

Rapp’s successor. Ken Boyer, had gone out of the organization to manage in the minors. Now he returned with an easy-does-it manner like Schoendienst and just a touch of sarcasm, too. But he wasn’t helped when Devine was fired for the second time after the ’78 season. Still, Boyer’s Cardinals had an encouraging 86-76 season in 1979.

The G. M. job had gone to John Claiborne, whom Devine had picked off the Washington University campus. Claiborne acquired expensive over-the-hill Bobby Bonds but did nothing to strengthen the woeful bullpen. It was so bad that on Opening Night 1980, Pete Vuckovich was permitted to battle into the ninth inning with a 1-0 lead and the bases loaded. He struck out the next three batters. But the need caught up to Boyer and the ball club. Claiborne sat on his hands even though I all but laid out a deal that could have gotten Bruce Sutter from the Cubs. Boyer was ousted in June, 1980, and Claiborne let out on Labor Day.

Meanwhile, Lou Susman, an attorney in Busch’s tight inner circle, came up with a bell-ringer replacement, crew-cut, cotton- topped Whitey Herzog. From Day One, Herzog hit it off with Busch, speaking as positively and profanely as the baron from Grant’s Farm. Given the boss’s backing and both the G. M. and manager’s jobs, Herzog’s dealing was dramatic. He signed his old Kansas City catcher Darrell Porter to the free-agent contract, then dealt promising backstop Terry Kennedy to San Diego in an 11-man trade that brought Rollie Fingers. He traded Leon Durham, Ken Reitz, and Tye Waller to the Cubs for Sutter. This allowed him to send Fingers along with Simmons and Vuckovich to Milwaukee for Sixto Lezcano, David Green, Larry Sorenson, and Dave LaPoint. An extra outfielder went to Houston for inconsistent fastballer Joaquin Andujar. The revamped Redbirds finished with the best record in the East in 1981, though they missed out on the split- season playoffs.

The next winter he was back at it, trading highly regarded but headstrong Garry Templeton to San Diego for defensive wizard Ozzie Smith. Minor leaguer Willie McGee was picked out of the Yankee organization for next to nothing, and the leadoff man Lonnie Smith came in through a three-team deal. This time the team went all the way.

Herzog’s teams had great defense and adequate pitching most of the time. And they turned the base hit, stolen base, and squeeze play into many runs. His double-switching substitutions were most adroit, and he even maneuvered by putting pitchers in the outfield for a batter so he could bring them back to the mound later.

So until Joe Torre’s tenure proves to be long and successful, I’ve got to vote Herzog as No. 1 among Cardinal managers. But if Miller Huggins and his Cincinnati friends had been given first choice to buy the club for $300,000 back in 1917, baseball might have been different. As it was, a group of small local investors pooled their nickels and made the deal. Then they hired Branch Rickey out of the Browns’ front office. Now if the Browns owner Phil Ball had just kept Rickey on and listened to his plan to build a system of farm clubs . . . well, then this might be a too-lengthy review of Browns managers!

BOB BROEG (1918-2015) was a titan of sports writing and knowledge in St. Louis for six decades. He was a local boy through and through, growing up in south city, attending the University of Missouri, and working in St. Louis (aside from a very brief time early in his career in Boston), from 1946 until his death. He held his dream job, St. Louis Cardinals beat writer, at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, before being promoted to sports editor, and then to assistant to the publisher. Even into his so-called retirement, he continued to write a Sunday column and also special columns whenever the mood struck or events warranted. He hosted a KMOX radio show with friend and rival columnist Bob Burnes, where he opined about sports for years. He lent his name to the St. Louis SABR chapter and regularly attended the Bob Broeg Chapter monthly meetings. He was an author of many books, including one on his favorite team, the Gas House Gang. Most importantly, he was highly respected by so many in the St. Louis area, both the people he covered and his many readers and listeners.

© SABR. All Rights Reserved