Whitey Herzog (SABR-Rucker Archive)

In Memoriam: Whitey Herzog

Whitey Herzog (SABR-Rucker Archive)In the annals of baseball dating back to when it first became a game played by professionals, great teams have always taken on the persona of their managers. Since free agency began in the mid-1970s, two managers have stamped their game on their teams and largely contributed to their success. They were Billy Martin and Whitey Herzog, whose “Whiteyball” focused on speed, pitching, and defense.

During his 18-year Hall of Fame career as a manager, Herzog built memorable teams in Kansas City and St. Louis, winning three consecutive American League West Division crowns with the Royals and copping three National League pennants and the 1982 World Series championship with the Cardinals.

Herzog, who died at age 92 on April 15, 2024, took the talent of his teams — and the unique ballparks where they played — to their full capacities. His “Runnin’ Redbirds” teams of the 1980s, led by future Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Bruce Sutter, along with Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, and Jack Clark, were characterized by aggressive baserunning and stellar defense on the artificial turf at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals were also Herzog’s favorite team growing up in New Athens, Illinois, about 40 miles east of St. Louis. He would sometimes skip school, hitchhike on Route 13 to Belleville, and then take a bus to Sportsman’s Park, home to the Browns and Cardinals. Herzog watched his idols Stan Musial, Vern Stephens, and Enos Slaughter and snatched up batting practice balls to take back home.

After graduating high school, he signed with the New York Yankees and spent six years in their minor league system before he was traded to the Washington Senators. In 1956, he made his major-league debut with the Senators and then spent time with the Kansas City Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, and Detroit Tigers before retiring in 1963. He was known to say that baseball had been good to him once he stopped trying to play it.

He joined the New York Mets organization as a director of player development and oversaw a number of players who played important roles in the Mets’ pennant-winning teams of 1969 and 1973. He was hired for his first managerial job in 1973, replacing Ted Williams with the Texas Rangers, and then moved on to the California Angels the following year. 

Whitey Herzog (SABR-Rucker Archive)In mid-1975, Herzog was hired by the Kansas City Royals and the legend of Whiteyball began. Behind stars like George Brett, Hal McRae, and Frank White, the Royals eschewed home runs for exciting triples and stolen bases, taking advantage of their ballpark’s fast artificial surface. The Royals won the AL West for three consecutive seasons, but lost to the New York Yankees in dramatic fashion each year in the American League Championship Series.

Herzog was fired after the 1979 season and moved across the state to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he continued his winning ways. He became the first person to serve in a dual role as manager and general manager since Connie Mack with the Philadelphia A’s in 1950. Herzog gave up the GM role three games into the 1982 season, but his overhaul of the roster — the Cardinals led the league in stolen bases but finished last with 67 home runs — led St. Louis to a surprising World Series championship against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cardinals returned to the World Series in 1985 and 1987, but fell in seven games to the Royals and Minnesota Twins, respectively. Following several disappointing seasons, Herzog resigned as manager in 1990. He served briefly as the California Angels’ general manager before retiring for good, having worked in the game for more than four decades as a player, manager, and executive.

Herzog was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010. Click here to read his SABR biography by Adam Foldes.


Originally published: April 16, 2024. Last Updated: April 16, 2024.