What I’m Reading: “Whitey Herzog Builds a Winner” by Doug Feldmann

With Whitey Herzog Builds a Winner: The St. Louis Cardinals, 1979-1982, Doug Feldmann traces the Cardinals’ path to the 1982 World Series championship from Lou Brock’s final season in 1979 to Bruce Sutter’s final pitch in Game 7.

Feldmann’s decision to focus the first two chapters on Brock’s resurgent final season is an interesting one as he seeks to tie the Cardinals of the 1960s and ’70s to the team Whitey Herzog would create following his arrival in 1980. Even as the 1970s weren’t a particularly successful era in Cardinals history, Brock’s return to form in 1979 after subpar seasons in 1977 and 1978 provides a positive opener to help bookend the story.

Ultimately, though, those first two chapters feel like part of a different book. After Herzog takes Kenny Boyer’s place as manager of the Cardinals, he quickly takes the measure of his players and tells Gussie Busch that the Redbirds need a complete overhaul. As a result, Busch fires John Claiborne and makes Herzog the general manager duties as well. It doesn’t take long for Herzog to start wheeling and dealing, and by the time Feldmann begins to dive into the Cardinals’ championship season, almost all of Brock’s former teammates are out of the picture.

Feldmann’s research is largely built around newspaper accounts; autobiographies by Herzog, Brock, Jack Buck, Darrell Porter, and Red Schoendienst; and interviews with Herzog, Ken Reitz, Don Kessinger, Mark Littell, and John Fulgham. There are a lot of good stories shared, and Feldmann does a good job bringing the games to life, particularly during the 1982 playoffs.

Of course, the Cardinals had a variety of interesting personalities in those days, and while Feldmann touches on each of them, he doesn’t dive as deep into the 1982 players as he does the final year of Brock’s career. Though it would have made the book longer, I would have liked to have seen him provide more biographical information for some of the Cardinals’ stars of the era, including George Hendrick, Keith Hernandez, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter, and others.

However, while the book doesn’t dive into the personalities as much I might like, Herzog gets a significant spotlight and Feldmann does a good job shining a light on Herzog’s unique personality and approach to the game.

Ultimately, Whitey Builds a Winner is a great book for readers seeking an introduction to Herzog and the 1982 Cardinals. Feldmann is very thorough in detailing the moves Herzog made to build the roster he needed and in showing the way that the entire Cardinals roster – including both the stars and the reserves – contributed to the 1982 triumph. For 24 years, the 1982 season would stand as the Cardinals’ most recent championship and this book provides a really good look at the season and how Herzog made that World Series win possible.

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