By the end of the 1986 season, Whitey Herzog already had lived a fascinating life.
Used primarily as a utility player for the Senators, Athletics, Orioles, and Tigers, Herzog carved out an eight-year major league career. As a scout and coach for the New York Mets, he helped bring a World Series championship to the Big Apple. After failing to make it through a full season as manager of the Texas Rangers, Herzog built a winner with the Kansas City Royals.
And after being fired in the first season that he didn’t win the division with the Royals, Herzog came to St. Louis as manager and was soon placed in the general manager’s chair. With a series of bold moves, Herzog rebuilt the roster, using speed, defense, and a shutdown closer to win the 1982 World Series. Three years later, he led the Cardinals to another National League pennant, further cementing his place in St. Louis baseball lore.
With White Rat: A Life in Baseball, written with St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Kevin Horrigan, Herzog exudes humor and charm as he details his baseball journey. Even without details of the upcoming 1987 season, the book provides great insights into Herzog’s baseball philosophy and the decisions he made as both a manager and front-office executive.
Herzog isn’t afraid to share his thoughts about the people he met along the way – both good and bad – and he’s just as willing to criticize Royals owner Ewing Kauffman and the Anheuser-Busch management structure as he is his players, even as his love and appreciation for Casey Stengel and Gussie Busch shine through.
Herzog’s folksy charm is the real key to this book, as he shares engaging stories about the teams and people he has met along the way. In some cases, the stories probably aren’t 100% accurate, but like the best fishing stories, that’s OK, such as when Herzog takes members of his military baseball team through his hometown of New Athens, Illinois, (pronounced ay-thens), and based on the time of day can tell his players exactly where dozens of residents will be.
Herzog spends the last chapter of the book sharing his thoughts about the state of the game of baseball and the changes he would make. Some, such as assigning umpires to work both American and National League games, came to fruition. Others, such as contracting the league, obviously did not. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to read Herzog’s thoughts and to see how baseball continues to grapple with many of the issues he was considering in 1987.
For fans of the Cardinals of the mid-‘80s, White Rat is a fascinating read. It provides great insight into the mind of a Hall of Fame manager who was at the heart of the great Cardinals teams of the ‘80s, and exudes all the charm and folksy humor one would expect from a Herzog autobiography.