What I’m Reading: “The Memoirs of Bing Devine” by Bing Devine with Tom Wheatley

Through two stints with the St. Louis Cardinals, one with the New York Mets, and another with the St. Louis football Cardinals, Bing Devine has always enjoyed a reputation as one of baseball’s nice guys.

That reputation certainly feels genuinely earned after reading “The Memoirs of Bing Devine: Stealing Lou Brock and Other Winning Moves by a Master GM.” Devine brings a Midwestern charm to the pages, telling engaging, behind-the-scenes stories about the acquisition of Lou Brock; working for August A. Busch and alongside Johnny Keane, Frank Lane, and Branch Rickey; and about players such as Keith Hernandez, Curt Flood, Red Schoendienst, Stan Musial, and Bob Gibson. In between Devine’s memories, friends such as Brock, Schoendienst, Musial, and Whitey Herzog share their impressions of Devine. As Devine himself says, “I can’t think of anyone I didn’t get along with. Even Branch Rickey.”

Devine’s impressions of working for Busch are particularly interesting. He is never anything less than respectful of the man who hired and fired him twice, and seems to feel that Busch simply got bad advice at times. He’s also respectful of Rickey – so much that it’s difficult in reading the book to understand exactly what Rickey was doing to undermine him in 1964, leading to Devine’s firing midway through the 1964 season.

While Devine is too much a gentleman to mention it, his firing angered the ’64 Redbirds, most of whom had been acquired by Devine. Shortly after Devine pulled off one of the great trades in franchise history – Brock for Broglio – Rickey convinced Busch to fire Devine. In Gibson’s autobiography, “Stranger to the Game,” he makes it clear that the Cardinals felt that Devine was treated unfairly by Busch. After the Cardinals won the World Series, Devine, who already had been hired by the New York Mets, won the Executive of the Year Award for the second consecutive year. Three years later, with Rickey out of the picture, Busch and the Cardinals brought Devine back, though he was never able to repeat his success with the Cardinals teams of the ‘70s.

Due to the personalities involved – particularly in the Cardinals’ front office – Devine’s memoirs make for engaging reading. It’s a quick read, and definitely worth the time for fans of the Cardinals’ 1960s teams. Though Devine doesn’t make a big deal of it, he was in the center of many of the Cardinals’ biggest moves of the era, from the acquisition of Brock to the trading away of Steve Carlton. Even though many of the stories are available elsewhere, Devine’s friendly, down-to-earth voice makes this an enjoyable read, and he brings a one-of-a-kind perspective to this era of Cardinals baseball.

 

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