Herzog credits KC with career revival
Former skipper led Royals to three straight AL West titles
INDIANAPOLIS -- Whitey Herzog's trek to the Hall of Fame really started in Kansas City. He'd been dismissed by the Texas Rangers, was coaching third base for the California Angels and his managerial prospects were dim.
Herzog recalled how his career was rejuvenated in Kansas City on Tuesday as he and umpire Doug Harvey were introduced as the newest members of the elite club at Cooperstown, N.Y.
"I didn't think I'd ever get a chance, and that's why I've got to thank Joe Burke," Herzog said.
Burke was Herzog's boss at Texas, and one day in 1973 it was announced that Burke was leaving the Rangers to become the Royals' general manager. That led to an offer from Rangers owner Bob Short.
"Bob Short, who didn't care about winning -- he was kind of a fast-buck guy -- called me up and said, 'You're the best manager I ever had, you want to be general manager?'" Herzog recalled. "And I said, 'No, I came here to manage, I'd like to build up the ballclub.'"
So there it stood, but just briefly.
"The next morning, I'm standing in the dugout and they announced that Billy Martin had been fired in Detroit. And Bob Sharp said, 'I'd fire my grandmother if I could hire Billy Martin,'" Herzog said. "And I happened to be his grandmother, because I got fired the next day."
Herzog's resume didn't read too well, either, because his record in 1973 was 47-91. Yet the firing came as a surprise.
"That was kind of a shock to me, because I never thought I'd get another chance," he said.
VETERANS COMMITTEE VOTING MANAGERS/UMPIRES BALLOT
|Davey Johnson||Fewer than 3|
|Tom Kelly||Fewer than 3|
|Billy Martin||Fewer than 3|
|Gene Mauch||Fewer than 3|
|Steve O'Neill||Fewer than 3|
Yet fortune smiled on him in 1975 when Burke, now in charge in KC, called.
"He said he was going to have to make a managerial change -- that Jack McKeon was in trouble. And he interviewed Tommy [Lasorda] and me and Billy Hunter. I lived only 2 1/2 miles from the ballpark in Kansas City, and I got chosen as their manager," Herzog said. "I got in there at a very good time with a very good team, and they changed my whole career around. It was a good ballclub. Not only could we hit home runs, we could play defense, we could do a lot of things and run bases."
Under Herzog, the Royals made some noise in 1975 and finished second, then won the American League West title in 1976-77-78.
"My fondest memory in Kansas City was getting hired in Kansas City, because I came in there at an opportune time," Herzog said. "George Brett was a rookie, [John] Mayberry was young, [Fred] Patek was there, and I had two guys on the bench that became All-Stars in Frank White and Al Cowens. And I had Amos Otis and Hal McRae and [Paul] Splittorff. I really had a great team, and we played the Yankees tough."
The Royals also lost all three playoffs to the Yankees. And after a second-place finish in 1979, Royals owner Ewing Kauffman dismissed Herzog.
"Part of it was my fault and part of it was not my fault," Herzog said. "Me and Mr. Kauffman just didn't hit it off that good. It was one of those things. I was a brash young guy and the next thing I know -- we set an all-time attendance record after finishing three games out and winning three times in a row -- and I'm looking for a job."
Not for long, however. The St. Louis Cardinals called and by the next year he was not only general manager but also manager. He found happiness and more success in St. Louis and, on Monday, he was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
Could Herzog's career in Kansas City have lasted longer than it did?
Perhaps, he figures, if the Royals had signed the great reliever Goose Gossage in November 1977, but he signed with the Yankees instead.
"I always felt that if we could have signed Gossage in Kansas City that I might still be managing there, because he was from Colorado Springs and I thought we had a pretty good chance," Herzog said. "He wanted $600,000 and that's what the Yankees signed him for. If I'd have had Gossage with the team we had in Kansas City, we'd have won a lot. But that's the way it is."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.