The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 71-80
NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 62: OF GEORGE HENDRICK
When other players complained in kind, the manager warned the former No. 1 overall draft pick — who had cost the Indians a pair of veterans in a trade with Oakland — that he would abide no more excuses.
“I don’t care if your mother is on her death bed,” Aspromonte told him.
The words stung the 24-year-old hard — Hendrick’s mother had died just months earlier.
“I can’t play for that man,” he would say.
Then veteran Gaylord Perry became openly critical of his young teammate in the press and refused to pitch if Hendrick was playing behind him. When the two showed up in the same lineup on the last day of the 1974 season, Hendrick cleared his locker and left, telling teammate Frank Robinson, “I’m gone. I’m getting on a plane.”
In the batter’s box, Hendrick had a rigid stance with little flex in the knees and no motion at all. In the outfield, he appeared to glide to the ball rather than sprint. His pants were worn to the ankle years before that became the preferred style, but on his long and slender legs, they made an odd fashion statement.
And Hendrick was uneasy with the media, who famously dubbed him “Silent George” for a “no comment” policy that grew from a concern that his comments could further alienate him from veteran teammates. When some writers criticized him for it, he decided none could be trusted.
By the time Hendrick arrived in St. Louis via trade from the San Diego Padres in the spring of 1978, he had a reputation throughout baseball as a lazy malcontent.
But that’s not the George Hendrick Whitey Herzog came to know.
Herzog was hired as the Cardinals manager and general manager in 1980 and immediately reported to his boss, owner Gussie Busch, what disarray previous manager Ken Boyer had left behind. “Prima donnas and overpaid SOBs,” is how Herzog described the roster.
“You’ve got a bunch of mean people, some sorry human beings,” he told Busch. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been scared to walk through my own clubhouse.”
The purge began during a single week that December in which Herzog orchestrated the relocation of 22 players through trades. By Opening Day 1982, only four players remained from the 25-man roster Herzog had inherited.
One of them was George Hendrick.
Herzog thought players did more harm than good by dodging the media, but otherwise expected them only to compete and put their team first.
“I figure that’s (the players’) business ... as long as they are good guys around the clubhouse and play hard on the field,” Herzog wrote in his book “White Rat.” “George Hendrick did that.”
Hendrick was the only slugger in a small-ball offense that became St. Louis’ trademark under Herzog. In 1982, the Cardinals hit a total of 67 home runs. Hendrick’s 19 accounted for more than a fourth of those and his 104 RBIs were by far the most on the team. Still “Whitey-Ball” manufactured 4.23 runs per game — fifth best in the National League — and the Cardinals won their first pennant in 15 years.
Hendrick was brilliant against Milwaukee in the World Series, batting .321 with five RBIs, five runs scored and just two strikeouts in 31 plate appearances.
And that easy-going style of his showed itself in the fourth inning of Game 7 when he glided toward a base hit by Cecil Cooper, then gunned down Robin Yount trying to advance to third base. Two innings later, with the game tied 3-3, Hendrick singled home Mike Ramsey with what proved to be the championship-clinching run.
Hendrick played for six teams over an 18-year career, but he had his best seven seasons in St. Louis. The Cardinals traded him to Pittsburgh in the offseason of 1984 for left-handed pitcher John Tudor.
In his book, Herzog offered this epithet to Henrick’s career: “He is a hell of a good guy. … He was one of the leaders on our club. He drove in runs and he was a smart hitter, and he was one of the best defensive right fielders in the game.
“When he played, he played hard.”
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1978-1984
.294/.345/.470 slash with Cardinals | 122 home runs in St. Louis | WS ring | 4x All-Star | 18 WAR with Cardinals
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.77