The better late than never election of former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog to the Hall of Fame is more than just the well deserved recognition of the White Rat’s remarkable baseball accomplishments.
In many ways, at least for this Cardinals fan, the move goes a long way to exorcise the demons of 1985.
There’s little doubt that the unraveling of the seemingly inevitable march of the ‘85 Birds to the World Series championship played no small part in keeping Herzog out of the Hall of Fame 20 years too many. The blown call at first base by umpire Don Denkinger in that year’s World Series not only gave the Royals new life that they used to steal the title away from St. Louis. It robbed the Cardinals and Herzog of their destiny to be known and remembered as a baseball dynasty.
The 1982 World Series victory was great. But winning two Fall Classics and three pennants in a decade is a rare feat for a team not names the Yankees. It would have been especially sweet for a team that embraced a revolutionary style of play that was often mocked by the old guard. If that 1985 team won it all, Herzog probably would have been elected to the hall the first year he was eligible.
I can remember watching the World Series previews in 1982 and hearing expert after expert point out that the Redbirds had no chance against the slugging Brewers because -- heh, heh, heh -- not only couldn’t they match Milwaukee’s power... They couldn’t match Roger Maris’ 61 homers as a team.
The Cardinals hit singles, bunted and stole bases. But, for the record, they hit 67 homers in 1982 while stealing 200 bases. But in 1985 Whiteyball really hit it’s stride as the Redbirds hit 87 long balls while stealing 314 bases.
The 1982 team got the glory. But the 1985 Cardinals were better by a long shot. That team was a machine that went 101-61 led by the 21 wins apiece of John Tudor and Joaquin Andujar.
It deserved its place in the sun. While it will never get the trophy it seemed to deserve, the 1985 Cardinals World Series collapse will at least no longer be known as the thing that kept Whitey Herzog out of the Hall of Fame.
Few other managers and general managers would have dared to trade off their power hitters for the Punch and Judy variety. But Herzog never minded criticism because he had confidence to do what he thought was right. Instead he brushed off doubters with remarks about how he believed in his “rabbits” because “speed never slumps.”
He shook up baseball and reinvented the game at a time when things were so bad in St. Louis that the Cardinals were having trouble drawing a third of their current attendance.
Whitey’s election to the Hall of Fame isn’t just a validation of his managerial acumen. It is recognition and celebration of all it was to be a Cardinals fan in the 1980s.
Congratulations, Whitey. And thanks for the good times.