Herzog Faces Scarcity of Raw Materials for Rebuilding Angels
In building the St. Louis Cardinals into the team that dominated the National League in the 1980s, Whitey Herzog put a premium on speed. The results were impressive, but so was the speed with which he did it.
Taking over as manager and general manager in 1980, Herzog won a pennant and World Series with a rebuilt team only two years later, the first of his three pennants in that decade.
Can he rebuild the Angels with the same alacrity?
“It’s possible if you have the surplus (of talent) with which to do it, but no team has that kind of surplus now,” Herzog said Friday after having been appointed an Angel senior vice president and director of player personnel.
“That’s not to say there isn’t a good nucleus here, but we could trade from a position of strength,” he said of the Cardinals.
In addition, the Cardinals did not have five players eligible for free agency, as the Angels do. Among them are first baseman Wally Joyner, shortstop Dick Schofield and No. 4 starter Kirk McCaskill.
“The first thing we have to do is get our house in order,” Herzog said. “We have to decide who we want to keep, and we have to do it by the time the season ends.
“The policy here, as I understand it, has been to wait until a season is over before negotiating, but I’m not sure if that’s the right policy. I’m not sure if you can wait until a player is in his ‘walk year’ (eligible for free agency) before getting it resolved.
“Chuck Finley can walk next year? Why wait? I’d like to make every effort to sign him now. It would make me very happy to resolve the Joyner situation as soon as we can.”
Joyner has indicated he would prefer to wait, gaining leverage, perhaps, from competitive bids.
Herzog knows it is not as easy to rebuild a club as it was in 1980.
One reason he left the Cardinals as manager last year was his perception that the organization was undergoing a corporate belt tightening, diminishing the commitment to winning.
He has joined the Angels at a time when Jackie Autry, wife of owner Gene Autry, says the payroll must be reduced if the club is to remain financially viable.
It seems unlikely, however, that the widely sought Herzog would have accepted the Angels’ offer without assurance of economic support. He likes to fish and play golf too much to accept a position that comes with the built-in frustration of tight fiscal strings.
It seems certain, as well, that an emphasis on development will start with an overhaul of the farm system; that senior vice president Dan O’Brien will assume the role handled by Joe McDonald in St. Louis, negotiating contracts and advancing trade talks for Herzog; and that Herzog, although devoid of a surplus of players, will go about the process of rebuilding with his 1980 aggressiveness, putting the emphasis again on speed and defense, a philosophy shared by Manager Buck Rodgers.
How swiftly did Herzog, who developed his reputation as a shrewd talent evaluator while serving as the New York Mets personnel director in the late ‘60s, do it in 1980?
It all really happened in a whirlwind span of five days at the winter meetings in Dallas.
He traded Terry Kennedy and six other players to the San Diego Padres for Rollie Fingers, Bob Shirley and Gene Tenace.
Herzog then moved Leon Durham, Ken Reitz and Ty Waller to the Chicago Cubs for relief ace Bruce Sutter. This allowed him to package Fingers with Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich in a blockbuster deal that brought outfielders Sixto Lezcano and David Green, along with pitchers Lary Sorenson and Dave LaPoint, from the Milwaukee Brewers.
That was enough for Dallas, but Herzog subsequently used some of his remaining surplus to acquire Willie McGee from the New York Yankees, Lonnie Smith from the Cleveland Indians, Joaquin Andujar from the Houston Astros and Ozzie Smith from the Padres, all before the ’82 championship. In 1982, the St. Louis pitching staff included only one man, Bob Forsch, not acquired by Herzog in the previous two years.
“In sports today, you don’t have the luxury of any five-year plans,” Herzog said Friday. “It’s do it now.
“I remember managing the Kansas City Royals (to three consecutive division titles) and having people warn me that I’d be fired if I ever finished second. Well, we finished three games behind the Angels in ’79 and I was gone.”
That won’t happen in Anaheim.
He has the security of a three-year contract and that long, deep friendship with Gene Autry.
He has complete authority in the baseball area, club President Richard Brown having flown to St. Louis Wednesday to approve a list of the things Herzog wanted and hopes to do. Herzog has been assured that he can work part of the year out of his new home in St. Louis, having time to play golf and cast for bass.
The only thing Herzog doesn’t seem to have is that surplus that would help him “do it now.”