Whitey Herzog dramatically appeared 2 1/2 years ago on the Angel dais, was pronounced savior of the organization and boldly proclaimed he’d win a World Series for the Cowboy.
In a symbolic farewell Tuesday, Herzog’s voice filtered over a speaker phone in a cramped Angel office as he announced his retirement as general manager. He had been no savior. There had been no World Series, for Gene Autry or any other Angel.
Assistant general manager Bill Bavasi will replace Herzog on Saturday.
Herzog, heavily criticized for being an absentee executive, departed as mysteriously as he arrived, saying it was time to step aside.
“I really believe that it’s time for me to do some of the things I want to do,” said Herzog from Springfield, Mo. “I don’t really want to be traveling all over and going back and forth to California or anywhere else.
“If I didn’t think Bill Bavasi was so capable of doing the job for the next 25 years, then I don’t know if I would have done this at the time.”
Bavasi, 36, whose father, Buzzie, was general manager for the Angels, Dodgers and San Diego Padres, has been with the organization since 1981. Bavasi had been farm director before becoming assistant general manager in September.
“I thought Whitey might retire at the end of the year at the earliest,” Bavasi said, “but for him to do it now is a shock.
“I’m comfortable with it, but maybe that’s because I’m too dumb to know that I shouldn’t be.”
The timing of Herzog’s decision stunned even his closest associates. If he had left back in September, when he was involved in a bitter power struggle with team Vice President Dan O’Brien, no one would have raised an eyebrow. If he had resigned a year ago, fed up with the budget constraints of owner Jackie Autry, Gene’s wife, people would have understood.
But to resign now, four months after receiving full authority in player-personnel decisions, and five weeks from the opening of spring training, was baffling. Herzog surrenders the final year of his $800,000 contract, and will be a non-salaried consultant.
“Financially, I’m well set,” Herzog said. “I couldn’t spend all of the money I have now.”
Still, despite Herzog’s insistence that there was no ulterior motive for his retirement, there were immediate rumors to the contrary. The Boston Red Sox are interviewing general manager candidates this week. The Kansas City Royals are expected to have a new owner this summer, David Glass, who is a close friend of Herzog’s. There was talk that negotiations with relief pitcher Gregg Olson, which continued Tuesday, caused yet another clash with Autry.
“Whitey was determined that he accomplished everything he could with the Angels,” President Richard Brown said. “If you read anything else into it, you’re wrong. I thought he’d resign in spring training, or after the season started, depending on what he could accomplish.
“I can’t fault a man who’s 62 to do this now.”
Herzog, who was talked out of quitting last September because of his feud with O’Brien, appeared to be invigorated by his authoritative role after O’Brien’s Sept. 20 firing. He declared the Angels would be aggressive in the marketplace, and that there would be no reason that they wouldn’t contend in 1994.
Yet, there were problems that wouldn’t vanish. Herzog was told the Angels budget needed to be slashed to about $19 million and that, instead of acquiring free agents, he couldn’t even keep his own.
Herzog, taking command of negotiations, alienated several players with his brash, sometimes abusive style. He screamed at starting pitcher Mark Langston in a closed-door session. He slammed the phone in reliever Steve Frey’s ear. He bullied agents.
“He had a great deal of respect and recognition among his peers,” said Steve Comte, Frey’s agent, “but the reality now is that this is a different era, and he hasn’t crossed that bridge.”
Said Arn Tellem, Langston’s agent: “Whitey just has a different style. Whitey’s strengths were finding and evaluating players, but not in the art of diplomacy dealing with lawyers and agents.”
There was additional criticism as the Angels finished a combined 47 games out of first place during Herzog’s two full seasons with the team. Although Herzog came to the Angels with the reputation of being a genius, blunders marked his tenure. He failed to re-sign Wally Joyner and Dave Winfield and he did enlist free-agent bust Gary Gaetti. He decided not to protect reliever Bryan Harvey in the expansion draft. There was the trade that sent fan favorite Jim Abbott, and the ones that brought non-producers Kelly Gruber and Von Hayes.
“I think Whitey started to believe the accolades,” said one Herzog associate, “and he really believed that he’d bring a World Series to the Cowboy (Autry). But even his magnetism wasn’t going to bring him a winner.”
Herzog came and went without even his closest friends fully understanding what happened. It seemed odd to them that Herzog was in town all last week, conducting scouting meetings and negotiating sessions, and didn’t even hint at the possibility of leaving. It wasn’t until Friday, just before departing for a Colorado ski trip, that he told Brown of his decision.
Brown, figuring the decision might have been prompted more by fatigue or duress than anything else, told Herzog to reconsider over the weekend. Herzog called again, and said his decision was final. Herzog’s said goodby to Bavasi on Monday night and Manager Buck Rodgers on Tuesday, wishing them well.
“I’m as surprised as anyone by this,” said Bob Harrison, Herzog’s special assistant and close friend. “He never said a word about it. I really thought he would go this whole year, and then say if the club is close, or if he gets a bigger budget, he’d be back.
“There was absolutely no indication of this.”
Rodgers said: “I think everyone knows that Whitey has been frustrated about some things over the years, but I thought he’d be here past the All-Star break. But you know, the hardest part about this is going back to work after skiing and fishing. I think he just wanted to curtail the responsibilities.”
Said Herzog: “Now, I don’t have any.”
* ROSS NEWHAN: Latest shake-up is just another sign of Angels’ instability. C1
* MIKE PENNER: Herzog’s new role sounds like old one: absentee adviser. C1
Angel Surprise: Old Name, New Face
Whitey Herzog resigned as Angel general manager Tuesday and the team promoted Bill Bavasi, former assistant general manager and director of minor league operations, in yet another front office shake-up.
IN: Bill Bavasi becomes general manager.
OUT: Whitey Herzog resigns but remains as consultant.
PROBLEM: Angels last won division in 1986. Team has had four consecutive losing seasons, finishing an average of 21 games out of first place.
* Age: 36
* Family: Married, two children
* Background: Angel minor league operations director; son of former Angel General Manager Buzzie Bavasi.
* Quote: “I’m comfortable with it (the job), but maybe that’s because I’m too dumb to know that I shouldn’t be.”
* Background: Managed Kansas City to three American League West titles, St. Louis to three National League pennants and a World Series championship. Joined Angels in September, 1991, and became general manager in September, 1993.
* Quote: “I’m only resigning in title as the general manager. It isn’t like I’m going with somebody else. I’m not going to another organization.”
Source: California Angel Media Guide