Unhappy with management’s indifference to re-signing any of the team’s core free agents and unwilling to ask those players to make the kinds of selfless sacrifices that were essential to the success of his Cardinals clubs, manager Whitey Herzog found himself trapped in the middle of an uncomfortable situation.
“I was totally embarrassed by the way our team played,” Herzog said to the Associated Press. “I just feel very badly for the ball club, the organization and the fans.”
Herzog said he decided to quit on July 3 while the 1990 Cardinals were in San Francisco. He discussed the decision with his wife on July 4, informed Cardinals management on July 5 and made the announcement on July 6 at a news conference at the team hotel in San Diego.
Three weeks earlier, Herzog had offered to resign, but club president Fred Kuhlmann and general manager Dal Maxvill talked him out of it. “He told us then it could get a lot uglier,” Maxvill said.
When Herzog stepped down, the Cardinals had a 33-47 record and were in last place in the National League East. In 11 years with the Cardinals, Herzog was 822-728, with three NL pennants and a World Series championship. He replaced Ken Boyer as manager in 1980 with the club in the cellar.
“I came here in last place and I leave here in last place,” Herzog told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Red Schoendienst, the Cardinals coach and former manager, was named interim manager. “I had dinner with Whitey (July 5) and we stayed up late discussing the team,” Schoendienst told Hummel. “He never gave me a hint (about resigning).”
Herzog blamed himself rather than the players for the team’s performance. “I don’t think that I have done a good job as a manager this year,” Herzog said. “I just can’t get the guys to play and I think anybody could do a better job than me.”
Invested in self
Outfielders Willie McGee and Vince Coleman, third baseman Terry Pendleton and reliever Ken Dayley were among the ten 1990 Cardinals eligible for free agency after the season. By July, it became apparent management wasn’t interested in re-signing any of those core players.
“I watched Whitey suffer through this year and his hands are almost tied,” Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon said after Herzog resigned. “He can’t get things done right because we don’t really have a Cardinals baseball team here. What we have, in my estimation, is we’ve got so many people … just playing for themselves. They’re just playing for their free agency. Whitey Herzog is not going to be responsible for having a club that’s not a team.”
Herzog told Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times, “I felt I couldn’t look them in the eye and ask them to do the little things we always had to do because it might cost them 10 points off their batting averages and that might cost them $3 million as free agents. We had a half season to go and I felt powerless.”
Before the season ended, the Cardinals traded McGee to the Athletics. Coleman, Pendleton and Dayley became free agents after the season and signed with other teams.
In his book “You’re Missin’ a Great Game,” Herzog said, “Fred Kuhlmann decided not even to negotiate with our free-agent players. He wouldn’t even talk to their agents. I said, ‘Man, at least talk to them; let ’em think they might be coming back. That way they have something to play for.’ But they wouldn’t do it.
“Why is that important? For our type of ball club, it was death … If we were going to win, we had to hit to the right side, play team ball and sacrifice personal stats … But if you were up for free agency, and if you knew the club didn’t want you, would you shoot the ball to right?”
The impending free agents weren’t the only players who were falling short of executing to Herzog’s standards. “I feel kind of responsible,” said first baseman Pedro Guerrero. “I know that I haven’t done the job that I did last year at this point.”
Said Herzog of his players: “The effort is there, but sometimes I don’t know if the minds are there.”
After his news conference, Herzog departed for St. Louis on an Anheuser-Busch corporate jet without saying goodbye to his team.
“We didn’t deserve for him to talk to us,” catcher Tom Pagnozzi told Bernie Miklasz of the Post-Dispatch. “We embarrassed him. We all but spit on him with the way we played. He didn’t have to say anything to us. We know why he’s leaving. We drove him out of here.”
Said Pendleton: “It wasn’t his fault that we stunk.”
Faces of hate
Miklasz, a sharp-eyed, pull-no-punches observer, had this chilling opening to his column from the Cardinals clubhouse in San Diego after Herzog departed:
“This was a clubhouse divided, with all the ugly cliques finally exposed,” Miklasz wrote. “Cardinals were squared away in opposite corners, eyeballing each other with looks that could kill. White players, mostly pitchers, on one side. Black players, most notably Ozzie Smith, on the other. Bad vibrations everywhere.
“It’s no wonder Whitey Herzog wanted out of here and escaped on the first corporate jet he could find. Whitey didn’t resign; he evacuated, leaving behind a team so ripped apart and split open that the players didn’t try to conceal the wounds. No one bothered to put on a mask. Nothing could hide these faces of hate.”