Whitey Herzog and Tony La Russa both ended their Hall of Fame managing careers as Cardinals. Both decided to extend their baseball careers as executives with other teams.
Herzog’s effort largely was a bust.
La Russa should learn from it.
On May 17, 2014, La Russa was named chief baseball officer of the Diamondbacks. In this newly created position, La Russa, who will report to Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall, will oversee the entire baseball operation, according to published reports. La Russa planned to begin his job by traveling to minor-league games and evaluating prospects.
La Russa joined the Diamondbacks three years after his last season as Cardinals manager. He had led the Cardinals to three National League pennants and two World Series titles, retiring after winning the second crown in 2011.
Herzog joined the Angels one year after his last season as Cardinals manager. He had led the Cardinals to three National League pennants and one World Series title, quitting in midseason with the team mired in last place in July 1990.
In September 1991, Herzog was named senior vice president and director of player personnel of the Angels.
Herzog believed he, like La Russa with the Diamondbacks, was overseeing the entire Angels baseball operation.
Instead, he found himself in a power struggle.
Dan O’Brien was the Angels’ senior vice president for baseball operations when Herzog was hired.
Herzog thought O’Brien primarily would be his assistant, handling paperwork.
In his book “You’re Missin’ a Great Game” (1999, Simon & Schuster), Herzog wrote, “I made sure I worked out every detail in advance … I’d be in complete charge of baseball operations: the minor-league system, the hiring and firing of coaches and scouts, the ballclub’s trades and drafts.”
O’Brien thought Herzog primarily would be evaluating players, leaving O’Brien to direct most of the baseball operations, including approval of trades and free-agent signings.
Herzog won the battle _ O’Brien eventually was fired _ but lost the war, resigning before the Angels could become contenders.
Work from home
His friends, Angels owners Gene and Jackie Autry, hired Herzog with the goal of bringing the franchise its first American League pennant and World Series title.
Herzog was given an apartment in Anaheim, but he kept his residence in the St. Louis area and did most of his work from that home. He didn’t have an office at the Angels ballpark.
“Whitey doesn’t want to be an office person and he doesn’t have to be,” Angels president Richard Brown told the Los Angeles Times. “My exact words to him were, ‘If I see you in Anaheim in the office, you’re not doing your job.’ He has to be on the road a lot. I’m going to be relying on him constantly to evaluate our young players, and I don’t want him reading scouting reports. I want him evaluating what he saw.”
O’Brien did have an office at the Angels ballpark.
In a March 1992 interview, six months after Herzog was hired, O’Brien told the Los Angeles Times, “You can’t do things in this business in 1992 as you did in 1990 because it’s in a constant state of change. Contracts, more than anything else, keep getting in the way. The talent is probably now one of the easier things to analyze.”
In 1992, Herzog’s first full season with the team, the Angels finished 72-90 and ranked last in the American League in hitting and runs scored.
The next year wasn’t much better. The 1993 Angels finished 71-91. Herzog and O’Brien remained at odds. Bob Nightengale of the Los Angeles Times described the working relationship of the two senior vice presidents as “deteriorated beyond repair.”
In mid-September 1993, Brown convinced the Autrys to fire O’Brien. Bill Bavasi, the Angels’ farm director, was promoted to general manager, reporting to Herzog. Bavasi was to handle administrative duties. Herzog was given the title of vice president in charge of baseball operations and was allowed to continue to work primarily from his suburban St. Louis home.
Wrote Nightengale, “The Herzog-O’Brien conflict was set in motion by the Angels two years ago when they appointed Herzog as vice president in charge of player personnel. Herzog was told that he would be in charge of all baseball operations, but O’Brien carried the title of vice president in charge of baseball operations and never relented in his duties, creating the impression within baseball that no one was in charge.”
Said Angels manager Buck Rodgers: “It was doomed from Day 1 … They are two good baseball men, but it’s hard to succeed when you don’t have one guy in control. You have to have a No. 1 guy.”
(A year later, in a November 1994 interview with Nightengale, O’Brien said he was surprised by his firing. “The thing that I find funny is that people kept saying that Whitey and I never got along,” O’Brien said. “That wasn’t true. I mean, Whitey was never around. He did things his way and I did things my way. All I know is that I was there every day in the office.”)
In his book, Herzog wrote, “They never told (O’Brien) what my duties were until I’d arrived. He got protective of his job, cut me out of meetings and fought my authority for two years.”
With O’Brien gone, Herzog gave an ill-advised multi-year contract to pitcher Joe Magrane, the former Cardinal. (Magrane would have elbow surgery 12 days before spring training began.) Herzog also created a stir by exploring the possibility of acquiring another former Cardinal, outfielder Vince Coleman, who had flopped with the Mets. (It didn’t happen.)
Herzog’s old-school tactics backfired with some players or their agents. He also may have felt restricted by a reduced player payroll. In January 1994, four months after O’Brien was fired, Herzog resigned, stunning the Angels. Bavasi replaced him.
In a blistering column, Mike Penner of the Los Angeles Times opined, “Herzog was baseball’s first absentee general manager _ he ran a ballclub based in Anaheim from his den in St. Louis _ and the best thing he generally managed from there was his leisure time.”
Said Herzog: “I don’t really want to be traveling all over and going back and forth to California or anywhere else.”
Wrote Nightengale, “Herzog was told that the Angels’ budget would have to be slashed to about $19 million, and instead of acquiring players in the free-agent market, he couldn’t even secure his own. He alienated several of his players in negotiations with his brash, sometimes abusive, style. He screamed at starter 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, but the reality now is that this is a different era, and he hasn’t crossed that bridge,” said Steve Comte, Frey’s agent.
Said Arn Tellem, Langston’s agent: “Whitey’s strengths were finding and evaluating players, but not in the art of diplomacy dealing with lawyers and agents.”
In his book, Herzog took credit for identifying Angels minor leaguers Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds and Gary DiSarcina as prospects and for preparing them to advance to the majors.
Wrote Herzog, “When I finally handed the reins over to Billy Bavasi in ’94 _ I’d been grooming him to replace me _ he said, ‘Man, you’re leaving at the wrong time. You’re the guy who put this together and it’s ready to blossom.’ I knew it was, but I didn’t need any credit.”
Previously: Why Whitey Herzog saw Pedro Guerrero like Lana Turner
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