(Updated March 21, 2017)
A disciple of the Whitey Herzog school of managing, Ken Oberkfell, third baseman on the Cardinals’ 1982 World Series championship club, was bench coach on Mets manager Terry Collins’ staff in 2011.
Before that, Oberkfell had been a minor-league manager for 17 years. In an interview for the 2010 Cardinals yearbook, Oberkfell discussed the advice he received from Herzog.
“When I started managing, I talked to Whitey a little bit,” Oberkfell said. “He just said, ‘You’ve got to have your own identity, your own way of managing things. You can take what you can from other managers you’ve had, but you have to be yourself.’
“And he also said, ‘If you make a decision, don’t second-guess yourself.’ And I’ve taken that to heart.”
Oberkfell began his managerial career in 1995 in the independent Northeast League. After managing there again in 1996, Oberkfell became a manager in the Phillies’ system. He managed Piedmont of the Class A South Atlantic League from 1997-99 and Clearwater of the Florida State League in 2000.
One of his players at Piedmont was 18-year-old shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who reached the majors in 2000, won the Gold Glove Award four times and a National League Most Valuable Player Award.
Rollins was the first of several outstanding prospects who were nurtured under Oberkfell’s care. Others include shortstop Jose Reyes, third baseman David Wright and outfielder Jason Bay. All became all-stars in the major leagues.
In 2001, Oberkfell joined the Mets organization. He managed Capital City of the South Atlantic League in 2001, St. Lucie of the Florida State League in 2002-03, Binghamton of the Eastern League in 2004, Norfolk of the International League in 2005-06, New Orleans of the Pacific Coast League in 2007-08 and Buffalo of the International League in 2009-10.
He was named minor league manager of the year by Baseball America magazine in 2005. In an article about the award, Oberkfell cited Herzog’s positive influence on his managing style. Story
“I learned a lot from Whitey in terms of handling players and communicating, especially with extra players,” Oberkfell told the magazine. “He always had a way of keeping them positive, keeping them ready. That’s so important if you want to have success at any level.
“And just like Whitey, I like to run. I like to be aggressive on the bases. I’m a pretty laid-back guy until we have runners on base.”
It was with the Cardinals that Oberkfell broke into the major leagues in 1977 as a second baseman. He played for Vern Rapp and Ken Boyer before Herzog joined the Cardinals in June 1980.
An outstanding fielder _ he led National League second basemen in fielding percentage (.985) in 1979 _ Oberkfell made a successful conversion to third base after Herzog traded incumbent Ken Reitz to the Cubs in December 1980.
Oberkfell led NL third basemen in fielding percentage in 1982 (.972) and 1983 (.960). His game-winning single off Gene Garber in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series gave the Cardinals a 4-3 victory over Atlanta. Boxscore Oberkfell batted .292 (7-for-24) with four runs scored in the 1982 World Series.
When Terry Pendleton proved ready to handle the third base job, Oberkfell was dealt to the Braves on June 15, 1984, for pitcher Ken Dayley and first baseman Mike Jorgensen.
From 1977-84 with St. Louis, Oberkfell batted .292 with a .364 on-base percentage.