For the Kansas City Royals this would be, as a measure of the future, a testing series. Here they were last week, driving hard after the flagging Oakland A's, with a new manager who had primed them well enough to win 14 of their last 18 games, but playing now in Baltimore, in hated Baltimore, where many a Royal has bombed. So the first night, not looking like serious contenders, they go out and lose 4-0.
Enough, said Whitey Herzog, who on July 24 had taken command of the team from Jack McKeon. In the clubhouse before the second Oriole game, Herzog called a short meeting. He began, "You are a very good team...."
"...but I've been telling them that since I came," Herzog said the next morning, after the Royals went out and beat the streaking Orioles 4-2 in 10 innings. K.C. would lose that night, but for the moment Herzog was happy with one out of three. "This time I just wanted to tell them that they are a good team in Baltimore. And in Oakland. Back home there's always been a lot of moaning from the fans and the press that the Royals couldn't win in those places. And they had the figures to prove it. You keep hearing that junk, you start to believe it."
Going into this season, Kansas City had won only eight times in Baltimore, while losing 27. And in Oakland the Royals had won just 16 games, while losing no fewer than 38.
"Those records were built against Kansas City when it was an expansion team," Herzog told his troops. "You aren't an expansion team any longer. You are as good as any team in this league. And you can win in Baltimore just as well as you can win at home."
Herzog has brought a lot to Kansas City, but mostly he has brought confidence. When he arrived from the California Angels, where he was coaching third base, the Royals were in second place, 11 games behind Oakland and going nowhere. They had lost confidence in McKeon, a fun-loving guy who had lost communication with them. It hadn't helped a bit that at the end of last season McKeon had fired Charley Lau, his hitting coach and a man respected by the players.
Since 1958 Herzog has made his home in Independence, Mo., just 10 minutes from the Royals' ball park, and over the winter he had heard the players grumbling. One of his first moves when he became manager was to rehire Lau.
"I've always believed a manager should surround himself with the most intelligent, most capable coaches he can find," says Herzog, who spent the 1973 season managing (and building) the Texas Rangers, only to be fired to make room for Billy Martin. "Some managers are afraid to do that."
Herzog also restored the old K.C. starting lineup, which McKeon had been juggling in hopes of getting something going. That meant Freddie Patek, who had been leading off since 1971, went back to hitting first, with Cookie Rojas batting second, Amos Otis third, etc.
"When I was on the other side and the Royals had those guys batting one, two, three, that's when I felt they were toughest," Herzog says. Then he reinserted lefthander Paul Splittorff into what had become an all-right-handed pitching rotation—and Splittorff has gone 3-0. And he began calling each player in for a one-on-one talk.