Herzog signed with the Yankees right after graduation. His rise through the minors was interrupted when he joined the Army Corps of Engineers and was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where he managed the baseball team and once beat a Fort Carson, Colo. team managed by Billy Martin. "In two years we went 85-6 and 86-5," says Herzog. "Of course, you could become a free agent after only two years." The team's bat boy was Mike McKenzie, whose father was an athletic and recreation officer at the base. "Once Herzog's troops wanted a holiday pass to go to a game in St. Louis but had a doubleheader scheduled," recalls McKenzie, a writer for The Kansas City Star. "So Herzog got some soldiers to flood the field with hoses during the night, and the games had to be canceled because of wet grounds on a day the temperature went over a hundred degrees."
After the service, while on the Yankees' Denver farm club, Herzog came under the influence of Manager Ralph Houk, of whom Herzog says, "Nobody could handle players better than he could." Herzog also got a nickname that would last a lifetime. "Johnny Pesky, our coach, said I looked like a pitcher named Bob Kuzaba," says Herzog. "And they called him the White Rat."
In Denver, Herzog and Mary Lou had bought a mobile home. In 1956 the Yankees traded him and four other players to the Washington Senators for Mickey McDermott. The Herzogs took the mobile home with them to Washington; the unusual quarters earned Whitey his first national publicity.
Herzog was a useful major league outfielder, playing for the Senators, A's, Orioles and Tigers. While with the A's in Kansas City, he and Mary Lou decided to settle in Independence, Truman's hometown, and they have lived there ever since. One night in 1958 McKenzie and his father went out with Herzog for pizza. Recalls McKenzie, "Whitey told us the A's had obtained a rightfielder with a great arm and bat. 'He's capable of breaking Ruth's record,' Whitey said." Of course, the man Herzog was talking about was Bob Cerv. Just kidding. It was Roger Maris. Herzog's legendary eye for talent did not extend to cars, however. He was driving an Edsel at the time.
Herzog's career was cut short in 1963 when he came down with a virus in spring training with the Tigers. It affected his inner ear, and to this day Herzog can have occasional dizzy spells if he bends down suddenly.
After the ailing Herzog batted .151 for the Tigers in '63, he went back to Independence. He had a lot of work experience to draw from besides baseball, having driven a hearse, dug graves, sold bricks and worked in a brewery and a bakery. By night he studied surveying and by day he supervised a construction crew. "I had 35 guys working for me on this job, and only about 15 of them wanted to work," he says. When the weather got cold, half of the crew had to be laid off, but to make sure they were the right half, Herzog laid them all off and told the ones he really wanted to come back on Monday. This violation of seniority rules didn't sit well with the union. Rather than put up with the rules, Herzog quit. Seventeen years later, though, he would do the same thing with the Cardinals and succeed.
Hank Peters, now general manager of the Orioles and then the farm director of the A's, offered Herzog a scouting job for $7,500 a year. "I signed 12 players for $120,000 and seven of them eventually made the major league roster," Herzog says. "The best was Chuck Dobson, the pitcher. I could have had Don Sutton for $16,000, but Charlie Finley wouldn't give me the money." Herzog later became an A's coach but quit when Finley wouldn't give him more money.
Herzog went to work for the Mets in 1966 and served them for seven years as a coach, a scout and the director of player development. Some of the talent he spotted or taught included Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and Amos Otis. He worked with Joe McDonald, the director of minor league operations; last spring Herzog handed McDonald the general manager's hat he wore while restructuring the Cardinals.
After the 1972 season Herzog accepted an offer from Texas General Manager Joe Burke to take over the Rangers. With typical bluntness, Herzog called them "one of the worst major league teams I've ever seen." They justified his appraisal by going 47-91 before owner Bob Short fired him and hired Billy Martin with 23 games to go in the '73 season.
"It really wasn't fair," Mary Lou was saying last Friday evening during the Cardinals' 3-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs. "If he'd known that his job was on the line...hurry, Tommy [Herr], hurry!...he'd have managed completely different."