The Friday Kiwanis Club luncheon at Grant's Cabin on Watson Road in St. Louis began with a spirited singing of America. Then Monsignor Richard J. Gallagher delivered the invocation. He threw a changeup.
"...we thank You for the Smiths, for the Hernandezes and for Whitey Herzog, the Harry Truman of baseball...."
Herzog was being honored on this day as the South Side Kiwanis' 36th Sportsman of the Year, following in the footsteps of such Cardinal luminaries as Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Ken Boyer, Lou Brock, Joe Torre and, oh well, Mike Tyson. Herzog was given a silver tray by chapter president Hellmuth (Red) Reninga, which seemed only fair since Herzog was about to serve to St. Louis, on a platter, its first baseball title of any sort in 14 years. At the end of last week Herzog's Cardinals—and these are his Cardinals—led the National League East by a commanding 5½ games.
Which is why last Friday he was being toasted by a gathering that included the Big Eagle himself, 83-year-old beer baron and team owner Gussie Busch. "He is one great guy, and I call him The Rat," growled Busch. "He knows more about baseball than you or I will ever know. Congratulations again, and the best of everything to you, my good friend."
Dorrel Norman (Whitey, The White Rat, Relly) Herzog, the Harry Truman of baseball, couldn't have been enjoying himself more. Here he was, in front of an adoring crowd of 240 people, one of whom was his club's owner, 30 miles from the town in which he was raised, just a few days short of clinching a division title for the team he loved in his youth.
Just a little more than two years ago, after Kansas City had fired him, Herzog came to Busch's retreat at Grant's Farm in St. Louis to talk about a job. "I knew we were going to get along," Herzog told the Kiwanians. "He thought almost the way I did. Whenever I ask him about something he just says"—and here Herzog changed his voice to a foghorn—" 'Do it.' "
Herzog did it, all right. Taking a team that had forgotten how to win, he cleaned house and guided it to the best record in its division last year and to its present eminence this year over better teams, at least on paper. But then, Dewey looked better on paper than Truman.
"The two men [Truman and Herzog] just struck me as being similar," said Monsignor Gallagher, pastor of St. Raphael's in St. Louis. "Perhaps it was because of the way they both assault the language. Maybe it's because with both men, you know who the boss is. You can tell that when Whitey takes the ball from one of his pitchers."
"Nobody ever called me the Harry Truman of baseball before," said Whitey. "They called me a lot of other things, though...."
Growing up in New Athens, Ill., Herzog was called Relly. He lived and died with the Cardinals and copied Stan Musial's batting stance. "I've been in a slump ever since," he says. New Athens was a small town of 1,500. Herzog's father worked on the highway crew and his mother was a housewife. Mary Lou Sinn gave him a valentine when he was in the sixth grade and she was in the fifth, but they didn't start dating until after high school and didn't get married until he was in the service. Obviously, his eye for talent was still developing. In the meantime, he played baseball and worked at a variety of jobs.