Cover image for You're missin' a great game : from Casey to Ozzie, the magic of baseball and how to get it back
You're missin' a great game : from Casey to Ozzie, the magic of baseball and how to get it back
Herzog, Whitey.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [1999]

Physical Description:
314 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Added Author:
Format :


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Material Type
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GV865.H47 A33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
GV865.H47 A33 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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No one knows the game better than Whitey Herzog, the man who gave us "Whiteyball" -- the fast, aggressive style of play for which his teams were known. Although he is no longer building championship ball dubs, the game is still in his blood, as it was throughout a career that took him to every level of baseball, on and off the field.

In You're Missin' a Great Game, Whitey decries the state of the game, which has lost its way in the pursuit of power and Sports Center thrills. The extended playoffs and wild-card structure have combined to rob the game of its subtlety, allowing the richest teams to bludgeon everyone without having to learn the skills that made baseball so satisfying for so long. Whitey points out these ills and proposes detailed, concrete solutions that can make the game the national pastime once again.

You're Missin' a Great Game is a cry from the heart, by a man who knows the game, loves the game, and has brought excitement and excellence to the field everywhere he worked. When Whitey Herzog talks, all baseball fans listen.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Herzog is a baseball man through and through, highly respected and very successful. He's been a player, scout, coach, administrator, and manager. Since his retirement in 1994, though, he hasn't enjoyed the game very much. In this thoughtful memoir, he discusses why. Using examples from his own career, he outlines the game's problems and presents his solutions. He proposes reintroducing an emphasis on speed and defense rather than power, and he worries that this year's admittedly exciting McGwire-Sosa home-run race will move the game further in the wrong direction. He would also like to put some balance back in the game by raising the pitching mound slightly to give pitchers additional leverage. Herzog loves the game but is frustrated by its declining quality. The best thing baseball could do? Make sure there is always a place in the game for men like Herzog. Salty, irreverent, and extremely intelligent reading for baseball fans. (Reviewed March 15, 1999)0684853140Wes Lukowsky



Introduction Straighten It Out If you came to my house in south St. Louis County, grabbed a beer out of my Anheuser-Busch refrigerator -- it looks just like a six-foot can of Budweiser -- and sat down for a cold one, you'd notice something in my den that I enjoy a hell of a lot more than beer. I've saved a good wool baseball cap from every big-league organization I ever worked for. They're hanging on pegs, all in a row, right across the top of my bar. The room is filled with stuff I love being around -- black-and-white and color photos, plaques and pennants, drawings and lithographs, even uniforms I wore in my forty-plus-year career. Right on that wood-panelled wall is a picture of me with Casey Stengel -- the first mentor I had in the big leagues, and the best -- sitting on a Honda motorcycle. Casey scribbled something on there about me looking like Evel Knievel hurdling a canyon, but he spelled it 'hurtle;' the Perfesser never was too good with English. Above those glass doors is a shot of me in a rowboat with Jack Buck, the Hall of Fame broadcaster, spoofing Jaws in a Budweiser commercial everybody had a great time making. Everyone's on display here, from Ted Williams to Nolan Ryan to Harry Caray. It's a hell of a tour. If there's anything I like most, it's the caps. There are, if you can believe it, ten of them. By the time you finish hurtling through these reflections, you'll know what all those caps are, and there might even be one or two more before I'm through. They stand for a long life spent in a wonderful game -- travelling all over America, living in big cities and backwater towns, getting to know some of the damnedest people you could ever meet (including some of the craziest), matching wits with the best in the world at what you do year after year. They also stand for the different hats I've worn in the game -- as a player, a scout, a coach, a development man, a manager, a general manager, and a front-office guy. Talk about ways to find out what you're made of; the game's been that to me and then some, and I don't give a damn if you're a CEO or a car mechanic, you can't ask much more of your profession than that. I'll be honest with you: A lot of things about the big-league scene today make me want to throw up. (I've turned down so many managing offers since I retired in 1994 I can't keep track of them all. Most would have made me the highest-paid manager in the history of the major leagues -- which is what I was when I left the St. Louis Cardinals in 1990 -- and top dollar for managers is three times what it was then.) But that doesn't change what a privilege it's been. I grew up a southern Illinois kid, worshipping that world from a long ways off -- a New Athens wiseacre who skipped school to hitchhike to games in St. Louis and see some of the best talent in the major leagues. Times would change in ways I could have never seen coming, and I ended up making more money than Williams, DiMaggio or Musial probably ever dreamed of. Sitting here with a cool drink -- I'm favoring Lite lately; I'm slimming down -- a glance at those caps makes the hops and barley taste just that much sweeter. Now, when I was first wearing that blue cap of the Kansas City Royals, I had an outfielder on my spring roster named Willie Wilson. If you're a baseball fan, you've heard of him: rangy kid, good speed, stole a lot of bases. Hit for a high average when I managed him. Willie is a good person, but when I first saw him in our rookie camp, he had himself a big problem: He thought he was a power hitter. He had size -- he was 6-2, 6-3, weighed about 190 -- but I still don't understand what in the hell told him he had home-run pop in his bat. Even in the minors he hadn't gone deep much; the fly balls he hit just gave the outfielders a long way to run before the catch. Well, I watched Willie hit a few times, and it didn't take Connie Mack to figure out that swinging for the fences wasn't going to be his ticket to the Hall of Fame. He might hit his 12 homers, but the rest of the time he was going to make himself an out, kill our rallies, and put the Kansas City fans in a coma. What Willie did have, though, was speed, and a home ballpark that favored speed. Royals Stadium -- now called Kauffman Stadium or "the K," for my ex-boss, the late Royals owner Ewing Kauffman -- had big dimensions, which made it even harder to hit the ball out, and fake turf that turned ground balls into states of emergency. With the wheels he had, if Willie'd just learn to switch-hit, beat the ball into the ground, and take off running, he'd be on base more often than Babe Ruth ate hot dogs. Now, even today, most good baseball people don't recognize what an edge it gives you just to get your guys on base, let alone speedsters like Willie. He doesn't have to hit home runs; just having him on base jacks up the odds you're going to score runs, and that raises the odds you'll win games. Then it becomes like compound interest: Game in and game out your edge adds up, and before you can say Jackie Robinson, you find your ass at the top of the standings. One day in spring training I'd had enough, and I put it to him plain. I said, "Hey, man, do you want to play in Fort Myers all your life, or do you want to make it to the major leagues?" He looked a little put-upon, and I said, "I'll let you make that choice, but I'm gonna have Chuck Hiller in the cage tomorrow morning at eight o'clock" -- Chuck was going to be his batting coach -- "and if you want to learn to switch-hit, be here. If not, I don't give a damn." Let him try his Hank Aaron impersonation in Triple-A. I had a big-league team to run. Boy, he didn't like that. Smoke was coming out of his ears. But next day, eight o'clock sharp, here comes Willie. He sets to work on grounders. A year later, his average jumps about a hundred points. Willie won a batting title, stole 83 bases one year, and led the league in hits and runs for an American League champion. The Royals played hard, heads-up ball, the kind I enjoy and that fans have always paid good money to see. They set Kansas City attendance records five years running. That's baseball like it oughta be. I learned something important in Kansas City: Never finish second. We finished three games out in 1979, first time I hadn't won a division title in four years there, and just as I expected, old Ewing sacked my ass the minute the season was over. Well, a couple of years later, Willie figured he'd try the home-run thing again. It didn't work out too good. His run totals dropped, his hit totals fell, and he was never the same player. A manager's job is to look at the assets he's got, evaluate them, and get the most mileage out of them he can. In dealing with players, you have to ask yourself what each guy does best. Can this guy hit for power? Does that one have a good arm? You look at what each person does well and doesn't do well, then put him in situations that maximize his abilities. Don't ask him to do what he isn't good at; let him succeed with the talents he's got. He deserves that! It makes him feel a part of the team, it's good for the ballclub, it gets your different parts working together. It's also how you end up with a pennant in your back pocket and another year on your contract. I'm leading things off with Willie because he reminds me of what's happening in baseball today. The game's had some good luck the last couple of years, like Mark McGwire's home-run chase with Sammy Sosa, which really has drawn a lot of fans and sparked interest. But it still has big problems -- bigger than it has any idea. You and I could sit here all day and bullshit about what they are and how to fix them. We all know what some of them are. But I'm telling you, a lot of the biggest problems, baseball ain't even talked about yet. Not too far down the line, that's going to cost us in a very, very big way. The reason major-league baseball is so hard for me to watch today, and the reason some fans have had a hard time figuring out whether they still enjoy it or not, is simple. It's like Willie. It's a singles hitter trying to go deep every time up. I've never seen such uniformly horseshit baseball, such a lack of understanding of how to play the game or run it. I can't stand looking at it any more than I could stand there and watch Willie fly out to the warning track day after day. A singles hitter trying to go deep is not only going to fail at what you already knew he couldn't do, he's also going to forget how to do what he's actually good at. A lot of what's passing for baseball today is about as fun to watch as Willie popping up with a runner on third. My whole career tells me that people love baseball, when they do love it, because it shows them a good, fair test of ingenuity and skill. What made it satisfying up until fifteen or twenty years ago was that it was the fairest test in all of sports. Every team played the same schedule; after 154 or 162 games, when your ballclub finished on top and played in the World Series, you knew you had one of the two best teams. Fans knew it, too. When they saw the October Classic, they knew how much the clubs had gone through to get there. Those teams had put all their baseball knowhow together and used their resources the best. A whole year's worth of big leaguers fighting for victories and jobs had weeded out everybody that hadn't. The rules put excellence at center stage. Over the past ten or twenty years, that's changed. The rules on the field haven't changed much; if you'd gone to a game forty years ago and came to one now, you'd still know what was going on, something you can't say for some other big-time sports. But the situation off the field has changed so drastically that it's affected every other facet of the game. And three very, very big things have gone wrong. First, if Willie Wilson were playing today, he wouldn't have to listen to Whitey Herzog. He could try to stuff my ass in a clubhouse trash can and he'd still be making $4 million a year in the big leagues. That's how many more teams there are now, how many more jobs, how much less talent there is relative to demand. Second, only two teams used to get to the big dance at the end, but so many clubs get in the playoffs now that the fans don't know whether they're seeing the best. In some divisions, you can barely top 500 and you'll win; someday we'll have a division champ with a losing record. When I managed the Cardinals against the Minnesota Twins all the way back in the 1987 World Series, Minnesota had the fifth -best record in the American League. They won the Western Division, but four ballclubs in the East -- all playing the same schedule as the Twins -- had more victories. I said so in the papers at the time, and they gave me so much hell you'd have thought I shot the pope. All you had to do was look at the standings; I was just saying it like it is! What did it tell fans that not only did Minnesota get in the Series, but proceeded to kick our ass around that lunatic Homerdome, where you can't see a pop fly or hear it come off the bat? Excellence got whiffed. It's only gotten worse since. Third, everybody in the big leagues today knows, before a single pitch is thrown, that the teams in the smaller markets -- the Kansas Citys, Oaklands, Pittsburghs, and Montreals -- have no chance of competing for a pennant anymore. It ain't going to happen. The fans know it, the writers know it, the players know it. Those teams' budgets -- which only two years ago ranged from the Pirates' $9 million to maybe $20 million -- can't get them enough quality big leaguers to be competitive. What's worse, the rules we have in place prevent those teams from improving themselves and getting back in the hunt. How the Pirates, A's and Expos do on the field, even if they play to the absolute best of their abilities, makes no difference. And the Atlanta Braves, with their $65 or $70 million payroll? They can play lousy baseball day in and day out (as I have seen them do) and still win their division by eight to ten games. It doesn't matter if your scouts are sharp or stupid, if your manager is Humpty Dumpty or the second coming of John McGraw. Brains, hustle, and good, sharp play -- those don't matter. One thing matters and one thing only: money. Don't believe me? Take a look at the last few World Series. Going back six or seven years now, I've never seen so many baserunning mistakes, botched throws, and mental screwups in my life. The showcase of the sport looks like eighteen monkeys making love to a football. If this is the best our game has to offer, why am I changing the channel to the NBA? And if the rules don't change, we'll never see a team in the big show again whose payroll isn't in the top five. That really came to pass in 1996, when the Braves ($65 million) and Yankees ($60 million) bought themselves a party. A year later the Florida (Blockbuster) Marlins got to play the big-budget Cleveland Indians. Both years, same thing: four-hour games, horseshit throws, teams kicking the ball all over the field. Somebody lost; that's all that proved. Baseball's rules today don't promote what's best about the game: the fairness and integrity that give every team a chance to win if they use their abilities right. If there's no incentive to show the game respect, why should anybody? Would you? Good play is a lost art. Nobody's saying that or writing it anyplace, but I'm telling you, that's the biggest story in the sport. And unless we make some basic changes soon, it's going to get worse. Things do look better than they did five years ago. In towns like Cleveland and Baltimore, where they have nice ballparks that respect the game's history, and where they can afford to pay for teams that are going to win, it's good. Players like Piazza, Griffey, McGwire, and Chipper Jones would have been standouts in any era. But you know what? I'm still thinking of that scene in the movie Titanic: The boat's clipped the iceberg, but nobody really knows it yet. The band's still playing, the chandeliers are up, the drinks are flowing. The man who built the ship checks the hull and tells everybody they're going to sink. They laugh it off. And before they know what hit 'em, they're all swimming in the North Atlantic. I still see Willie Wilson sometimes, at banquets and reunions and so forth and, do you know, after all these years, that crazy sumbuck is still mad at me? God almighty, people are funny. He would never have made it to the big leagues his way! Well, if nobody talks to Willie now -- I mean if we let baseball stay the way it is -- it's going to keep swinging for the fences, popping up, killing rallies, and looking like hell. With a good manager, the game can be straightened out. But we have to get together, face the facts, and act before it's too late. My profession is never going to solve its problems by shaking the ballparks with rock 'n' roll, juicing the ball, and bringing the fences in. All the 15-13 scores in the world ain't going to do it, and neither will letting every damn team with a winning record into the postseason. Beyond all the home-run hoopla we've been seeing, something else is going on: Lots of good fans are losing interest in the big leagues because it's a great game being played lousy -- and managed even worse. Baseball still teaches the same things it always did, when we're smart enough to know the game and manage it right. I say, let's stop handing today's Willie Wilsons millions a year for fouling up their swings, misunderstanding the sport, and driving away the fans. Let's get some of the money out of it and some of the brains back in. Let's motivate people to excel. Let's get the National Pastime back. I'm not wearing any of those caps anymore, at least for now. For the past few years, I've made do with a khaki fishing hat, but I've seen the game through its biggest changes and from every possible angle. I'm like the good third-base coach on a close play: He knows the game, he can see all the action in front of him, he's in the right place to wave that runner home or hold him up. I can see how the parts all fit. There are other guys out there, too, baseball men who know a line drive from a luxury box, and maybe they'll join the conversation. If the genius lawyers and salesmen and tax collectors running the game now want to listen, they can. If not, let 'em enjoy their swim. It's gonna be cold. A lot of players, parents, and fans across America have yelled the title of this book at the men in blue. "Hey, ump!" they'll holler, "You're missin' a great game back there!" Well, baseball itself is a little nearsighted right now, and there ain't any harm in riding it some. Maybe we can be the bench jockeys. So have a beer, if you like, as we talk about what really makes this game the National Pastime. Meet everybody from Casey to the Splendid Splinter, from Tom Seaver to Ozzie Smith. Try on a few caps and see if they fit. Just do me a favor: When we're done, hang 'em back up on the wall. It's too much fun remembering how they got there in the first place. Copyright © 1999 Whitey Herzog. All rights reserved.