ST. LOUIS (AP) — Whitey Herzog says having his jersey number retired by the St. Louis Cardinals is every bit as special as making it to the Hall of Fame.
The manager who produced three National League pennants and a World Series title in the 1980s with a go-go style known as “Whiteyball” said Wednesday it was humbling to realize that every game at Busch Stadium, fans will see his No. 24 alongside other franchise greats.
Herzog is unique to that group because he’s the first to contend his playing career was nothing special.
“To go up there with Musial, Schoendienst, Gibson, Brock, Sutter and Ozzie (Smith), I think hit me the hardest,” Herzog said. “I appreciated that more than anything that’s every happened.”
Herzog also won three division titles with the Kansas City Royals. As an outfielder with four teams from 1956-63, he batted .257 with 25 home runs and 172 RBIs.
“I had a very mediocre career, I was a hanger-on,” Herzog said. “I never knew if I was going to have a locker when I got to the ballpark, sweated out every cutdown day, every training deadline for eight years.
“I worked hard, I hustled, but I couldn’t hit a slow curve with a paddle.”
Herzog, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee last year, was the featured speaker at the annual St. Louis Browns reunion luncheon. His appearance at the podium followed a pretty spry group of former players pushing or past 80 recounting glory days with a franchise that left for Baltimore 58 years ago.
“There aren’t many Browns left, and next year there might be less,” said Don Lenhardt, who had career bests of 22 homers and 81 RBIs with the Browns in 1950. “So it’s good to see all of them.”
Catcher J.W. Porter joked that “really it took CPR to bring this group back.”
Pitcher Bob Turley, who debuted with the Browns and became a star with the New York Yankees later in the 1950s, made his first appearance at the luncheon. Taking note of the audience’s advanced age, the pitcher known as “Bullet Bob” said he would have thought he was speaking to a group of Florida retirees.
“All the gray hair,” Turley said.
Turley was a 21-game winner in 1958, taking the American League Cy Young award and then the World Series MVP. But during his playing career, he said he made more in the offseason working for Continental Baking than for the Yankees.
The 80-year-old Turley threw 19 complete games in ’58, and has trouble relating to the game’s obsession with pitch counts and coddling arms. He joked that Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg signed for “$500 million” and “third time out he blows out his arm.”
“One hundred pitches, I’m just getting warmed up,” Turley said. “No sore arm. Want to know why? I kept my arm in shape.”
Herzog recalled that the Browns wanted to sign him out of high school in New Athens, Ill., as a pitcher after a scout watched him throw a no-hitter and strike out all 21 hitters.
“I didn’t want to be a pitcher, I was wilder than hell,” Herzog said. “Finally, I said, ‘Now I know why you guys are last, because you want to sign me as a pitcher.’ That’s what a brash kid I was.”
Herzog believes this year’s Cardinals are postseason contenders even after losing 20-game winner Adam Wainwright to reconstructive elbow surgery in February.
“Now, they’re off to a good start and it looks like they might have a World Series in St. Louis this year,” Herzog said. “If they stay healthy, I think they’ve got a heck of a chance.”
Copyright Associated Press