Thank you, Whitey

INDIANAPOLIS — This has nothing to do with the Giants and virtually zilch to do with the Winter Meetings, but I’m compelled to extend this tribute to Whitey Herzog, who was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee and appeared here Tuesday.

I was a fledgling writer when my boss at The Cincinnati Post sent me to St. Louis to put together a featurish story on the Cardinals preceding the 1987 National League Championship Series against San Francisco (OK, there’s my Giants relevance). In terms of experience with Major Leaguers, I was as green as Busch Stadium’s artificial turf.

At least I knew enough to start gathering my quotes well before gametime, which is proper practice when writing a non-news story. As I recall, I might have interviewed a Cardinal or two before deciding to talk to Herzog, the exceedingly successful Cardinals manager.

I approached Herzog’s office as if it were a pit of snakes. There he sat behind his desk. Surely, I feared, this rough, tough man would bite my head off. Trying not to sound intimidated (and failing), I asked Whitey if he had a few minutes. He must have sized me up in 0.6 seconds — young, inexperienced, clueless, but earnest. Whitey invited me in and answered my first couple of questions, genially and expansively. He quickly put me at ease.

Suddenly a reporter from WFAN (the Cardinals were playing the Mets) burst into Herzog’s office, oblivious to my presence. “Hey, Whitey,” he boomed. “How about some time for …”

The reporter didn’t finish his sentence. Herzog pounced on the guy as if he were an umpire who had just blown a call. “What the (expletive) are you doing?!?” Herzog bellowed. “Can’t you see I’m talking to this gentleman?!? Get the (expletive) out of here!!!”

The WFAN man scurried away. I was at once stunned and honored. Herzog had treated me as if I were a 20-year veteran of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Whitey calmly and instantly refocused his attention to me. “Now, where were we?” he asked.

It should come as no surprise to you what angle I chose for my story: The true Most Valuable Player of the NL East champion Cardinals, I wrote, was Whitey Herzog. So much for objectivity (though numerous comments from players supported my case).

Congratulations on reaching the Hall of Fame, Whitey, but you made my Hall of Fame a long time ago.

– Chris Haft

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