Whitey Herzog may have stepped in it yesterday, when he apparently intimated he tried to tank games in St. Louis on purpose to improve his draft position:
“At one point, Herzog admitted that, had the new format been in place when he managed, he might have tried harder to finish second.
Three of his teams finished third, and Herzog said he sometimes managed to finish third on purpose, not second place, as a way to improve draft-day positioning the next season."
The commentariat of HBT is up in arms over this, naturally, comparing Herzog unfavorably to Pete Rose and suggesting that Herzog be drawn and quartered during the 7th inning stretch of the All Star Game. Before we get to that point, however, maybe we should look at what actually happened during his tenure with the Cardinals (he never finished lower than 2nd as a manager for the Royals, so we don't need to worry about that).
From 1982-1989 (his last full season at the helm), Herzog finished outside of first or second place five times, in 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988, and 1989. Did Herzog do anything differently during those years in September? Let’s take it a year at a time:
Herzog’s Cardinals follow up their World Championship season by laying an egg. They go 79-83 and finish 4th in the NL East, 11 games behind the Philies, and 3 behind the Expos for 3rd place. On September 1, however, they’re a game above .500 and just 1.5 behind the Phillies, with a great shot at the division, despite actually sitting in 4th place. The Cards proceed to lose 18 of their final 31 games, while the Phillies finish 22-8 to run away with the NL East. As the season winds down, a couple of things change: Jamie Quirk gets 4 starts behind the plate, and 23 year old Jim Adduci gets 5 starts at 1B. The club was scrambling to replace Tom Herr (who had surgery in August) at 2B with a number of terrible options in Mike Ramsey and Bill Lyons, before settling on a combination of Jeff Doyce and Ken Oberkfell. Oberkfell slid over from 3B, which was handed to hotshot rookie Andy Van Slyke for 6 of the final 7 games. Everybody else continued without incident, including the rotation, who never used a spot starter or skipped a turn during the entire final month. You can’t even crack on his bullpen usage, as the only guy he ran out there in September who didn’t belong was probably Jeff Keener, and he was used 4 times, and 3 of those were in blowouts.
So Whitey’s clear from 1983, what about 1984?
The Cardinals were again a game above .500 on September 1, but this time were 13 back of the powerhouse Cubs, and 4.5 back of the Phillies for 3rd place. Herzog’s Cardinals played great down the stretch however, posting the second best mark in the NL at 17-12 in September and October, finishing in 3rd, 6 back of the Mets for the #2 spot. For some reason, Tom Herr stopped playing after September 15, but The Common Man can’t find any reference as to why. Perhaps a year off of knee surgery, Herr was simply being rested, or maybe he was injured again, or was in some kind of dispute with the club (he demanded a trade that offseason). Art Howe started four of the last five games for Terry Pendleton at 3B, and again, there’s no reference as to why. Andy Van Slyke and Tito Landrum covered RF for much of September while George Hendrick was out having a thyroid tumor removed. There were a couple changes to the rotation. Ricky Horton only got three starts that month, Bob Forsch just two, and minor league veteran Rick Ownbey got two, but that in and of itself isn’t that out of place, especially since Forsch had been terrible all year. And again, the bullpen usage looks pretty solid, with only Andy Hassler embarrassing himself, and he only pitched 2.1 innings. While there’s some interesting stuff going on toward the end of the season, it’s hard to accuse Herzog of tanking it given how well they finished.
Two down. How about 1986?
In 1986, the Mets ran away with the world and the Cards finished in 3rd. On September 1, the Cardinals were (again) a game above .500 and in 3rd in the NL East by a game over the Expos, 3.0 games behind the Phillies for the #2 spot. They would finish 13-17, 7 games behind a streaking Phillies team, but just a single game ahead of the Expos for the #3 spot.
How did Herzog handle it? With Jack Clark out for the season with hand problems, Whitey mixed and matched at 1B, giving rookie Jim Lindeman and the recently acquired Mike Laga most of the playing time, which was reasonable given that both were considered big minor league sluggers. Terry Pendleton played every day until the last three games, when Fred Manrique was given a look. And that’s pretty much it. In the rotation, John Tudor only started twice that month, allowing Ricky Horton to get four starts, but he was terrific and everyone else in the rotation stayed on schedule. In the bullpen, Greg Bargar came back from injury, and was allowed to pitch in blowouts, but did ok with it. Otherwise, it’s again impossible to criticize Herzog’s general bullpen usage.
Well, this is getting frustrating. We’re not finding anything. How about 1988?
The Mets were again a powerhouse, and St. Louis, as of September 1, had slipped all the way to 5th in the 6 team NL East at 62-71. They were five games behind the Cubs for 4th, and 7.5 ahead of the last place Phillies. They pulled it together a bit over the last month, finishing 14-15, while the Cubs dropped 20 of their final 31 games, so the two teams finished just a game apart in the final standings (this is looking promising).
Tony Pena got a few more breaks than usual that September as the Cardinals gave Tom Pagnozzi some reps behind the plate. Pagnozzi also got some work at 1B, while Pedro Guerrero lumbered around LF. Vince Coleman spent a good portion of the month in CF while Willie McGee recovered from what was probably an oblique injury during batting practice, but was described as “his side” in contemporary reports. Then, right after McGee came back, Coleman also hurt himself in BP, fouling a ball off of his foot, and missed the last six games. Terry Pendleton missed the last 17 games after catching his spikes in the turf and hurting his knee, so the Cards finished out the season with a combination of Denny Walling, Tom Lawless, and Rod Booker, which was uninspiring but also probably the best options they had. And 22 year old Luis Alicea, who had started 77 games during the year, was given the last four starts over the superior Jose Oquendo (who started two of the last three at shortstop). Larry McWilliams was reinserted into the rotation following the trade of Bob Forsch. Greg Mathews demonstrated that his shoulder was probably ruined, rookie Ken Hill got one start, and Scott Terry pitched incredibly well. In the bullpen, Hill was used three times in blowouts. The only questionable usage is probably Dan Quisenberry, who struggled to a 6.00 ERA in 18 innings that month, but whose numbers look far worse because of an outing in Montreal where he allowed six runs in 1.2 innings.
So, injuries. That’s what’s been causing the lineup shifts we’ve been seeing for the most part. Does it hold true in 1989 as well?
Nope. The Cardinals were very much in contention on September 1, tied for 2nd with the Mets just 2.5 back of the Cubs. They were as close as a half-game out on September 8, but lost their next six to drop them six full games back. But they’d finish winning 8 of their final 15. In the end, they were 7 back of the Cubs, and just a single game behind the Mets.
So what did Herzog do differently? Tony Pena rode the pine much more in September than he usually did, while super-prospect Todd Zeile got 15 starts. And while that may seems suspicious for a club that’s in it, keep in mind that Zeile was the better hitter and Pena was headed toward free agency. Meanwhile, everyone else stayed in the lineup almost every day, with the exception of Tom Brunansky, who sat the last two games of the year. In the rotation, Bob Tewksbury got four starts after the club fell out of contention, but he made the most of them, posting a 2.52 ERA in 25 innings and tossing a shutout. Former first round pick Cris Carpenter also got a couple starts, but had a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings. The Cards went 5-1 in their starts. In the bullpen, Matt Kinzer was horrendous in two September appearances, but the only time he pitched after the Cards fell out of it was in the 11th inning of the first game of a double header, so The Common Man is inclined to give Herzog a break.
So…in five seasons we’re looking at very few questionable decisions in how Herzog handled his lineups and pitching staffs. Yes, he gave Todd Zeile a shot in a pennant race, and Zeile flubbed it a bit (hitting .241/.318/.293 in September). Maybe he overworked Quiz a little in 1988. But what it really looks like is that Herzog was often forced to mix and match from 2nd and 3rd stringers at the end of seasons, as oft-injured players like McGee, Pendleton, and Clark inevitably broke down. But as he did that, he continued to run out the best pitching he had available on any given night, and didn’t throw anyone in to get pounded. You may be able to criticize the end of 1988, when he allowed Ozzie Smith to end the season on the bench, and played Luis Alicea instead, but playing kids in September in something that out of contention teams do all the time, to get a better sense of whether a guy like Alicea, Pagnozzi, or Zeile can be parts of a future contender. Priorities are different for clubs that are out of the race at the end of the year. And there’s absolutely nothing in the record to show that Whitey Herzog ever tried to deliberately lose a game. Nor is that necessarily inconsistent with what Herzog may have been trying to convey. It's hard to tell, given that the reporter, Kery Boohner, doesn't provide the actual quote, but Herzog may have been trying to explain how he might have changed how he handled young players at the end of the season under the new system, but just phrased it inarticulately. Certainly, there's nothing to suggest that he did anything underhanded in the record.
A huge assist to Baseball Reference.com, and their awesome Defensive Alignment pages for this post. Seriously awesome.
This is terrific analysis, TCM. I'm left wondering one thing though. How close were the Cardinals to moving up a spot in the draft at any given point? In other words, maybe Herzog didn't do anything to lose games on a large scale but is there a September 28th (to pick a late date at random) game that he trotted a bunch of young guys out when they were tied with the Cubs for fourth in the standings?