Russell and Duenes

Whitey Herzog, Not Earl Weaver

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From 1976 to 1985, two teams dominated the American League. The Kansas City Royals got to the American League playoffs in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1984 and 1985. The New York Yankees won the American League East in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, and 1981. In ’76 through ’78, the Yankees bested the Royals each time. Of course, as a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I loathed the Yankees for beating the Dodgers in the World Series in ’77 and ’78, but as a huge George Brett fan, I also liked the Royals and hated to see them lose to the Yankees. I still have this image in my mind of Royals starter, Dennis Leonard, sitting in the Royals dugout, looking shell-shocked, watching the Yankees clinch at their expense yet again. Thus, my hatred of the Yankees only grew.

Whitey Herzog, the Royals manager in those late 70’s years, was establishing the brand of baseball he would eventually perfect as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1980’s, namely, build your team around speed, pitching and defense, particularly in light of the fact that your team plays on astro-turf, where, as Thomas Boswell once suggested, Herzog’s speedy players could pound the ball into the turf, beat it out, steal second, score on a seeing-eye single, and win the game, 2-1. Herzog didn’t have the bullpens with the Royals that he had with the Cardinals, but then in the 70’s, set-up men and “closers,” were largely unheard of. Herzog is the one who perfected the whole “turn it over to the bullpen in the 7th” strategy.

Earl Weaver also managed some pretty good teams in Baltimore in the 1970’s, but under a different managerial philosophy than Herzog. While both Weaver and Herzog had some pretty good starting pitching and solid defenses, Weaver famously relied on the “three run homer” from Frank Robinson or Boog Powell, rather than small ball and speed, like Herzog. For my taste, Herzog has always had the preferable style, if only for aesthetic reasons.

Which is why I love this Royals team. It’s like I’m transported back to the 70’s and 80’s. First of all, they’re playing the Giants, a team I hate just as much as the Yankees, if not more so now. But most of all, they have that same combination of speed, pitching and defense that Herzog’s teams traditionally had. I’ve always loved teams that have “lights out” bullpens. Though I’m no Cincinnati Reds fan, I had a certain affinity for “The Nasty Boys” of Pinella’s 1990 championship team (and I don’t mind liking them, since the Dodgers got theirs in 1988). The Dodgers’ Tommy Lasorda, much like Weaver, relied more on starting pitching and power than defense and a strong bullpen (Mike Marshall was before Lasorda’s time.), so I actually enjoyed it when the Dodgers had Eric Gagne. When it gets to the 7th inning, if the Royals have a lead, they’re usually a lock.

So this is a great Series, bringing up great memories of the baseball of my youth.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

October 25, 2014 at 7:22 pm

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