As you know, these best-of rankings were inspired by Bill James Bill James Guide to Managers. This is the first time I've put together a list for a manager who James covered as well. I pointedly did not consult the book before doing this, so as not to be influenced, although since I'm going by measures such as VORP, TAv, WARP, SNLVAR, and WXRL and James was using his own criteria, there wouldn't have been much chance of that anyway. I did deviate from my system in one place below, which I'll cover in the notes. Before proceeding to the list, I just want to say that if you weren't around at the time, it's almost impossible to conceive of how much fun Herzog's Cardinals teams could be, and how frustrating if you were rooting for the opposition. Given the home-run heavy nature of the current game (yes, even this year), Whitey's Cards, with six switch-hitters and 200 and 300 stolen bases a year, seem like an impossible fantasy now. He was the most creative, aggressive manager of his day and his elevation to the Hall is long overdue.

C Darrell Porter 1979 533 101 155 23 10 20 112 121 65 3 4 .291 .421 .484 .307
1B Jack Clark 1987 419 93 120 23 1 35 106 136 139 1 2 .286 .459 .597 .355
2B Tommy Herr 1985 596 97 180 38 3 8 110 80 55 31 3 .302 .379 .416 .308
3B George Brett 1979 645 119 212 42 20 23 107 51 36 17 10 .328 .376 .563 .301
SS Ozzie Smith 1987 600 104 182 40 4 0 75 89 36 43 9 .303 .392 .383 .289
LF Lonnie Smith 1982 592 120 182 35 8 8 69 64 74 68 26 .307 .381 .434 .301
CF Willie McGee 1985 612 114 216 26 18 10 82 34 86 56 16 .353 .384 .503 .326
RF George Hendrick 1983 529 73 168 33 3 18 97 51 76 3 4 .318 .373 .493 .310
DH Hal McRae 1976 527 104 191 54 11 21 92 59 43 18 14 .332 .407 .461 .320


SP John Tudor 1985 21-8 0 275.0 209 49 169 1.93 10.3
SP Joaquin Andujar 1982 15-10 0 265.2 237 50 137 2.47 7.6
SP Dennis Leonard 1977 20-12 1 292.2 246 79 244 3.04 7.3
SP Joe Magrane 1989 18-9 0 234.2 219 72 127 2.91 6.2
SP Bob Forsch 1986 14-10 0 230.0 211 68 104 3.25 6.0
RP Bruce Sutter 1984 5-7 45 122.2 109 23 77 1.54 7.6

As always, the notes:

  • I made one subjective decision, the inclusion of Hendrick in right field to the exclusion of Al Cowens '77. Hendrick was primarily a right fielder for Herzog, but in 1983 he played more games at first base (92) than he did in right (51). However, he was a better hitter than Cowens both in the seasons under consideration and overall (Cowens hit .312/.361/.525 with 23 home runs, 112 RBIs, .293 TAv, but it was a fluke season). Cowens was undoubtedly the better defensive player. I felt it was more representative to include Hendrick, who was a more reliable performer for Herzog.
  • The inclusion of Hendrick over Cowens is one of two places where my results differ with the James list. His Herzog rotation includes Larry Gura '78 instead of Forsch. Gura isn't a bad choice (16-4, 2.72 ERA in 221.2 innings), and is a good symbol for Herzog, who got great results out of pitch-to-contact guys (Gura K'd 81 that year). However, SNLVAR says that Forsch was better, 6.0 to 5.0. I also liked that Forsch was a good hitter for a pitcher, not Don Newcombe good, but far above average. His best hitter year was 1987, when he hit .298/.333/.509 with two home runs in 71 plate appearances, and he had a couple of other years at that level. He hit only .171 in the year listed here, but drove in a career-high 12 runs on four doubles, a triple, and two home runs as well as pulling off 11 successful sac bunts and a sac fly.
  • I added caught stealing to the stat line because steals were so important to Herzog's teams.
  • I had to look twice to make sure that Willie Wilson '79 wasn't a better choice than Lonnie Smith for left field. Wilson, who played left field that year because Amos Otis (whose '78 was a contender for this list until Willie McGee's '85 trumped it) played center. He hit .315/.351/.420 with an 83/12 stolen base effort. His defense was certainly better than that of the famously slippery Smith's as well. Smith's big edge in TAv (.301 vs. .277) convinced me I had it right.
  • John Tudor had a league-leading 10 complete-game shutouts in 1985. He finished a very distant second to Dwight Gooden in the Cy Young Award voting. There have been just 29 seasons with an SNLVAR of 10 or above since the mid '50s.
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The '77 version of Brett is also a candidate. And I could wish you had a spot somewhere for The Mad Hungarian, Al Hrabosky, who played for Herzog in KC and StL and epitomized his relief pitching. Not candidates by your criteria, but the Fun Factor was certainly enhanced by players like Vince Coleman (not very good, but fun to watch) and Terry Pendleton (who finally broke out for the Braves after leaving St. Louis). I remember these teams with extreme nostalgia -- I was a huge Cardinals fan from ~1980 to 1990 (when I moved to Pittsburgh and Did the Burgh Thing). As you say, this style of team is almost inconceivable today. It's worth noting that it usually didn't work -- these teams were awful in the years when the parts didn't quite come together. But in '77, '78, '82, '85, and '87 they were awesome. Curse you, Don Denkinger.
Whenever anyone asks me who was my favorite player to watch, I always respond Vince Coleman. Every time he got on first base the whole stadium would buzz. You knew he was going to go to second, it was just a question of when. Pujols and McGwire (and lots of other Cardinals) were much better players, but stolen base attempts are so much fun to watch in person. "Curse you, Don Denkinger." It was so much more fun to hate him before he turned out to be a decent guy.
He just didn't get on first base that often in most years, alas. Between that and his Mets phase, well, I wasn't a fan.
Oh, and thanks for the extra note on John Tudor. That season was something very special, and only Jim Palmer (tied) had as many shutouts in a season since Bob Gibson's legendary '68 in The Real Year of the Pitcher. It was also (if I'm counting right) in the 20 best full-season ERAs since WW2, lost in the glare of Gooden's golden sophomore season.
From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, Tudor's 1985 was unlike anything else I have ever seen in baseball, and that covers a lot of ball games. He didn't just pitch 10 complete-game shutouts; he created 10 works of art (actually a lot more). They were things of beauty. Even from Maddux in his prime, I have not seen the like since. After the managers' all-star teams are done, I'd love to see candidates for the most "beautiful" performances on the field, lumped together into an all-star team. Obviously this is entirely subjective and cannot be quantified in the way that statistically great performances can, but I think it's important, because if baseball wasn't beautiful, what would be the point of watching it?
Herzog was always the other guys for me in those years. I grew up a Yankees fan, and was still there when Whitey had KC, then got Steinbrennered out and turned to face the Mets, so I got him again with the Cards. I was probably more appreciative of him than any other manager before Bobby Cox, simply because he was always there always fun, and his teams were almost always good. Interesting, also, was going to spring training beck then, and discovering Herzog was the embodiment of the KC and St. Louis fans. Dating myself, ain't I?
YOu should do a Ralph Houk All stars. Might be the only team to have a ton of Sox and yankees on it.
I was thinking about that on a long car trip today. I can guess who would be on it, two of them no surprise to anyone - Mantle and Maris '61. I might do it anyway.
I was thinking about it in the shower the other day. Don't forget to make room for a couple of Tigers - Justin Thompson? Lou Whitaker's rookie season? Hey, Mark Fidrych for sure!