It’s been great to see St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Chris Carpenter in the dugout with the team the past couple of games. Likewise, Willie McGee has the same effect when he joins the team for pregame activities and Ozzie Smith also has a locker in the coaches room at Busch Stadium with his name on it.
Their insight, perspectives, attitudes, lessons, stories–all and any of the above are welcomed by the organization.
On that note, as the team honored the 1987 National League Championship team last weekend, it was a reminder of how strange it is that the Cardinals don’t have a larger representation of coaches, and in particular, managers who played on the team from that era.
Pittsburgh’s Clint Hurdle played in 78 games with St. Louis in 1986 and he came up under Whitey Herzog in Kansas City.
But what about the likes of Tommy Herr, Tom Lawless, Ken Oberkfell, and Terry Pendleton? These aren’t just former players looking to cash in on having played or been part of some pretty good teams, but have coaching and managerial stops on their resumes.
“Honestly, I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen for any of us–and that’s not a knock against any of us,” said Pendleton, who’s currently the bench coach for the Atlanta Braves. “I can’t say the game has changed, but people in the game have changed and their ideals are sometimes a little different than the way ours were as an ‘old-school’ player. So that can definitely make a difference.”
“I don’t know, you’d love for it to happen,” echoed Lawless. “It’s just being in the right place at the right time and having that right guy call you. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Lawless had a brief shot as a manager in the big leagues, stepping in on an interim basis when Bo Porter was fired by the Astros in 2014. Houston went 11-13 under his watch.
Obkerfell has served as the bench coach and first base coach with the New York Mets. He also spent a pair of seasons as the Triple-A manager for the Mets and was named by Baseball America as the 2005 Minor League Manager of the Year. Today, he’s the hitting coach for the Gateway Grizzlies.
All of these players have the benefit of having played under Whitey Herzog. Pendleton also played under another Hall of Fame manager in Bobby Cox. After his playing days, Terry then moved to hitting coach and later first base coach with the Braves.
“I think the newer GMs that are coming in now are looking for the younger managers,” said Pendleton. “Maybe our days have passed as far as that’s concerned. I’m not certain of that. I don’t want to stereotype anybody anywhere with that, but it just seems like the newer managers or some of the guys who have managed already are getting other opportunities when they’re let go in other places.”
Herr managed in the Independent League before spending a season in charge of the Single-A team for the Washington Nationals.
“I don’t know if any of those opportunities are still out there, but obviously, yes, that’s what I know best,” said Herr. “That’s the element I’m comfortable in so I would love to see that opportunity present itself.”
Lawless sees the value in the information and new resources available today, but also the experience of what a Herr, Oberkfell, or Pendleton could bring to the job.
“Those kind of guys, they’ve done it,” he points out. “They know what to expect. They know how to deal with people. That’s a big part of it and I think that’s what lost right now, somewhat right now in today’s game. So it is what it is.”
“All the time, Whitey was the best manager around,” said Lawless of drawing on that experience. “To be able to pull things from him, watch him–how he ran the baseball game, how he ran the clubhouse, how he communicated with all the individual players.”
And that is one of the bigger lessons that Lawless has tried to apply whenever he’s been at the helm of a team.
“All I do is try to communicate,” he explained. “They’re not my best friend but I try to get them to communicate because the only way you can get them to play baseball the right way is they’ve got to trust you and they’ve got to be able to talk to you. If they’re afraid to talk to you then they’re not going to go out there and play the game the way they know how to.
“It’s an easy thing for me, I’m laid back to begin with. That was easy for me when I went down to Houston, I had a lot of those kids in the minor leagues so I said ‘hey, go out and play baseball. If you’ve got a problem, you need anything, come and talk to me.’ I think just talking to them makes them feel at ease. ‘Hey, what’d you do today? Did you go play golf? Did you go fishing? What’d you do today, anything?’ You get that going back and forth, that dialogue, and all of sudden now they feel so much more comfortable. The more comfortable they feel, the better they’re gonna play.”
The Cardinals do a terrific job of reaching out to their alumni and keeping them involved in the form of fantasy camps, the Winter Warm-Up, reunions, etc. And Mike Matheny and his coaching staff have been open to guest instructors and visits at Spring Training and even the regular season. Let’s hope that even if the ship has sailed for an MLB opportunity, these alumni are encouraged to be a larger resource for those in the organization.
photo credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports