Monday, October 26, 2015

N.Y. Mets: A Royal Change of Fate

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET

THE 111th 

Kansas City Royals

New York Mets

NEW YORK METS: The Kansas City Royals are no strangers to yours truly.  Any mention of them, makes me think of Whitey Herzog, and what could have been an Amazin' era in Mets history.

A brilliant baseball executive in his own right, Bing Devine served as president and general manager of the Mets during the 1966 and 1967 seasons.  Tom Seaver, Jim McAndrew, Jerry Koosman, and Nolan Ryan were just a few players procured during his two seasons in office.

In the years prior, and immediately after his brief stint with the Mets, he built the foundation for much of the great success enjoyed by the St. Louis Cardinals throughout the 1960s. After the 1967 season, the Mets allowed Devine to reunite with August Busch in St. Louis.

Johnny Murphy took over GM duties after Devine's departure, and generally receives most of the credit for the Mets 1969 championship.  Bing Devine's name rarely gets so much as a mention, when he was the one who laid down much of that groundwork.

Enter Whitey Herzog, whom spent two seasons with the A's serving as a scout, then coach, prior to his joining the Mets.  Whitey Herzog inaugurated the first of his seven seasons with the club serving as third base coach in 1966 under manager Wes Westrum.  Under Bing Devine, Whitey became director of player development in 1967, and served in that capacity until 1972.

Herzog is credited with procuring the likes of Gary Gentry, Jon Matlack, John Milner, and Wayne Garrett, while players Ken Singleton, Tim Foli, Burt Hooton, and another fine outfielder named Amos Otis (whom Herzog later managed in K.C.) were all considered good players that got away.

Upon the passing of Gil Hodges, and with Bing Devine entrenched back in St. Louis, Mets minority owner and chairman of the board M. Donald Grant selected coach Yogi Berra over Whitey Herzog for the suddenly vacant managerial position.

That effectively ended Whitey Herzog's time with the Mets.

Herzog moved on, spending one season with the Texas Rangers and California Angels, respectively. He then landed Kansas City's managerial position in 1975, where he fast established an A.L. West power that battled the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series on a near annual basis.

Between 1976 and 1980, the Royals and Yankees faced each other in four of five years, and three ALCS in a row through 1978.

That's where I come in.  In truth, those were some of the greatest playoff games/series I've ever watched.

In 1976, his Royals and the Yankees were locked in an ALCS decisive Game Five thriller at the old Yankee Stadium.  With the score tied heading into the bottom of the ninth, on the very first pitch to lead-off hitter Chris Chambliss, this happened:


I was at that game.  As a 9-year old Mets fan, this game quite literally ruined me.  For sheer pandemonium, chaos, and mayhem, nothing has ever compared since.  We're now talking nearly 40-years after the fact.

I was overseas during the 1980s Mets runs, and have not been to a Mets postseason game that has topped...That!  That's my unfortunate Mets experience and baseball cross to bear.

My pop was a Yankee fan, that's why I was there, but my sports hatred of the Yankees was already germinating.  This game however, forever cemented my unyielding passion for the game of baseball. How could it not?  You saw what happened.  In terms of pure baseball history alone, I knew exactly what I was watching, and how significant the moment was.

All this made me quite familiar with Whitey Herzog.  Two seasons after firing Bing Devine, again, August Busch hired Herzog as the Cardinals manager and general manager (for two seasons).

That put Whitey Herzog in position to finally exact his revenge upon the Mets.  In 1980, he immediately ushered in a new era of - what I characterize as astro-turf conducive Whitey-Ball.  Home runs and overall slugging took a back seat to getting on base and wreaking havoc on the base paths with speed.  In short time, his Cardinals captured the 1982 World Series over the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Mets then began suffering his wrath in earnest.  In 1985, the Mets won 98 games, but still finished three crushing games behind the 1st place Cardinals.  In 1987, the Mets won 92 games, and again finished three games back of the Cardinals.

Despite that, you might say Mets fans owe Whitey Herzog a small debt of gratitude for his dislike of Keith Hernandez, and trading him to Flushing in 1983.  Without Hernandez, the Mets never rise to the level of champions in 1986.

Whenever I think of the Kansas City Royals, I instantly think back to those late 1970's, and that one October 1976 game in particular.  Whitey Herzog's name always rushes to mind first, George Brett second, and (later on) Dan Quisenberry third.

All that being said, it's difficult not imagining what might have been if only the Mets had kept Whitey Herzog and Bing Devine together.  They could have potentially constructed a Queens dynasty for the ages, and one that could have challenged the Big Red Machine for National League supremacy in the 1970's, and beyond.

Think about it...,

Bing Devine was a lead architect of four National League pennant winners and three World Series champions between 1964 and 1969.

Whitey Herzog meanwhile, won three straight A.L. West titles with the Royals in the '70s, then went on to win three National League championships and a World Series title with the Cardinals before his final season at the helm in 1990.

....perchance to dream.

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