Tommy Herr: 'You're Always on God's Team'
Tommy Herr: 'You're Always on God's Team'
When Tommy Herr was traded to another team, he felt like his career was over. God had another plan.
I still don't believe it.
Friday night, April 22, 1988. Busch Stadium. I'm in total shock. I'm sitting here in front of my locker in a nearly empty Cardinal clubhouse, half in and half out of my white home uniform with the famous St. Louis redbirds across the front. There are lots of surprises in life, and especially in baseball, but this is not one I saw coming. No way.
Earlier this evening we dropped a close game to the New York Mets, our archrivals in the National League's tough Eastern Division. I came off the field feeling tired and a bit discouraged. It's funny how much more tired you feel when you've lost. The hit I'd managed off Mets ace Ron Darling looked like a meager accomplishment in the face of our defeat.
Well, we'd just have to go out and get 'em tomorrow. Or so I thought.
As I was brooding on our loss—and the Cards' slow start, someone tapped me on the shoulder. "Whitey wants to see ya."
"Whitey" is Whitey Herzog, the legendary manager of the Cards and one of the shrewdest minds in baseball. I've played for Whitey my entire major league career, and being summoned to his office is still a little like being called into your dad's study as a kid. Not everyone likes Whitey, but everyone respects him. I think he's terrific. He's taught me most of what I know about playing major league ball, transforming a shy kid from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, into an all-star second baseman with some pop in his bat and some speed on the bases. I've played in three World Series for Whitey and the Cards. I've always considered it a great honor to wear the St. Louis uniform.
Wonder what Skip wants , I mused wearily, making my way to the cramped little office behind a wall of lockers. Maybe a pep talk, though why, when I was having one of my hottest starts ever, a nine-game hitting streak and hitting safely in 11 of 12 games. Still, none of that mattered if we weren't winning.
As soon as I stepped through the door I knew something big was up. General manager Dal Maxvill was standing behind Whitey, who was seated at his desk.
"Sit down, Tom," said Whitey, pointing to a chair and running his hand across the snow-white brush cut for which he is nicknamed. Dal dosed the door quietly behind me as I lowered myself into the chair. I looked at Whitey and then at Dal questioningly. I felt my stomach start to churn. Oh, no , I thought. Not me!
"Tommy," Whitey began in a tired, even tone, planting his elbows on the cluttered desktop and leaning forward, "you've been a fine player for me for nearly eight seasons. You've given the Cards everything we've asked of you. But..."
That "but" stopped my heart.
"But," said Whitey, drawing a deep breath, "we've traded you to the Twins for Tom Brunansky."
For an instant, time seemed to stand still. I kept trying to define and redefine the word trade in my head. I knew exactly what it meant: to exchange, to swap, to get rid of. I just wanted it to mean something different this one time. I wanted to make believe I was being asked my opinion of such a wild idea, not being told that it was a done deal.
Dal took over, earnestly trying to explain why the move was good for both the players and their teams, and how the Cards desperately needed a power-hitting right fielder like Brunansky. I didn't hear most of what was being said. Whitey folded his arms across his chest and stared down at the clutter. My eyes rested on a picture on the wall behind him—my picture—hanging along with some of the other veterans of pennant-winning and world-championship Cardinal teams: shortstop Ozzie Smith, pitcher Bob Forsch, outfielder Willie McGee. I wondered if Whitey would take down my picture now.
"...the Twins, of course, will contact your agent about your contract..."
I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it: no longer a Cardinal. I'd started my career here. I'd expected to finish it in St. Louis as well. I was in my prime as a ballplayer. Thirty-two years old. What about my friends on the team? Our locker-room Bible study group? Why? Why didn't Whitey and the Cards want me anymore?
"I think you understand management's position." Dal was winding up. "The Twins would like you to report in time for tomorrow night's game against the Cleveland Indians in Minneapolis. Good luck, Tom."
I just wanted to get out of that office. Be by myself. Lick my wounds. Whitey was looking at me blankly. What emotions was he masking? I knew this wasn't easy for him either. Almost as if in slow-motion replay, he stretched out his hand to mine. A dozen thoughts swirled in my head. How would I break the news to Kim and the kids back home in Lancaster? To my folks? What would I do with our condominium in St. Louis? Where would I live in Minneapolis? I didn't know a soul there. How could I play baseball in anything other than a Cardinal uniform?
When I walked out of the skipper's office a media horde was waiting. Amazing how news travels. I faced them in a daze. They posed all the expected questions: Are you sorry to leave St. Louis? (Yes.) Will you like playing for the Twins? (I hope so.) Are you bitter at the Cards, Tommy? (A little bit, I'm afraid, but I'm trying to understand.) Private moments can be so public when you're a professional athlete.
So here I am, sitting listlessly in front of my locker. I mean, my former locker. Number 28. It's nearly midnight. Everyone's gone home. I'd better get moving. I start to pull off my red stirrup socks and the rest of my Cardinal uniform. It will be for the last time. It hurts.