Whitey Herzog enjoys success of one of his proteges of sorts — Joe Maddon

Cardinals legend Whitey Herzog appreciates Joe Maddon's Cubs mission.

For a Cardinals legend, Whitey Herzog sure sounded excited extolling the virtues of the Cubs and manager Joe Maddon, who considers the Hall of Famer a mentor.

"When you look at the Cubbies, you have a catcher in (Miguel) Montero who has done a great job and then they bring up (Kyle) Schwarber, who went on a tear when the offense was bad,'' Herzog said from his home in Sunset Hills, Mo. "You have an infield with (Addison) Russell and (Kris) Bryant, unless he plays right, and (Starlin) Castro and (Anthony) Rizzo and, goddamn, that's a lot of good young ballplayers who will be around for a while.''

Herzog sighed. He had to catch his breath before addressing the Cubs' pitching staff, which he knew as well as someone with Pedro Strop on his fantasy team.

"I don't think Joe has all the pieces yet in the bullpen … but he's close, and startingwise nobody has been better than Jake Arrieta, and with (Jon) Lester, Jesus Christ, they have a hell of a chance in the playoffs against whoever,'' Herzog said. "You know, the Cubs and Cardinals for the next few years is going to be one heck of a series."

Thanks in large part to Maddon, whose path first crossed Herzog's 24 years ago when both were in the Angels organization, the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry has been revived in terms of competitiveness and — after Friday's beaning incident — combativeness. Maddon has injected energy and ambition into the Cubs while instilling a long-term vision of success similar to the way Herzog resuscitated the Cardinals in 1980 enough to enjoy a 10-year run that included a World Series title.

"Joe's personality is just perfect for all the young players the Cubs have — they're going to be a team to be reckoned with,'' said Herzog, 83. "Managing really is handling people, and the press. I don't think there's anybody right now as a big-league manager who does that any better than Joe does.''

Herzog was the Angels' newly hired director of player personnel in 1991 and Maddon the team's coordinator of the Arizona Instructional League when they started working together. Herzog's first order of business brought him to the desert.

"All the scouts around the league were telling me the Angels had no minor-league prospects, so I went to meet with Joe and (coach) Bob Clear,'' Herzog recalled. "They were two of the best baseball people I've ever seen. I spent a lot of good times in the minor leagues with Joe.''

They would discuss philosophies and fundamentals, share hopes for the Angels' future and an appreciation for the Cardinals' past. In 1962, Maddon's dad took his 8-year-old son to Yankee Stadium and told him to pick out a hat at the concession stand. Young Joe picked a red Cardinals cap, and the boy who grew up rooting for the Redbirds savored getting to know one of the franchise's best managers ever.

And whenever they were together at an Angels minor-league outpost, it always struck Maddon how quickly the crowd gathered around the two extroverts, due mostly to Herzog's magnetic personality.

"When Whitey showed up, people would come to talk to him and he'd entertain them,'' Maddon said. "But the biggest impression was just his scouting acumen, his ability to recognize a major-league baseball player.''

At the time, the Angels' system included highly touted prospects — such as Tim Salmon, Damion Easley and Garret Anderson — considered the organization's 1990s nucleus. The hype surrounding the Cubs' current batch of rookies reminds Maddon of that Angels core, which began to flourish after Herzog offered his stamp of approval — which, in effect, endorsed Maddon's developmental work too. Herzog laughed recalling the way his evaluation "shocked the hell out of everybody.''

"Whitey blessed the prospects so everybody believed they could be major-league players when, prior to that, nobody wanted to just say, yes, Salmon is a big-leaguer,'' Maddon said. "But when Whitey said these guys can play, everything changed. I was thrilled because I was running the minor leagues.''

Once Maddon was running a major-league team from the dugout, Herzog's influence went beyond keeping beer in the manager's office to offer reporters. Besides late Angels manager Gene Mauch, perhaps no other baseball voice speaks louder inside Maddon's head before, during and after games. Trust your instincts. Be smart and aggressive. Speak your mind. Herzog has felt a sense of pride seeing Maddon utilize his entire Cubs roster this season depending on the pitching matchup. And the old-school directness Maddon flashed Friday after Cardinals pitcher Matt Belisle hit Anthony Rizzo surely made Herzog smile.

"Whitey was very impactful for me,'' Maddon said.

The feeling was mutual.

"Players respect Joe because they know he's honest,'' said Herzog, who visited Maddon when the Cubs played in St. Louis. "I've always thought if the manager gets down, it goes from there. And I don't think that ever happens to Joe. That's his main attribute. Every night he thinks he has a chance to win because he puts so much confidence in his players that they believe they can beat anybody.''

Even the team closest to Herzog's heart — and maybe especially the Cardinals.

dhaugh@tribpub.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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