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Herzog joins baseball's pantheon

Herzog (UPI photo/Bill Greenblatt)

By Greg Echlin


Cooperstown, N.Y. – Former Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog is now a Hall of Famer. He was inducted Sunday at a ceremony in Cooperstown, New York, but joining baseball's pantheon wasn't the only honor the former skipper received.

Whitey Herzog was barely settled into Cooperstown for the weekend when he was informed by Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. at a private team reception Friday night that the Cardinals are going to retire the No. 24 he wore during his time in the Cardinals dugout. Herzog will be the 13th individual in Cardinals history to have his number retired.

"It really hit me because I didn't know that was going to happen," says Herzog. "I really think that's a heck of an honor, almost like Cooperstown. A heck of an honor, but I broke down a little bit."

Herzog's number will be officially retired this Saturday when the Cardinals are at home to play the Pittsburgh Pirates. Feeling the weight of that announcement made Herzog more concerned about his Hall of Fame induction speech. Would he be able to handle it emotionally? A couple of Cardinal Hall of Famers who played for him knew the feeling.

Bruce Sutter pitched in the deciding game of the 1982 World Series against the Milwaukee Brewers, but he says he was more nervous the day he went into the Hall of Fame

"Oh, absolutely," Sutter says. "More than anything I've ever done."

According to Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, it's not so much what you say while at the podium. Rather, it's the fear of neglecting someone important.

"When you're preparing your speech, you don't want to leave anybody out," Smith says. "None of us make it here without having someone or a gamut of people who are instrumental in your life. You just want to make sure you don't forget anybody."

There were many who steered Herzog on a successful path as a manager. His credits include three division titles with Kansas City, three National League pennants with the Cardinals and the '82 World Series championship. With teams built around pitching, speed and defense, the style of play in St. Louis came to be known as "Whiteyball." As a manager, he had his teams well-prepared, but Herzog says when it was his turn to give his Hall of Fame speech, he was going to wing a lot of it.

Because of what he said were "long-winded" remarks that preceded him, Herzog curtailed the length of his talk. But he inevitably dwelled on former New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel, the biggest influence on Herzog's baseball career.

"He had his own language and it took me hours sometimes to figure him out," Herzog said. "But the big thing about Casey was they thought he was a clown when they brought him back to New York. But Casey was an outstanding teacher. He was a very smart baseball man and he and I became fast friends. I'm not going to tell the story, but the reason he took a liking to me and I was almost like a pet to him. He played with Buck Herzog and I'm sure he thought I was his grandson. I'm sure he thought that!"

After some levity, Herzog was most emotional in his concluding remarks. It was when the moment sunk in.

"Every question that anybody asks me is this: What's it feel like to be a Hall of Famer? Well, I didn't know," Herzog said. "I kept saying I won't know until July 25th. Well now, I can tell you what it feels like. Being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, is like going to heaven before you die."

Also inducted Sunday were Andre Dawson, who played for the Expos and Cubs, and umpire Doug Harvey.


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