Herzog: 'Heaven before I die'

Former St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog entered Baseball's Hall of Fame on Sunday.

Whitey Herzog had to wait nearly 20 years for this day to come. But Sunday in Cooperstown, New York, Herzog's wait was well worth it.

The former Cardinals manager was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame along with former Cub Andre Dawson and former umpire Doug Harvey.

During the early moments of his speech, Herzog recalled a baseball writer's dinner in St. Louis while he was managing the Cardinals in which they were honoring catcher Enos Slaughter for his recent induction to the Hall of Fame. Slaughter made a reference to the fact that he thought he should have been inducted years earlier.

The grateful and touched Herzog said Sunday that the same couldn't be further from the truth for him.

"Anytime is a good time, when you receive an award like this," Herzog said. "I am grateful to the Commissioner's office, the people that elected me, all my buddies back here, and I want it to be known that I had three Hall of Fame players and if all three of them didn't play for me, I wouldn't be here today. I'd probably be back in New Athens, Illinois, digging ditches or something."

Herzog's 11-minute speech touched on everything from his early years as a Minor Leaguer in the Yankees organization to his World Series run with the Cardinals. Herzog seemed relaxed and poised, pausing several times as the crowd cheered his remarks. He wore a wide smile on his face from beginning to end, soaking in every moment of a day that he won't soon forget.

Herzog, who lives in Sunset Hills, remains a fan favorite in St. Louis despite not managing a game for the Cardinals in nearly 20 years. His entire family attended the ceremony, with some coming from outside the country to be in attendance.

Also in the crowd were several of his former players and coaches, including coach Rich Hacker, who coached both first and third base while Herzog was the skipper with the Cardinals.

"I'm just so happy for Whitey," Hacker said by cell phone after the ceremony. "You are happy anytime you see somebody who works at something their whole life get these results. I'm just really happy that Mary Lou and Whitey are able to enjoy this like you hope anyone could enjoy it – with their family and friends.

"He was great to play for, great to work with and work for. He's such a people's person to begin with and as a third base coach, he was always an inning or two ahead of the game. A lot of times the sign I would get, he had already told the runner or the hitter. So much stuff happened as he would think it would happen whenever he called a sign. He was such a good person to work with and a great guy to play for. He's such a complete teacher in every facet of the game."

Herzog joked during his speech that he and fellow inductee Harvey had several arguments over pulling the tarp on the field for rain delays. Harvey rarely wanted to stop play, even when advised by Herzog that a major storm was approaching.

A light rain continued for much of the ceremony, but ironically became heavier as soon as Harvey's speech, which was recorded and played on a video board because of his health, began to play.

"They couldn't have had a weather man predict it any better," Hacker said. "As soon as Doug Harvey started talking, there was a little bit of drizzle and then it started pouring.  Just like Whitey and him had so many arguments about stopping the game and putting the tarp on the field. It was perfect."

Said Herzog: "Doug, I want to say one thing. My sincere congratulations. You're a very deserving guy. It's sunny now, the rain's over, so don't put the tarp on. And one thing – please don't kick me out of Cooperstown."

Herzog managed the Rangers, Angels, Royals and Cardinals but dons a St. Louis cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, representing his three trips to the World Series with the Cardinals including when they won it in 1982. Herzog's Cardinals lost both the 1985 and 1987 World Series' in the seventh and final game.

The now Hall of Fame skipper won six division titles, three league championships and one World Series during his 18-year managerial career.

He received 14 of a possible 16 votes by the veteran's committee in December, joining four other managers of his era in the Hall: Dick Williams, Sparky Anderson, Tommy Lasorda and Earl Weaver.

"When something like this happens to you, you say to yourself, how did this happen?" Herzog told the large crowd gathered in Cooperstown. "And then you start thinking about the good people you worked with, all the good people you worked for, all the good coaches that worked for you. And I had a lot of good players play for me. None of this would have happened if it wasn't for so many illustrious people that helped me."

As if the weekend couldn't have gotten any better for Herzog, the Cardinals announced earlier in the weekend that his No. 24 will be retired by the team during a ceremony on Saturday, July 31, before their game against the Pirates.

The 78-year-old Herzog ended his speech by answering a question that he said was asked to him hundreds of time since he found out in December that he had been elected to the Hall of Fame.

 "Every question was ‘what's it feel like to be a Hall of Famer?'" Herzog said. "Well I didn't know. I said ‘I won't know until July 25'. 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."

A fitting end for a well-deserving man. Regardless of how long he had to wait.


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