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April 27, 2010

Whitey takes tour down memory lane

Herzog visits Baseball Hall in preparation for July induction

COOPERSTOWN _ For one short stint during his playing career, Whitey Herzog made more money than Mickey Mantle.

The two signed out of high school with the New York Yankees in 1949. Then, of course, they went on vastly different career paths, but Herzog will have something else in common with Mantle on July 25 _ plaques in Cooperstown's Baseball Hall of Fame.

Veterans committee selection Herzog took his orientation tour Monday at the Cooperstown shrine and shared a little-known nugget about the New York Yankees great Mantle, who died in 1995 at the age of 63.

"When I got out of school, I signed with the Yankees," Herzog said of his rookie season. "I was 5-foot-9, 150 (pounds). I got $1,500 bonus and $150 a month. Mickey signed, he was the same age as me, one month older, and he signed with the Yankees for $1,000 bonus and $150 a month. They should have fired that scout who signed me. I got more money than Mantle. And that's the only time in my life that I got more money than Mickey."

Mantle, who retired in 1968 with 536 career homers, earned election to the Hall in 1974. Herzog never played a big-league game with the Yanks, but played eight seasons between the Washington Senators, Kansas City Athletics, Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers.

Herzog's election came not from his playing ability, but rather his managing.

He managed 18 seasons in the major leagues with the Texas Rangers, California Angels, Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals. He made his mark with the Cardinals, winning three National League championships and the 1982 World Series. He managed 11 seasons in St. Louis, his last coming in 1990.

He went 1,279-1,123 over a career that included three American League West titles with Kansas City, where he managed for five seasons.

He used an aggressive style _ running when possible as many of his teams lacked pop of a long-ball hitter, he said.

"We had to do things," Herzog said as he sat in the Plaque Gallery of the Hall, casually dressed in khaki pants and a golf shirt. "In the old days, if I could keep my team from allowing over 100 home runs and we could hit 60, we'd have a chance to win. ... The first time I won a division in Kansas City, in 1976, 77, 78, we would start off the season trying to break Maris' record (61 home runs) as a team. We broke it in 1976 with 65 and won the division."

Herzog, who said this was his 12th trip to the Hall, seemed relaxed and at ease Monday. The 78-year-old is the 20th manager to be elected to the Hall of Fame, the last being Dick Williams in 2008.

Herzog will be enshrined July 25 at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown alongside fellow Veterans Committee selection Doug Harvey, and Andre Dawson, the lone selection from the Baseball Writers' Association of America election

Also being honored will be Ford C. Frick Award (broadcasting excellence) winner Jon Miller and J.G. Taylor Spink Award (writing excellence) honoree Bill Madden of the New York Daily News.

"It's like putting the icing on the cake," Herzog said. "It's the highest honor you can receive if you're ever in professional baseball or part of baseball, so I'm very elated about that. I'm looking forward to July 25. I'll be happy when it's all over. I don't know whether I'm going to get choked up or break down. I hope I don't, but you never know. I don't know what's going to happen to old Whitey."

Herzog said he was impressed with the tour, especially with some of the items that the Hall dug up from his past.

"When they called me, they asked if I had anything from McAlester, Okla. I signed and went to McAlester in 1949," he said. "I'm playing Class C baseball. Now do you think I saved anything from McAlester, Okla., for the Hall of Fame? Are you kidding me? I'm worried about getting to Joplin, for crying out loud. I said 'I ain't got anything.' They said 'Don't you have a picture?' I said 'I don't have anything.' They had the brownie cameras back then. You couldn't move. Otherwise you got blurred.

"I went through every aspect of the Hall today and got to see all the pictures they got from my career and so forth," he continued. "I want to know who the hell was dumb enough to take all those pictures?"

Herzog shared stories Monday, recalling tidbits from dealing with Casey Stengel to skipping high school to go watch the St. Louis Browns or St. Louis Cardinals to the state of baseball today.

He spent a lot of his 20-plus-minute sitdown talking about Stengel and the influence he had on Herzog's career.

Herzog said Stengel was a great fundamental teacher. After getting out of the Army, he said he spent the spring of 1954 in the Yankees' rookie camp and he got to know Stengel well.

One of his stories involved Mantle, who got sick before a spring training game in 1954. So Stengel scratched Mantle and inserted Herzog in the No. 3 spot.

"There was no way I should hit third," Herzog said. "But he didn't want to re-write the lineup."

In the first inning, Herzog said he took a 3-2 curveball from Brooklyn pitcher Carl Erskine. With the bases loaded the next time Herzog came up, Stengel talked to him before the at-bat.

"I went over and he said, 'tra-la-la.' I didn't know what the hell he was talking about," Herzog said. "I get back in there and I was looking for a curveball because Erskine had one of the best in the history of the game. I hit a line drive and Charlie Neal jumped and caught it and doubled the guy off second and the inning was over.

"(Stengel) comes running up to me and says 'See what I mean? Tra-la-la,'" he continued. "I got back to the bedroom and I'm going to bed and I thought 'What the hell is he talking about?' I finally figured out that he was trying to tell me to relax. He had his own language, Casey did. Sometimes it took you a day and a half to figured what the hell he was talking about."

Still, Herzog said during those days he never could figure out why Stengel _ the winner of 10 AL pennants and seven World Series titles with the Yankees from 1949-60 _ spent so much time around a kid who got No. 74 one year in spring training.

Turns out, Herzog said, he read a book about John McGraw's New York Giants teams and there was a player named Buck Herzog.

"I know darn well that Casey thought I was (Buck Herzog's) grandson and that's why he spent time with me," said Herzog, no relation to Buck Herzog. "He spent a lot of time with me and I know to this day if he had ever said, 'How is your grandpa doing?' I'd have said fine. I wasn't going to tell him any different, I'll tell you that."

P.J. Harmer can be reached at or 607-432-1000, ext. 229.

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