COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Whitey Herzog figures he's been to Cooperstown about a dozen times. He knows his next visit will be unforgettable.
Herzog, who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 25, toured the museum on Monday with his wife, Mary Lou, in preparation for his big day and called it "the highest honor you could receive if you were ever in professional baseball or part of baseball."
The 20th manager to make the Hall, Herzog was elected in December by the Veterans Committee. He will be inducted along with Andre Dawson, umpire Doug Harvey, broadcaster Jon Miller and sports writer Bill Madden of the Daily News of New York. Herzog held just about every job imaginable in baseball -- player, scout, general manager, coach, and farm system director. It was as a manager that he made his lasting mark, though. He did it for 18 seasons, 11 with the St. Louis Cardinals after stints in Texas, California and Kansas City, and won six divisional titles, three pennants, and the 1982 World Series.
He finished his managing career in 1990 with a record of 1,279-1,123, a .532 winning percentage.
Dressed in khakis and a maroon golf shirt, Herzog, his trademark brush cut tinged with the tiniest of gray flecks and a chaw in his mouth, took several strolls down memory lane as he and his wife, Mary Lou, strolled the hallways.
"I wanted to be a ballplayer, but I was probably a better basketball player," said Herzog, who batted .257 and hit 25 homers in eight major league seasons, mostly as an outfielder. "During my high school [years], I didn't hit the books. I didn't study. As long as I stayed eligible and got passing grades, I wasn't worried about going to college."
And so he'd skip school and travel the 25-30 miles from his home in New Athens, Ill. to St. Louis to see the Cardinals and (St. Louis) Browns play.
"I'd tell my mom I was going to the store and the first truck would pick me up," said Herzog, who delivered newspapers for spending money. "I'd take a bus to St. Louis for a dime, take the street car for a dime up to Sportsman's Park. It cost $1.25 for general admission."
Once there, he'd sneak into the upper deck, which was closed, and get enough to more than pay for each trip.
"I'd fill my pockets with six baseballs," he said. "I'd put three in my pocket, sell three for $1 apiece. Coca-cola was a dime, a hot dog was 15 [cents]. I went home with $2.55 in my pocket and three baseballs. The principal would never tell my mother I skipped school because he knew I was never going to be a Rhodes Scholar."
"He would say, 'You're going to manage someday,'" Hezog recalled. "He said, 'You're going to be interviewed a lot and you've got to handle the media. They're going to come for interviews and here's the way you handle it.
"The first thing you say is, how much time you got? They say 10 minutes. How many questions you gonna ask me? They say, three. Let them ask you the first question, keep talking for 10 minutes and you only get in one-third the trouble.'
"That's good advice," said Herzog, who remains a rare breed.
He also credited the New York media for his long managing career because they wrote so many stories about his stint as third-base coach of the Mets in the late 1960s.
"If it hadn't been for the New York press, I don't think I'd ever gotten the chance," he recalled. "The press kept writing articles about me. I coached third base very aggressively because we had struck out 1,300 times the year before, and I'd rather take a chance on the outfielder's arm than the next guy striking out.
"They all knew with two outs they were going, and if there was one out, they're going 95 percent of the time. That's the way we played."
Herzog returned the favor at least once.
"He taught me how to watch baseball, how to deal with people," said Rick Hummel, longtime baseball writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who was inducted three years ago and accompanied Herzog on Monday's tour. "He's the reason I'm here. I'm not the reason he's here."