Hardly anybody in baseball knows more about cocaine than Whitey Herzog.

He wishes it wasn't that way.

"Keith Hernandez said on the witness stand that he thought 40 percent of the players in baseball were using cocaine in the early '80s," said the St. Louis manager in an interview today. "I think Keith meant 40 percent of the Cardinals.

"That would be 10 players. By my count, that's a little low. I'd say we had 11 who were heavy users . . .

"It got so bad that when we went to Montreal, which was where they all seemed to get it, I had to have us fly in on the day of the game. That way, I knew we'd play decent for one night, even though the rest of the trip might be a lost cause.

"One day in Montreal, our pitcher hit an Expo -- the guy who might have been the biggest dealer in the league -- with a pitch. One of my own infielders comes in and chews out our pitcher on the mound because he's afraid his drug dealer is going to get beaned.

"I don't know how many players that (Expo) guy supplied. He ruined his own talent, but teams just keep giving him chances. He's still playing."

Almost every important Herzog trade since 1980 has, in retrospect, unloaded one of his confessed, rehabilitated or suspected cocaine abusers. "We might have one player now who's been part of that scene -- at most," said Herzog. "The guy who was mentioned in the (Pittsburgh cocaine-trafficking) trial."

Pitcher Joaquin Andujar was mentioned by Lonnie Smith and Keith Hernandez, both members of the Cardinals at that time, as a player with whom they used cocaine. But, asked specifically if they knew of other St. Louis players who used cocaine, Smith and Hernandez said they didn't.

Herzog's managerial problems with cocaine use among players go back to his years in Kansas City in the late 1970s. "I'll always be convinced that cocaine cost me a world title with the Royals," he said.

One Royal was so strung out in a vital playoff game that he performed more like a drunk than a professional athlete, Herzog said.

Three years after Herzog left, in 1983, four Royals ended up in jail on drug convictions, but the problem went further back.

Herzog has been in baseball 35 years and he knows all the uncodified mores in the game. From Babe Ruth's time, players have been tolerant of other's large appetites. The only rule was that, no matter what you did at night, you were ready to function at game time.

"(California coach) Jimmy Reese roomed with Ruth and said the Babe'd think nothing of drinking two cases of beer and (eating) a dozen hot dogs in a day . . . ," Herzog said.

"I used to have just as much fun with nickel beer and a girlfriend as they do now. The difference is alcohol leaves your system . . . I remember a Card player in the '60s who'd stay out all night in Chicago, but you'd see him at Wrigley Field at 9 a.m., running. He'd say, 'Gotta do 25 laps.' By noon, he'd say, 'Can't believe it. I feel great.' "

It's doubtful that the faculty at Johns Hopkins would endorse Herzog's views on acceptable maintenance of the human body. However, his views mirror those of baseball: live as you prefer, but if you aren't ready to play ball then you're a thief for stealing your salary and a bum for cheating your teammates.

"These guys are so rich they can afford any amount of drugs," said Herzog. "Once they start, they can't stop until it's gone."

With liquor, a player sleeps it off. With cocaine, he may not sleep for days, then is exhausted while recovering. The "cure" is more cocaine.

That, especially in baseball with its 162 games, is where risky recreation turns into addiction. Perhaps no job is a more perfect "coke" trap than playing baseball, with the game's huge salaries, dead time on the road and games that end just as the night life revs up.

The vast pressures of performance, plus the very nature of baseball, which tends to emphasize repeated failure, make cocaine both a release and a refuge. In retrospect, we may someday be surprised baseball did not produce more addicts.

As the horror stories have mounted, ballplayers have begun to realize how uniquely ill-suited cocaine is to their life style. Since adolescence, they've been able to party longer, recover faster and tolerate more pain than their peers. How were they to know that all the traits they'd counted upon so long would merely redouble their chances of getting hooked on drugs?

"It's a society problem, not a baseball problem," said Herzog. "When you go to the seminars I've been to and learn how unusual it is for a child to get through the fourth grade without having had contact with (narcotics), you don't blame the players so much.

"They've been introduced early . . . then the big money falls in their lap."

With the years, Herzog feels he's become expert at spotting players who have gone over the edge on drugs. "I can see the changes in their play and personality. When they know that I know, that's when it's really bad. They can't look at you any more.

"I'm sure drug use is way down and has been for a couple of years," Herzog said. "It's not extinct . . .

"But it used to be the smart thing to do. Now it's considered dumb."

That, Herzog believes, is why players have been surprisingly receptive to Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth's voluntary drug-testing program this week.

"Voluntary testing is coming," Herzog said. "The players see the need . . .

"But I don't know what in the world (the commissioner) was thinking about to do it the way he did," said Herzog. "You can't bypass the union and expect the players to respond . . . They're not going to sign anything on the spur of the moment when no proposal's been spelled out . . . There's a players' rep meeting after the season. It could easily have been brought up then."

All of which makes Herzog wonder what Ueberroth is cooking up.

"I have this idea," he said. "I see Ueberroth calling (union boss) Don Fehr into his office -- just the two of them -- and saying, 'I'll deny this if you claim I said it, but I'll tell you what I'm going to do. Your union is either going to accept voluntary drug testing or I'm going to suspend every player implicated in the Pittsburgh trial for a year without salary.' "

Herzog chuckles at the thought of the $1-million-plus annual salaries of Dave Parker, Hernandez and others who are knee-deep in scandal confessions.

Herzog is pleased with his fantasy scenario. But a pennant still has to be won here in this park along the Mississippi, and a lineup card written. As Herzog resumes his work, friends wander into his office.

"How ya doin'?" says Herzog, opening the refrigerator a foot from his desk. "Anybody want a beer?"