Thursday, December 9, 2010
#34 Babe Herman
Floyd Caves "Babe" Herman is one of long list of baseball characters, but was also one of the most feared hitters of his era. Born in Buffalo, New York, in 1903, Herman's family moved to California at an early age. As scouts caught word of the teen's hitting ability, Herman was signed to a minor league deal with Edmonton in 1921. His hitting caught the attention of Ty Cobb, who was managing the Detroit Tigers, and was invited to the club's spring training in 1922. Despite a decent showing, he could not crack into the Tigers outfield and was farmed out. In 1925, he was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He joined the Dodgers in 1926, and quickly became a fan favorite.
Herman batted .319 in his rookie year, with 11 home runs, a .500 slugging percentage and a 16th-place finish in the NL MVP voting. He played most of the season at first base, but his fielding was atrocious, committing 14 errors in 101 games. In 1927, he had over 21 errors, and Brooklyn moved him to the outfield. As Brooklyn's rightfielder, he quickly gained the reputation as the worst fielder in the game, committing over 10 errors in five of his first 6 seasons roaming the outfield. Fresco Thompson, a teammate of Babe's, said of Herman: "He wore a glove for one reason: because it was a league custom."
It was easy to forgive his defensive shortcomings, though, because the man could hit. He batted .340 in 1928, followed with a .381 and a .393 average, both of which placed him second in the NL Batting race. Aside from his .393 average in 1930, he also belted 35 home runs and batted in 130 runs. After 1931, he was sent to the Cincinnati Reds where he batted .326 and led the senior circuit in triples. He was then dealt to the Cubs where his career began to tail off. In 1935, he began the season with Pittsburgh, and was sent back to the Reds. In 1937, at 34 years of age, he hung it up after a 17 games with the Tigers. He played for Hollywood in the PCL until World War 2 came around. With major league rosters depleted as player were out fighting the war, Herman returned to the Dodgers in 1945 at 42 years of age. He played in 37 games before finally calling it a career. He finished with a .324 lifetime average, 1818 hits at 997 RBI.
Herman's legacy is not his hitting, or even his poor fielding. It was his colorful personality and amiable charisma. His most notable moment was occurred in 1926. With Hank DeBerry on third, Dazzy Vance on second and Chick Fewster on first with no one out, Herman lined one into the gap. DeBerry scored the go-ahead run easily. Vance held up a moment to see if the ball was to be caught by the fielder, but when he saw it was going to fall in, took off for third and headed home. Fewster was running on the pitch, and Herman was chugging away full speed. As Herman hit second base, he chose to try and stretch the double into a triple. Unfortunately for Herman, Fewster held up at third and Herman slid in well ahead of the throw, only to find Fewster standing on the base. To make matters even worse, also sliding into third base from home plate was Vance, who thought the throw was headed home and returned to third. Of course, the base went to the lead runner (Vance) and both Fewster and Herman were called out for passing the runner. Babe Herman became the only player in history to ever double into a double play. Despite this a numerous other gaffes in his career, Herman was the first player to hit for the cycle three times, and also hit the first home run in a night game in 1935.
After his playing days ended, Herman served as a scout for 22 years. In the mid 1980's, Babe suffered a series of strokes that limited his mobility. Finally, in November of 1987, Herman died of pneumonia at the age of 84.
The Autograph: Herman signed whenever he was physically able, but his strokes limited his abilities by the time I got this card signed, probably at most a year before his death.
In the photo below, Babe Herman and Larry French ponder a new career behind the camera.