Sunday, November 27, 2005

November 27th, 1987

Babe Herman Dies

Usually known as "The Other Babe," Herman had the misfortune to be a contemporary of "The Babe," that is to say, Ruth. Herman is also known as something of a punch line, on account of his weakness in any part of the field that wasn't the batter's box. During his rookie season with the Dodgers, Herman--allegedly--doubled with the bases loaded. The runner on third scored easily, while the runner on second rounded third and headed for home and the runner on first tried to get Babe three RBIs on the play. Herman, meanwhile, had decided he was getting a triple out of all this, and was steadily chugging for third himself. The Dodgers third base coach realized this was going to be a problem and began shouting at Herman, "Back! Back!" However, in the confusion the runner who had been on second thought this was in reference to him and began retreating back to third, while the runner who had been on first arrived followed shortly thereafter by Herman. After what one imagines was a brief discussion of the rules and the joys of a nice, simple career in accounting, the umpires ruled that the runner who had been on second was out (since the base "belongs" to the lead runner) and that Herman was out for passing a runner--although it seems to me this was probably more on general principles for his having started the whole mess. The next day it was reported that "Babe Herman did not triple into a triple play, but he doubled into a double play, which is the next best thing."

Herman's other problem was that he was not exactly a defensive superstar. In 1927, despite playing in just one hundred and five games there, Herman lead the league in errors with twenty-one at first base. Deciding he could do less damage out of the infield, he was moved to the outfield in 1928 where he did indeed make fewer errors (just sixteen in roughly twenty more games) he nevertheless led the league in that total again, and repeated the dubious honor in 1929. It is probably around this time that the story began circulating that Herman had been hit on the head with a fly ball, one he denied vehemently for the rest of his life. (Having myself been struck on the head with a fly ball, I can tell you it is actually not altogether that bad, although painful, you're generally too dazed to actual feel any real embarrassment.)

Nonetheless, Herman was--in his words --a "pretty fair country hitter" who posted an OPS+ in the top ten nine times in a thirteen year career, finished second in the batting race in back-to-back years, 1929 and '30 and holds the distinction of having hit the first home run ever in a night game. He is not a Hall of Famer--despite some statements to the contrary by the ubiquitous "Old-Timers" who claim his poor defensive reputation unfairly crippled his Hall of Fame chances--but he was an excellent hitter for a sustained period and there's nothing wrong with that; if he could only play today, he'd be the DH somewhere and raking in the cash. Such are the vagaries of life, I suppose.

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