Babe Herman

Herman was part of a group of hard-hitting outfielders, perhaps the best of the lot, who came up in the 1920s but were blocked from having a long, successful career for various reasons. First, there were only 16 big league clubs; second, the reserve clause kept a player bound to one team indefinitely, and if that team didn’t want the player on their major league roster, they didn’t have to do anything with him; and third, there were several minor leagues that offered good pay and a chance to show off your stuff. Herman got caught up in that system, and as a result he missed out on 4-5 seasons of regular play in the big leagues.

The most glaring mistake in evaluation was made by a man who should have known better – Ty Cobb. The illustrious player/manager invited 19-year old Herman to spring training in San Antonio in 1922. But The Peach had several big bats already in his outfield, and Herman was never a great defensive player, so Cobb let him loose. It was pretty obvious in retrospect that the Babe (he gave himself that nickname to emulate his hero, the great Bambino) was ready for major league pitching. Herman went down to Omaha in the Western League and hit .416 in 92 games. The next season he led the Southern Association in batting but still couldn’t get a crack at a major league job. It wasn’t until three years later, in 1926, that Brooklyn gave him a chance. Playing anywhere in the field he was asked, Herman hit .319 in his rookie season with 35 doubles, 11 triples, and 11 home runs. He hit .340 in his third season for the Robins, and increased his average the next two years: to .381 and .393 with awesome extra-base power. From 1929-1931, the left-handed swinger averaged 44 doubles, 13 triples, and 25 homers for Brooklyn, while going .362/.419/.605 at the dish. He was one of the National League’s best hitters.

In the field and on the base paths, Herman had a different reputation. He was clumsy, uncoordinated, and foolish at times. He reportedly once had a baseball bounce off his head and into the stands for a home run. This infamous baserunning gaffe is described best by Baseball-Reference:

Herman was involved in one of the most absurd plays in baseball history when he doubled into a double play. With the bases loaded, he hit a long hit and began racing around the bases. As he rounded second, the third base coach yelled at him to go back because the runner from first, Chick Fewster, hadn’t yet rounded third. The runner from second, pitcher Dazzy Vance, misunderstood and headed back to third, even though he could have scored easily. Herman ignored the coach and headed for third himself, so that all three players wound up there. The third baseman tagged all three runners, putting out Fewster and Herman but not Vance, who was entitled to the base according to the rules as the lead runner there (and not forced to advance from there).

Due to his great batting feats in Brooklyn, his beautiful swing, and his career .324 batting average, Herman received frequent Hall of Fame support after his career, but the highest percentage he ever got was 5.7% in 1957. His career 141 OPS+ is one of the best in history for players with at least 5,000 plate appearances (he ranks in the top 70 entering the 2014 season). In 1969 he was selected to Brooklyn’s All-Time Team in a vote by fans.

  • Herman hit for the cycle three times, a record he shares with Bob Meusel and John Reilly.
  • His son Don Herman played minor league baseball.