Posts Tagged ‘Babe Herman’

The 50 Greatest Dodgers

November 27, 2012

Don Newcombe, the 8th Greatest Dodger

Back a year or so ago I did a post on the 50 Greatest Yankees ever (according to ESPN). Turns out that the network did an entire series of these lists. You’ll have to look around pretty hard (or type in “greatest Dodgers” or whichever team) to find their lists but they are interesting.

One of the lists is the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers list. The top 10 (in order) look like this: Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider, Zack Wheat, Roy Campanella, PeeWee Reese, Mike Piazza, Don Newcombe, Don Sutton, Dazzy Vance. And before anyone asks, Don Drysdale is 11th. Not a bad list actually, here’s a few comments on the list.

1. To create a full team you end up with Gil Hodges (16th on the list) at first, Robinson at second, Reese at short, and Roy Cey (14th on the list) at third. The outfield is Snider, Wheat, and Pedro Guerrero (15th on the list). Campanella catches and the first position player whose position is already covered is Piazza, making him the DH. The staff (four men for a World Series rotation, at least one being left-handed) is Koufax, Newcombe, Sutton, and Vance. Way down at 46th is Ron Perranoski, the only reliever on the list.

2. The list is a decent mix of both Brooklyn and Los Angeles, with LA being slightly favored in the higher parts of the list (see Guerrero over Babe Herman or Carl Furillo for example). There are, as you would expect with the Dodgers, an inordinate number of pitchers in the top 15.

3. They did put Dixie Walker on the list (he’s 25th). With the way he left the team (his opposition to Robinson) I half expected he’d be overlooked.

4. Wheat in the top 5 is inspired, as is Vance in the top 10. It’s unusual for guys who played that long ago to get much support when up against newer players that voters remember. However, Wheat over Campanella is questionable. Wheat and Vance are the only two players on the list who spent significant time with the Dodgers prior to 1940.

5. During their time together (most of the 1970s) Steve Garvey got a lot more press than Cey. This list placed Cey higher (14th to Garvey’s 17th). I think that’s probably right.

6. Jim Gilliam is at 43rd. That’s way too low. His versatility (second, third, center, and left) made him so much more valuable than his hitting stats (which aren’t bad either) made him appear.

7. Reggie Smith is at 26th. Again, I think that’s too low. I might slide him into the top 15. I know I’d put him in the top 20. I might even jump him over Guerrero. Smith is one of the more overlooked players in both Dodgers and Red Sox history.

8. The picking of  Newcombe over both Sutton and Drysdale is  interesting. Both ended up with more wins and Newk did have the drinking problem. I’m not sure the voters got it right. Maybe yes, maybe no.  Newcombe was the ace of the most famous (if not most successful) team in Dodgers history and that has to be worth something. Now, if he coulda just won a single World Series game (he went 0-4).

9. Now about first place. When I first became interested in baseball, Robinson was my hero. As he waned, Snider replaced him. Then as the Duke faltered, Koufax became my guy. That got me through high school and hero-worship of big leaguers. So I have no problem with those three being in the top positions. I’m not sure about the order. The ultimate problem is Robinson’s status as a civil rights icon. It so overshadows his on-field accomplishments that I’m not sure it didn’t get him first place more than his playing  ability did. Having said that, I recognize he was a heck of a player and when added to his late start (because of circumstances not of his making) and the abuse he suffered, maybe he is first. But Snider was as good, maybe better. And Koufax is simply the greatest pitcher I ever saw. I have my own order, but I have no real problem with the current order.

10. The location of a few more well-known names: Hershiser (12th), Valenzuela (13th), Wills (22nd), Reiser (31st), Podres (33rd), and Nomo (49th).

11. The most glaring omission? Carl Erskine.

Advertisements

Can’t Catch a Cold

May 16, 2011

The other "Babe"

The Brooklyn team of the late 1920s and early 1930s was known more for comic relief than for playing baseball. They had, in Dazzy Vance, one really good pitcher. They also had a handful of decent hitters. But they may have led the National League in boneheaded play. For that they were nicknamed “The Daffiness Boys.” If one player stood out as the poster boy for the team, it was Floyd “Babe” Herman.

Born in 1903, Herman arrived in Brooklyn in 1926, hit .319, and became a fixture. In 1927 he hit .272, then began reeling off .300 seasons with regularity, peaking in the offensive explosion season of 1930 with an average of .393 (second to Bill Terry). He walked more than he struck out, had decent power (peaking at 35 homers in the inflated air of 1930), had OPS numbers ranging from the lower eights to over a thousand, and drove in a lot of runs. He hit for the cycle three times.  In other words he was a pretty fair hitter in the greatest hitting era in 20th Century baseball history.

In 1932 he went to Cincinnati for a year, then on to the Cubs for two. While at Cincy he led the league in triples, his only league leading number. Chicago shipped him to Pittsburgh, who sent him back to Cincinnati. In 1937 he played 17 games for Detroit and was through at 34. World War II got him back to the big leagues in 1945 when he played 37 games for Brooklyn as a 42-year-old pinch hitter. For his career he hit .324, slugged .532, with an OBP of .383, giving him an OPS of .915 (OPS+ of 141). He had 2980 total bases spread over 181 home runs, 110 triples, and 399 doubles. He had 1818 hits, scored 882 runs, and knocked in 997 RBIs. Again, not a bad hitting career.

Of course it was his fielding that caused the problems. He was dreadful. He had a decent arm twice coming in second in the NL in assists. He simply couldn’t judge the ball or catch it, which is a minor problem for an outfielder. He was so awful it led one writer to complain that Herman “couldn’t catch a cold.” A teammate said Herman only wore a glove because the team required it. A great story about him is that on being told by his bank that someone was impersonating him he told the manager “Hit him flys. If he catches them, it ain’t me.” Accused of  being hit on the head with a fly ball, his defense was that it was the shoulder, not the head, that was hit.

He also was noted for not paying a lot of attention while at the game. Balls went over his head while he was absorbed in his own thoughts (what they were is anybody’s guess). On 15 August 1926 he hit a gapper for a double that he tried to turn into a triple. The problem was that the bases were loaded, one man scored, the second stopped at third, the third guy stopped at third. So did Herman. Pirates third baseman Pie Traynor got the ball, tagged all three and flipped the ball to the umpire. His comment is supposed to be “Here, you figure it out.”  The papers said that Herman “doubled into a double play.” In his defense, the runner on third who scored turned out to be the winning run. Twice he’s supposed to have stood at second admiring a home run long enough that the guy who hit it passed him on the base paths creating an out and negating the home run.

My favorite Herman story goes like this. He took his son with him to a game in Brooklyn. With the game over, he showered and bummed a ride home with a buddy. About halfway across Brooklyn it dawned on our intrepid hero that there were only two people in the car. They went back to Ebbets Field and found the kid helping the groundskeepers.  The kid was safe and Mrs. Herman’s comments are not recorded. BTW the son went on to teach High School math (obviously he took after Mom).

Herman did some scouting after his retirement. He never got much support for the Hall of Fame and never seemed to complain much about it. He died in 1987 and is one of the people interviewed in the great The Glory of Their Times.