By Glen Sparks
“The Dodgers have three men on base!”
“Oh, yeh? Which base?”
This joke made the rounds for years. Here is the backstory:
On Aug. 15, 1926, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, the Dodgers (or, the Robins as they were known as then) were playing the Boston Braves. The score was tied 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning, and Brooklyn had loaded the bases. Chick Fewster was on first, our good friend Dazzy Vance was on second, and Vance’s personal catcher, Hank DeBerry, stood on third. Floyd Caves Herman, better known as “Babe”, stepped into the batter’s box.
Herman, Brooklyn’s power hitter, ripped a pitch to the right-field wall. DeBerry scored the go-ahead run easily. Fewster, a second baseman, sprinted from first to third and held up. Vance, unfortunately, got caught in a run down. Rather than trying to barrel over the catcher, he headed back to third base.
It got awfully crowded 90 feet from home plate. Then, it got ridiculous. First, Herman slid into second base. That’s where he should have stayed. But, he watched the outfield throw go home and high-tailed it to third, his head down, undoubtedly. He remained oblivious in all ways to any shouts and signals from teammates, coaches and fans.
Babe met up at third with two of his teammates. It was comical and comically heart-breaking.
Eddie Taylor, Boston’s quick-thinking infielder, tagged out all three Brooklyn runners. There was already one out, but why take any chances? Umpire Beans Reardon ruled it this way: Vance was entitled to the base. Fewster and Herman were out. The inning was over.
And, that’s the story of how Babe Herman, born in Buffalo, N.Y., raised in Glendale, Calif., “doubled into a double play,” as some people liked to say. (The official scorer gave Herman a double. He went to third on the throw.)
Well, that might not be the nicest story to tell about Herman on the 112th anniversary of his birthday. But, it does illustrate two important points about the man. He sure could hit, and he sure could do something to make you scratch your head.
Herman, who moved with his family to southern California as an infant, batted .324 in a 13-year career that began in 1926. He hit 181 home runs and drove in 997 runs. He was never better than he was in 1930 for Brooklyn, when he batted .393 with 35 home runs, 130 RBI and 18 stolen bases.
The 6-foot-4-inch left-handed batter played six seasons in Brooklyn, three in Cincinnati, two for the Chicago Cubs and one apiece for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers. Babe retired after the 1937 season, to play minor league ball with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League.
In 1945, Babe made a brief comeback with Brooklyn. He batted .265 in 34 at-bats and hit one home run. Then, it was back to California where he had some business and other interests. Being so close to the movie industry, he picked up some work behind and in front of the cameras. Babe served as technical consultant on the Lou Gerhig movie Pride of the Yankees starring Gary Cooper in the title role. Herman even doubled as in some long shots on the baseball field.
Herman worked as a scout for some teams and stayed in baseball until his death in 1987 at the age of 84. He never garnered any real Hall of Fame support, topping out at 5.7 percent of the vote in 1956.
Some people blamed it on his relatively short career. Others blamed it, believe it or not, on that gaffe in the Braves game. Plus, some other stuff. In 1928, Herman supposedly got konked in the head with a flyball while playing in the outfield. Herman insisted this never happened. Hit in the head? The good-natured Herman said, “On the shoulder, yes, never on the head!”
The truth was, though, that Herman never was much of a fielder. Managers put him into the line-up to hit. And, that he did. He always reminded the jokesters that, in that famous game in 1926, he not only drove in the winning run, he also drove in Brooklyn’s other two runs.
Spence Abbott, a Major League scout, put it best when asked about Babe Herman. Abbott saw Herman playing for the Seattle Indians of the PCL in 1925. As usual, Herman was whacking line drives all over the place.
“He’s sort of funny in the field,” Abbott reported, “but when I see a guy go six-for-six, I’ve got to go for him.”