By Marty Appel
Forty years ago, infielder Billy Herman was part of the “Class of 1975.” He was a popular choice in that he was truly a “baseball lifer,” and everyone in the game seemed to know him and like him.
Billy broke into professional baseball in 1928 with the Louisville Colonels, played for the Cubs, Dodgers, Braves and Pirates, finished playing with the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League in 1950, managed the Pirates and the Red Sox, and coached for Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Boston, California, and San Diego.
That’s 50 spring training camps, plus two lost to World War II service, where he served in the Pacific theater during the last two years of the War. And oh, the things he saw……
He was a 10-time All-Star, beginning with the second All-Star Game – 1934 – a game in which 29 of the players in the box score went onto the Hall of Fame. Billy’s first All-Star at bat came in the last of the ninth in that game, as he doubled off Mel Harder but was left stranded in a 9-7 National League loss.
It was the game in which Carl Hubbell struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin.
Billy was 24 at the time, in his third full season. He had made a name for himself as a rookie with the pennant-winning Cubs in 1932, collecting 206 hits en route to a .314 season. He was at second base in the World Series when Babe Ruth did – or didn’t – point to the bleachers before depositing his “called shot home run.”
It would be his first of four World Series appearances, repeating with the Cubs in ’35 and ’38, and then moving to the Dodgers in 1941 to help them win their first pennant in 21 years. He was at second when a third strike got past catcher Mickey Owen, allowing Tommy Henrich to get to first, and the Yankees to rally from behind for a win.
He managed the Pirates in 1947, the year they had both Hank Greenberg and Ralph Kiner in the lineup. It was Hank’s final season.
He was the Dodgers third base coach when they won their first and only world championship in Brooklyn in 1955, and witnessed Don Larsen’s perfect game a year later, probably signaling to pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell to “swing away.” He was a Braves coach when the Yankees’ Bob Turley won two and saved one (like Madison Bumgarner) in the 1958 World Series, and he was a Red Sox coach when Ted Williams homered in his last at bat. He managed Tony Conigliaro’s heroic first three seasons with the Boston Red Sox, and then was coaching for the Angels the following year (1967), when Tony was hit in the eye by a Jack Hamilton pitch, seriously setting back that most promising career.
He was coaching for San Diego when Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith, Gaylord Perry and Rollie Fingers populated the roster – players who would one day join him in Cooperstown.
When it came time to vote for him, few members of the Veterans Committee didn’t know him personally. He hit .304 over 15 seasons, and was six times a top ten MVP finisher.
Billy died at 83 in 1992. His granddaughter, born in New Albany, Indiana like Billy, is married to Mitch Daniels, the President of Purdue University and a former Governor of Indiana.