You’ve got to hand it to John Herbold. Not many high school coaches would leave a comfortable position such as he had at Lakewood to rebuild the program at Cal State Los Angeles.
But then Herbold wasn’t your typical high school coach. There probably aren’t many coaches who were Phi Beta Kappas at Stanford. He earned his B.A. in journalism in 1951, graduating magna cum laude.
There also aren’t many high school coaches who are columnists for national publications. Herbold still writes for Collegiate Baseball, a newspaper that is published every other week.
And there surely aren’t many high school coaches as successful as Herbold was. His 28-year record--13 years at Long Beach Poly, 15 at Lakewood--was 483-176-14. His teams won or shared 18 Moore League titles and won Southern Section titles in 1963, 1970 and 1974. He also taught English at both schools.
So Herbold, who said he was ready for a new challenge, seemed to be the right man for the Cal State L.A. job, although you might not have thought so after looking at the club’s won-loss record in his first two years. In 1984 his Golden Eagles were 23-42 and finished last in their first season in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. at 7-23. Last season they were sixth in the CCAA at 10-19 and 14-42 overall.
It should be noted, however, that Herbold inherited a team that was 16-43 overall and tied for seventh in the Southern California Baseball Assn. with a 5-23 record. In fact, the last time Cal State L.A. had a winning season was 1977 when it won the SCBA, beat USC in the West Regional and then finished fourth at the College World Series.
“I thought it would take five years to build this program . . . but you throw out the first year,” Herbold said last Saturday as he sat in the visitor’s dugout at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium before his team split a doubleheader with the Bruins.
Herbold said that there were times in the beginning when he had second thoughts about leaving Lakewood. Not only did Cal State L.A. have a losing program, it also had an identity problem.
“Yes, I had some self-doubts about being able to get the program going,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d ever get any players to come. This is not a name school.”
It certainly wasn’t funny at the time, but Herbold smiled as he recalled the night he tried to talk to a prospective recruit’s mother. He called the player’s home, and when the mother answered, he introduced himself. She said she wanted her son to go to a four-year college.
“I see players on teams we’ve played who I recruited. They wouldn’t come here, but they walked on at those schools. . . . We get the players nobody else wanted.”
The players on this year’s team are young. There is only one senior. There are seven juniors, but six of them are junior college transfers. The starting lineup usually includes three sophomores and three freshmen.
But the kids are all right. The Golden Eagles have won five of their last six, raising their record to 13-16. More important, they are second in the CCAA at 7-3.
Herbold, 57, said that one of the main reasons for the team’s improvement is the work of his assistants--Mark Bonner, Scott Lovelady, Tom Johnson and Mike Fogel. They are young, he said, and thus can relate to young players better than he can. Fogel also runs the junior varsity program.
“Physically, this team is the worst of all three we’ve had here,” he said. “But mentally this one is the best. They know more. They’re prepared to play. They’ve learned how to play.
“We feel we can teach people how to play. And we put them where they can play. We always have changed positions, even in high school. I don’t want to sound like I’m patting myself on the back, but we do a good job.
“Another thing is that we play a different style than most teams. We’re an aggressive team. We don’t have a take sign and we don’t like to sacrifice.”
Herbold said that his team can win the CCAA title if the players perform to their capabilities, but his long-range goals include more than just winning titles.
“What I want to do is make Cal State L.A. a good place to play and go to school. Our motto is 51% academics and 49% baseball. We’re looking for people who can play baseball and graduate. We don’t want to serve as a minor league for the majors.”
Herbold has frequently called on the junior varsity program for help this season. He did it again Saturday against UCLA and it paid dividends.
The Golden Eagles had played a three-game conference series against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Wednesday and Thursday, and Herbold needed a pitcher to start the seven-inning opener of the doubleheader. So Bill Bene was called up.
Bene, a freshman right-hander from Long Beach Jordan who had pitched only one varsity inning all season, beat the Bruins, 6-1. He went the distance, allowing just four hits and one walk.
Cal State L.A.'s nickname used to be the Diablos, and there probably were people who thought that the 1977 club was kind of devilish. The team also was called the East L.A. ragamuffins. Whatever, they took Omaha and the College World Series by storm.
They became the favorites of the Rosenblatt Stadium crowds when they performed their phantom infield drill--pregame infield practice done without the ball. They fielded imaginary grounders and threw an imaginary ball.
The Diablos, coached by former big league scout Jack Deutsch, beat Minnesota in the first round, 7-4; lost to South Carolina, 6-2; beat Clemson, 1-0, then were eliminated by Southern Illinois, 9-7, and finished fourth in the eight-team field.
To get to Omaha, Cal State L.A. had to win four straight games in the West Regional at Honolulu. The Diablos lost their opener in the double-elimination tournament to Fresno State, 7-4, but came back to beat Hawaii, 8-4; Fresno State, 15-11, and tournament favorite USC twice, 6-5 and 7-6. Both were comeback victories.
Cal State L.A.'s record that year was 42-22. The Diablos were 17-7 in the SCBA, and beat Cal State Fullerton, with whom they tied for first place, four times. They then beat the Titans in a playoff for the league championship.
College Baseball Notes
The Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. title race got under way last weekend, three weeks after the other Southland conferences had begun. That’s because the eight PCAA teams will play fewer games this season. The league has done away with the two-division alignment in which every team played 30 games, six against each team within its division and three against those in the other division. Now each club plays each other club three times for a total of 21 games. The team with the best record wins the title. Last year the division winners, Fullerton in the South and Fresno State in the North, played a best-of-three series. Fresno State won.
Fullerton got off to a 3-0 start by sweeping Cal State Long Beach. The Titans (23-10) had their seven-game winning streak snapped by Chapman, 4-0, Tuesday night. . . . Loyola Marymount, whose 25-6 record is the best on the West Coast, also has a eight-game winning streak. . . . UCLA second baseman Torey Lovullo has hit safely in 14 straight games, raising his average 102 points to .308. During the streak he has gone 26 for 62, a .419 average, with eight home runs.