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Slugger Is Proudest of Plaque From Glendale Hall of Fame : Babe Herman--Still the Hometown Favorite

Times Staff Writer

After a lifetime in baseball, Floyd Caves (Babe) Herman has more than his share of memories, mementos and honors.

Inscribed photographs, trophies and certificates dot the walls and shelves of Herman’s cozy den in his Glendale home, a shrine to one of the Dodger organization’s finest hitters and most charismatic personalities.

But to Herman, who hit .324 in his 13-season career, one honor ranks above the rest.

The former Brooklyn Dodger great is most proud of a small red plaque that hangs next to an inscribed photograph of Babe Ruth.

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Fans Remember

The plaque names Herman, the oldest living Dodger at 82, to the Glendale Union High School Hall of Fame.

“I think I take more pride in being in the Glendale Hall of Fame than anything else,” said Herman. “It shows people remember you after all these years.”

More than just remembering Herman, who has been called one of the greatest sluggers in major league history, Glendale has continually showered him with honors.

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Over the years, Glendale has named an annual high school baseball tournament and a Little League conference after him.

In 1977 the city backed a campaign by the Glendale Kiwanis Club to get Herman inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. The drive came up four votes short. Herman is in the Brooklyn Dodger Hall of Fame.

Babe Herman Field

The city was at it again this year, renaming Verdugo Little League Field on Canada Boulevard after Herman.

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“I thought it was real nice,” said Herman. “It means more in my hometown than it would have in New York. When home people feel that way over the years, it means a whole lot.”

Glendale is not alone in its respect for Herman.

He was asked to throw out the first ball of the season at Dodger Stadium, but a stroke last year has partially paralyzed his left arm. Injured Dodger slugger Pedro Guerrero did the honors.

It was in his first six years with Brooklyn that Herman gained the reputation of a fearless hitter and unforgettable personality.

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In the 1930 season he set six Dodger records that still stand: average (.393), slugging average (.678), runs scored (143), hits (241), extra-base hits (94) and total bases (416). It took more than a quarter of a century for Duke Snider and Roy Campanella to erase Herman’s home-run (35) and RBI (130) records, also set in 1930.

So Close to Crown

In his finest seasons, Herman batted .381 and .393 (1929 and 1930) but finished second to Lefty O’Doul (.398 in ’29) and Bill Terry (.401 in ’30) for the batting crown.

“I never tried to lead the league in hits, I just tried to win ballgames,” said Herman, who was named to the 1926 Baseball Writers of America All-American team as a first baseman and in 1929 as an outfielder.

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“I never played for myself, I played for the managers and the ballclub. I just played day by day, game by game.”

Renowned Chicago White Sox pitcher Ted Lyons, who played against Herman in the ‘30s, wrote on an inscribed photo in Herman’s den that he considers Babe to be in the same class of hitters as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Al Simmons.

But while it was Herman’s hitting and fielding that earned the respect of his peers, it was his involvement in the “Daffy Dodger” years that many fans remember.

The most remembered Herman story? He doubled into a double play--a feat never equaled. Three Dodgers ended up on or near third base.

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With one out and the bases loaded in a 1-1 game against Boston, Herman doubled off the wall, with the ball bouncing back almost to the infield, scoring the lead runner.

Then the confusion began:

Pitcher Dazzy Vance, who was on second, rounded third, while the runner on first, Chuck Fewster, teetered between second and third in a rundown.

Herman, thinking there would be a play at the plate, ran for third with his head down. The third base coach yelled “Back, back!” at Herman, but Vance, who thought the cry was for him, retreated to third and arrived at the same time as Herman.

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The ruling: Herman was out for passing Fewster while Fewster, thinking he was out, walked away and was tagged out.

There is a happy ending, however. Herman drove in the winning run.

“About 20 years later, Dazzy made a speech and finally said he screwed up, but I took the rap over the years,” Herman said.

Then there are the other fabled Herman classics, including the time a fly ball supposedly hit Herman in the head and bounced over the fence.

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“The personality (of the stories) was there, but most of the stories were exaggerated,” Herman said.

The left-handed Herman first caught the attention of Glendale in 1920 when he helped lead the Glendale High baseball team to its first playoff bid.

Before signing with Edmonton of the Western Canadian League in 1921, Herman, then called Lefty, was a five-sport athlete.

He says he won nine of 11 events at a three-school high school track meet, then hit a grand-slam in a baseball game and finished the hectic day with a basketball game in the evening.

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Edmonton sold Herman to the Detroit Tigers after one season.

While with the Tigers, Herman caught the attention of the legendary Ty Cobb, who sent the 17-year-old Herman to the minors after giving him $200 spending money. Cobb also gave the lanky 6-4 Herman advice.

“I hit one in Augusta nine miles over the fence and Ty jumped into the cage and told me, ‘Don’t you ever swing any harder than that in your life.’ He told me that ball would go out of any ballpark.

“He said to always try to hit the pitcher right there (pointing to the middle of his chest) with a line drive and let the ball go where it wants to.

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“Every time I didn’t get a hit in two or three games, I’d remember what Ty said. That was pretty good advice. It’s the kind of advice I followed in my career.”

After five seasons in the minors with 12 clubs, Herman, who switched from first base to the outfield, signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1926. In Brooklyn, Herman refined his fielding craft and became one of the league’s more respected outfielders, utilizing a strong arm and keen knowledge of the Ebbets Field walls.

Herman later played for Cincinnati, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Detroit before retiring after the 1937 season.

But he returned to the Dodgers in 1945 at the request of Branch Rickey and Leo Durocher. In his first at-bat, the 42-year-old Herman rifled a shot off the wall for a double. He retired after the season, batting .265 primarily as a pinch hitter.

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After Herman retired from scouting and baseball in 1967 after 48 years in the game, he returned to Glendale and began growing prize-winning orchids with his wife, Ann. They have been married for 62 years.

One prize-winner, a pure red orchid called Babe’s Blue, once sprouted 46 blooms on one plant.

“When all the guys were saying they were going to get rich in Florida, I always told them that I’d rather own an outhouse in Glendale that a lot in Florida,” said Herman, a member of the Orchid Society of Southern California after serving as its president.

Now that’s what Glendale likes to hear from a hometown boy.

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