Monday, April 28, 2014

Card #27: Tom Herr

Who Can It Be Now?
Thomas Mitchell Herr was born on April 4, 1956, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  In a story he wrote about his faith for Guideposts magazine (a Christian magazine), Herr about his background that, "[a]ll my life I've triumphed at sports.  Back in Lancaster at Hempfield High I starred in track, baseball, basketball, football.  You name it.  If you could kick it, throw it, bat it, catch it or run after it, I was good."

Herr was not drafted to play baseball out of high school, so he went to the University of Delaware for a semester.  He never played a game as a Blue Hen, however, as he signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent.  

Herr progressed slowly at first through the Cardinals system, spending his first three years in the system in A-ball or a short-season rookie league.  He then spent a half-season in AA followed by a year and a half at Triple-A Springfield.  At each stop along the way, Herr walked more than he struck out and stole bases with a good success rate -- 153 SB and only 39 CS in his 531 games in the minor leagues.

1981 was his first full season in the major leagues even though he was no longer a rookie based on appearing in too many games in 1980.  Herr had a successful year at age 25 -- even garnering 7 points -- 2% of the possible points -- in the 1981 MVP race.  

For he and the Cardinals in 1982, the year was a storybook season as they defeated my Milwaukee Brewers in the World Series in 7 games.  Those were the light-hitting, all-speed Cardinals under Whitey Herzog -- George Hendrick led the team with 19 homers followed by Darrell Porter's 12, and the team as a whole hit just 67.  At age 26, though, Herr was a key contributor on a world champion team -- not a bad start to a career.

Herr would appear in two more World Series for the Cardinals in 1985 and 1987 -- both losses.  Herr's best season in the majors was certainly the 1985 season, when he hit a career-high 8 home runs, drove in 110, stole 31 bases against only 3 times caught, was an all-star, finished 5th in the MVP voting behind teammate Willie McGee, and had a slash line of .302/.379/.416.  

The article mentioned above from Guideposts came billed as being how Herr coped with being traded to the Minnesota Twins.  In an unusual move, the two 1987 World Series teams combined on a trade in April of 1988 which saw Herr go to the Twins straight up for Tom Brunansky.  While Herr's article about searching through the Bible for help in dealing with his trade is nice, the reality is that Twins fans hated the move.  Indeed, at the end of 1988, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune included Herr as its Second runner-up for "Turkey of the Year."  Why?  Here's what the newspaper said:
Second runner-up: Tom Herr.  The Iron Horse came to Minnesota with a chance to play an important role on a team trying to defend a championship.  Herr brought with him the enthusiasm normally associated with being called to an IRS audit.
So, maybe thumbing through his Bible didn't give Herr the comfort he was seeking -- or at least the enthusiasm. 

The Twins recognized their mistake quickly and shipped Herr off to Philadelphia in the offseason.  As part of the trade, Herr came to an agreement with the Phillies on a contract paying him $825,000 a year.  Herr then was traded at the end of August in 1990 to the Mets, where he played nearly one full season before being released and signing for two months with the San Francisco Giants.  Herr was released by the Giants after the 1991 season, and that was the end of his major league career.

Family Ties
Tom Herr has two sons with his wife Kim -- Aaron, who is 33, and Jordan, who is 28.  Aaron was a first round pick (40th overall) of the Atlanta Braves in the 2000 MLB June Amateur Draft.  He never reached the major leagues -- spending the better part of three years at AAA with the Reds and Indians -- before getting out of baseball after being released by his hometown independent league team, the Lancaster Barnstormers.  

Jordan played at the University of Delaware for a year before transferring to Pitt.  He then was drafted by the Cubs in the 41st round of the 2007 June Amateur Draft.  He did not play in the Cubs system as far as I can tell from Baseball Reference, but he did get 36 games at Lancaster with the Barnstormers.  

During the 2009 season, Tom Herr served as bench coach to former Philadelphia Phillie Von Hayes while Aaron was on the team.  He just missed out on coaching Jordan, since Jordan's time on the team was in 2008.

Tom had managed the team in 2004 through 2006, left to manage at Single-A Hagerstown for the Washington Nationals but left that organization when they refused to make him manager of the Double-A Harrisburg Senators.

The World According to Garp
In 1998, Herr released a book called A View from Second Base that he wrote.  The Amazon page for the 164-page book calls it an "in-depth look at the great game of Baseball from a former Major League All-Star's perspective."  Herr said he wrote the book because he saw "a lot of incorrect teaching and incorrect approaches, and just a general lack of baseball knowledge . . . in the world of youth baseball."  So, he wrote the book to give "a perspective of someone [who's] played the game, and played it at the highest level . . . ."

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
My Milwaukee Brewer fandom makes me somewhat biased against nearly every member of the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals.  Let me be clear -- it is not a rational thought process.  It is one driven by the hurt that a 10-year-old kid whose team lost in the World Series felt then.  So, I'm not exactly sympathetic to Herr generally.  

But some of the things I found in researching Herr for this post are cruel.  For instance, one item which popped up in a couple of places and which appears to have no basis in fact is a rumor that Herr's wife was having an extramarital affair with African-American outfielder Tito Landrum and, further, that a child was born from that affair.  As I said, there appears to be no basis in fact for this rumor whatsoever, but it is out there.

One issue that also came up that is more factually based is justifying the 1988 trade to the Twins.  An excellent write-up of the reasons why the trade made perfect sense to the Cardinals can be found on RetroSimba -- a website relating "Cardinals history beyond the box score" and one whose name is a paean to the great Ted Simmons.  Basically, the reasons were (1) Jack Clark had left as a free agent, which left a gaping hole in the middle of the Cardinals lineup for a heavy hitting run producer; (2) Herr's contract expired at the end of the 1988 season; and (3) Luis Alicea was ready to come up from the minor leagues and step in at second base.  All of those reasons make sense, and the fact that it was Tom Brunansky in the trade from Minnesota was not from a lack of Dal Maxvill not trying -- he wanted Gary Gaetti or Kirby Puckett first.

Finally, I'm not sure if this guy is serious or not, but he says Tom Herr belongs in the Hall of Fame.  Why?  Because as of 2011, only 12 second basemen in baseball history had 1400 games at second base with 250 doubles, 150 stolen bases, a .270 career batting average, and at least 20% of their hits going for extra bases.  Of those 12, 9 are in the Hall of Fame or will be (that number includes Craig Biggio, who fell two votes short this past year).  The other three are Larry Doyle, Del Pratt, and Tom Herr.  

I believe Bill James -- or someone similar -- warned against using arbitrary cutoffs to create classes for arguing that Player A belongs in the Hall of Fame.  This example should show why that type of argument is flawed.  Herr is nowhere near being a Hall of Famer -- never has been, never will be.

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