Musing on Baseball, Stan Musial, Babe Herman

I am just so done with seeing snow everywhere. I have not seen my grass since before Christmas, and I need to see green. I need to see a big expanse of green.

Preferably diamond shaped.

It’s not that I hate winter. As I wrote here,

I love the quiet the snow brings. In the cities, four inches of snow can effectively sound-proof the hoof-and-horn bustle, at least until the plows come. In the suburbs it is more than sound-proofing. It is as though God has put his finger to the lips of a quivering world and whispered, “ssshhhhhhhh . . . ”

I’ve always said I could never live in a place without winter. Been there, done that. Hated it. but on the other hand….

[I need] the crack of a bat, the whiff of a ball into a glove. In counterpoint to this clean, cold air, I want to smell salty hotdogs and warm beer. I want to feel the sun on my face as a crowd alternately calls out derision or roars its approval. I want to hear the snap of banners blowing in the breeze, and an umpire calling out the count. I want to watch Derek Jeter round third and blow a gum bubble as he pours it on toward home. I want to watch a little kid with a big helmet and a bigger glove eat peanuts and throw the shells on the ground . . .

I’m not the only one missing baseball. Frank Weathers is gearing up to coach little league and thinking of Stan Musial:

. . .the Apostle Paul dipped into sports analogies all the time. If St. Paul “gets it” regarding the spirit of an athlete, perhaps you should too. Anyway, let me just have some fun celebrating the life of the life-long St. Louis Cardinal named Stan Musial. I didn’t even know that he was a Catholic, until today. But I did know this about him:

Three World Series; seven batting titles; three MVPs; 24 All-Star Games; 3,630 hits; 475 homers(!); the first-ballot Hall of Fame selection.

Yes, we fans are addicted to our stats, it’s true. But Frank looks at Stan-the-Man, not just the numbers, and finds an able and willing Catholic witness, with book and newspaper excerpts and some terrific videos, including his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by Barack Obama, who noted,

“Musial asked for a paycut when he did not perform up to his own expectations…imagine that happening, today. [He is a] gentleman you’d want your children to emulate.”

I think what I love most about baseball is the sorts of characters that have come out of the game, like Musial, and Berra and Babe Herman.

Who is Babe Herman, you ask? You’re kidding right?

There is one baseball story whose particulars really should be memorized by every apple-pie loving American with a kid in Little League, simply because it’s so wonderfully slapstick, and it concerns not a NY Yankee, but a Brooklyn Dodger – a Beloved Bum.

Floyd Caves (”Babe”) Herman, outfielder, a man with a habit of putting lit stogies into his suit pocket, a man who was so routinely hit by balls he was trying to field that he developed his own rules about getting hit: “on the shoulder don’t count.” He will go down in history as the only man ever to double into a double play, and he managed that, only because there was already one out – otherwise he would have tripled into a triple play.

But don’t let me tell the story. Instead, let’s allow the late, great Leo Rosten to give us the goods, courtesy of his (now sadly out of print) book, People I Have Loved, Known or Admired:

Mr. Herman came up to bat with the bases loaded and, as was his wont, dispatched a splendid high drive into deep right field. The Dodgers on first and second hesitated near their bases, naturally, before streaking ahead, in order to make sure that Herman’s drive would not be caught; and it was while they were hesitating, in the manner approved by every authority on the game, that Babe ran right past the man on first, full speed, head down, eyes glazed, intoxicated by team spirit and premonitions of glory. Herman’s illegal passing so electrified his friend on first, and so paralyzed his colleague on second, that all three players reached third base at the same time!

This trail-blazing contretemps cause the beloved and long-suffering manager of the club, “Uncle” Wilbert Robinson, to announce: “That is the first time the men in this club have gotten together on anything!”

Babe also negated his own homer once. I know this sounds impossible but it is true. He accomplished it by swatting the ball far out of sight and running around the bases, with laudable speed and determination, in the recognized, counterclockwise pattern. The only trouble this time was that he overtook and passed two teammates who happened to be on the bases ahead of him. This negated three runs and made men delirious for weeks.

You’ve got to love baseball. No other sport has such stories! And there’s no crying in baseball, either!

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About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Newyogi

    If you can squeeze out enough money for lodging and airfare, there’s always Spring Training. Of course the games may be a little closer to Babe Herman than Babe Ruth, but it’s still Baseball.

  • Warren Jewell

    I’ll never forget my first hardball baseball game. Always been a big lug of a male, but I was leery of that smaller hard ball. I’d had my first strikeout in my first at-bat, nearly screwing myself into the ground. I had had my first pop out – the pitcher never had to leave his mound to catch it. As I came up my third time, to infield snickers, they pulled in probably figuring to get my first ‘squib’ out. On the third pitch, I caught it – ALL of it. Behind me, the kid said it for everybody – ‘Holy COW!’ I think it was still climbing when it went over the left field fence.

    From that time, I never batted but clean-up, and was ever ready to do the cleaning-up. LOVE baseball, but most when I could play it. Though, I ‘Babe-Herman-ed’ a lot as an outfielder.

  • Websterglobe

    Around St. Louis, we tend to think of Stan Musial the same way we think of the Mississippi River. We don’t think about him much while he’s with us but when he goes, everyone in the whole area will feel it and feel it hard. This is one of my favorite Musial stories. From here:

    “It was April 18, 1954, in Chicago. The Cardinals trailed 3–0 in the seventh, and lefty Paul Minner was on the mound. There was a man on first, one out, when Musial smacked a double down the rightfield line. Or, anyway, the Cardinals thought it was a double. Wally Moon, the man on first, ran around the bases to score. Musial stood happily at second. The Cardinals’ bench cheered. And apparently nobody noticed that first base umpire Lee Ballanfant had called the ball foul.

    No footage of the play remains, of course, so we only get what we can read in the newspaper reports: Apparently the ball was definitively fair. Cardinals players came racing out of the dugout to go after Ballanfant, starting with shortstop Solly Hemus. Donatelli, the crew chief, who was behind home plate (and who apparently realized that Ballanfant had blown the call), threw Hemus out of the game. Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky was right behind. Donatelli threw him out of the game too. Peanuts Lowrey rushed out, and Donatelli was telling him to get back or he would get tossed too. And it was about then that Musial, who apparently was not entirely sure why there was so much commotion, wandered over to Donatelli.

    ‘What happened, Augie?’ Musial asked. ‘It didn’t count, huh?’

    Donatelli nodded and said the ball had been called foul.

    ‘Well,” Musial said, ‘there’s nothing you can do about it.’

    And without saying another word, Musial stepped back into the batter’s box and doubled to the same spot in right field. This time it was called fair. The Cardinals rallied and won the game.”

  • Max Lindenman

    Stan Musial: A prince. One year, he came within one homer — one! — of winning the Triple Crown. I’m sad for him. If he’d hit that homer and won it, he’d be better remembered as the power hitter her was.

    One very well respected sportswriter — either Maury Allen or Bill James; can’t remember which — made the case that, aside from those celebrated boners, Babe Herman was actually an outstanding player. But the Bums really were bums in those days; when your team’s in last place, you’re not likely to get credit for doing anything right.

  • waltj

    Always liked Stan the Man. He was as classy an act as there ever was in baseball. He hit for power, he hit for average (.331 lifetime), he got on base, and he drove in runs, all while striking out less than 700 times over 22 years (that’s less than 32 k’s per year; at last count, A-Rod has almost triple this over 17 years). He was also a pretty slick fielder around first base, and was never a “clubhouse cancer” like so many superstars have been over the years.

    Babe Herman was before my time, but he also put up good numbers (when he wasn’t passing teammates on the basepaths, that is). I once saw Dalton Jones, when he was playing for the Tigers, negate a grand slam homer that way. Embarrassing…

  • Greta

    Stan the Man. Loved him for years. Took a pay cut on his own because he did not live up to performance. Compare this to now Cardinal Albert Pujols who turned down a 200 million dollar contract that included part ownership in the team after retirement. I use to really love the game, now could care less because of this type of garbage. Sick of these players. They are killing the sport making only a few cities able to have any year after year sustainability to compete.