Musing on Baseball, Stan Musial, Babe Herman

Musing on Baseball, Stan Musial, Babe Herman February 16, 2011

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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