The Brooklyn Robins’ Babe Herman was an outstanding hitter but his fielding was, to put it mildly, suspect. Try as he might, Robins’ manager Wilber Robinson could not hide Herman’s defensive liabilities. In 1927, as a first baseman, Herman led the league in errors. Then in 1928 and 1929, he topped the league in errors committed by a right fielder.
Herman’s ineptitude lead teammate Fresco Thompson to comment: “He wore a glove for one reason: because it was a league custom.”
A base running gaffe Herman committed in his rookie year has put him down in history as the only man who doubled into a double play. During an Ebbets Field game on August 15, 1926, with none out and the bases loaded Herman tried to stretch a double off the right field wall into a triple. Chick Fewster, who had been on first, tried to advance to third but that base was already occupied by Dazzy Vance who had started from second base. Vance, caught in a rundown, tried to dash back to third. Since Herman had not watched the play in front of him, the three runners ended up at third base. Third baseman Eddie Taylor tagged all of them to be sure of getting as many outs as possible.
Recounting the incident to the Glory of Their Times author Lawrence Ritter, pitcher Rube Bressler said: “The third baseman didn’t know what to do so he tagged all three of them. And the umpire hesitated trying to decide which of these two guys are out and which one is safe. Rather an unusual situation, doesn’t exactly come up every day and they started arguing about who’s what.”
According to the rules, the slow footed Vance was entitled to the base, so umpire Beans Reardon called Herman and Fewster out.
Scribes pounced on Herman and wrote that for the first time in baseball history, a batter had doubled into a double play. In his own defense, Herman complained that no one congratulated him for driving in the winning run. When Babe got his hit Hank DeBerry was on third, Vance on second and Fewster on first. DeBerry scored.
Long suffering Dodgers fans created a running joke: First fan: “The Dodgers have 3 men on base!” Second fan: “Oh, yeh? Which base?”
Throughout his career, Herman was prone to the most egregious errors on the base paths. On two occasions in 1930— May 30 against the Philadelphia Phillies and September 15 versus the Cincinnati Reds—Herman stopped to watch a home run while running the bases and was passed by the hitter, thereby changing the homer to a single.
Not only was Herman a defensive liability, he was one of baseball’s slowest runners. On September 20, 1931 Herman was thrown out attempting to steal second base steal a base against the St. Louis Cardinals, even though opposing catcher was 48-year-old Cardinals manager Gabby Street, appearing in his first game (as an emergency substitute) since 1912.
For his various mistakes, pitcher Vance dubbed Herman “the Headless Horseman of Ebbets Field”.
Herman ended his major league career with a .324 batting average, 1818 hits, 181 home runs, 997 RBI, 882 runs, 399 doubles, 110 triples and 94 stolen bases in 1552 games.