Pitcher Ray Herbert Shines As Storyteller

“Pitch count?!? I went
9 innings in my first start.
It didnt matter if you threw
100 or 200 pitches. Just
get them out and win!”

He offered. I accepted.

Ray Herbert jotted just a few lines on his reply. However, he added his telephone number, saying, “Call if you want.”

I’m delighted I did.

I felt like Ray’s catcher. I asked for details about one of countless important dates in his career. He did the rest.

I chose September 26, 1962. Exactly one year earlier, he homered against the Red Sox. Same team. Same date. Same result!

I asked Ray Herbert about Sept. 26, 1962, when he registered a complete-game victory against the BoSox in Fenway, 9-3. “That was my 19th win.”

I paused. “I‘m impressed you‘d remember the number.”

Herbert: “You don‘t forget a thing like that.”

“Oh, really?”

Herbert: “It was the 9th inning. Jim Landis our leadoff hitter handed me a bat. They’d do things like that to give pitchers a break. I said to Jim, ‘It’s September. A new rookie. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know if I’m a hitter. He’s going to throw me a fastball down the middle, and I’m going to hit it onto the roof.’

“He did, then I did.”

Herbert remains bemused by his 38-inning scoreless streak in 1963. “I didn’t really think about it. Every game is a new game. You just want to go out and win.”

I wanted to know about his baseball cards. “Topps never sent us any. We’d never see one, unless something gave us one to sign at the ballpark. I think we got about $125 for appearing on a card.”

What was fan mail like during the 1950s?

“There really wasn’t any. There wasn’t TV like today, so fans didn’t know that much about us. If they wanted an autograph, they’d come to the ballpark.”

Today’s fan mail is a different story.

“I read it all and sign for everyone,” Herbert said. “It is an honor to be asked for an autograph.”

Pitcher Ray Herbert Throws A Surprise

Why is this man smiling?
Check his previous season mark.
Why not smile bigger?
The career marks took so long!

I hesitate to admit that Ray Herbert made me laugh. I’m sure he’s quite sincere about his answer.

I enjoyed the BR Bullpen feature about Herbert that began “A good pitcher who played for bad ballclubs during most of his Major League career…” How many careers are tales of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

I point out that Herbert’s two consecutive scoreless innings streaks of 1962-63 (lasting 31 and 38 innings, respectively) came late in his career. I got philosophical, wondering if he had undergone positive mental and physical changes with age.

His secret?

“Play with better teams.”

Herbert endured one of the biggest challenges I could imagine for a young player. In 1951, his first full season, he was yanked from the rotation after a 4-0 start! Not by Detroit manager Red Rolfe, but by Uncle Sam. The Army and the Korean War called. Although Herbert noted that he got to pitch some in the military, he offered two words when I asked how hard it was to come back after more than a year away.

“Very hard.”

Herbert surprised me once more. He included his phone number.

I haven’t included my phone number or e-mail to former players. I’m old-fashioned. I don’t think e-mail is for storytelling. Likewise, a phone conversation makes the listener a central part of the baseball tale. The story is only as good as the feedback or encouragement the listener gives.

However, I’m eager to try a conversation. I’ve done my homework on Herbert (who owns seven lifetime homers as a pitcher in pre-DH days). Thanks to hobby buddy Rich Hanson’s input, I’m interested in hearing about White Sox personalities like Nellie Fox and Ted Kluszewski. Also, I wanted to hear how an 81-year-old views fan mail and autographs today, as opposed to during his 1950-66 playing career.

Readers: what would you like me to ask former pitcher (and Tigers batting practice hurler) Ray Herbert? I’ll call him next week and report back.

Tomorrow: Meet grateful autograph collector Billy Neill, host of the website “Astros A to Z.”