Former Tiger hurler Art Herring pitched to Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson

Teammate Bob Fothergill gave Art Herring a rather unflattering nickname during their years together with the Detroit Tigers.

Lots of guys and gals have been nicknamed “Sandy.” More than a few have been ballplayers, such as Sanford “Sandy” Koufax and Santos “Sandy” Alomar. What set Art “Sandy” Herring apart from all the rest of the baseball Sandys of the world was the rather unflattering way in which the sawed-off right-handed pither acquired his nickname.

“You’re so short,” Tigers outfielder Bob Fothergill told Herring during the rookie’s first spring training camp, “every time you let a tootie, you blow sand in your shoes.” Fothergill got to calling Herring “Sandblower,” which teammates inevitably shortened to “Sandy.”

Given Fothergill’s fart joke, I suppose it was appropriate that Herring wound up retiring to Gas City, Indiana, which is where I once spent an enjoyable afternoon talking baseball with him. “Being short, I’d have my picture taken all the time with tall guys like Buck Morrow or Schoolboy Rowe,” Herring told me. “But heck, there’s plenty of ballplayers who were small and did good.”

Count Herring among those who “did good,” if not spectacularly well. The 5-foot-7 Oklahoma farmboy appeared in 199 major-league games over 11 seasons between 1929 and 1947, compiling a lifetime 34-38 mark for Detroit, Brooklyn, the Chicago White Sox, and Pittsburgh. His first five seasons, 1929 through 1933, were spent at Navin Field, where he went 14-21 for the Tigers. His most productive season was 1931, when he was 7-13 for a team that barely escaped finisihing last. Herring led the loop in hit batsmen, a testiment to his feistiness, not a lack of control.

To be sure, Herring didn’t ring up awe-inspiring numbers. But coming during an era when all the top sandlot and scholastic athletes played baseball and there were thousands of aspirants for every single major-league job, the fact that Herring was able to hang around as long as he did speaks volumes about his perseverance. He was representative of the many journeyman players who populated the upper rungs of professional baseball back then, moving between teams in the majors and the high minors, somehow clinging to a roster somewhere.

Herring, whose top salary with Detroit was $4,000, supplemented his baseball income by working as a carpenter in the offseason. Tigers owner Frank Navin, admiring the peppery pitcher’s hustle, once gave him an end-of-season bonus of $2,500, Herring said. He used some of his baseball wages to set up his father, who had lost all his savings when the local bank went bust, with a grocery-store business. The rest he used to buy farmland that he and his wife, Ruth grew cotton on. They could pull a bale of cotton a day, Herring said proudly. “Two thousand pounds. I’d pull 1,200 pounds, she’d pull 800.”

Ruth was Herring’s “girl” since they were in grade school together. “We was just country kids,” Herring reflected. “Heck, Ruth hadn’t been to Oklahoma City but once once before we drove up to Detroit [in 1929].” The couple became close with Tigers pitcher Tommy Bridges. “Tommy Bridges and his wife were from the country, so we were friends. Me and Tommy’d go fishing on Belle Isle and all those lakes around Detroit. I liked to hunt quail and rabbit when the season was over. I stayed in shape year-round. I’d throw and my wife would catch me. When I went to spring training, man, I was ready.”

Several games stuck out in Herring’s memory. There was the game where he was beating the Yankees, 1-0, with two outs in the ninth. Manager Bucky Harris ordered Herring to intentionally walk Lou Gehrig, who’d already tripled twice, to pitch to Babe Ruth. “I’d struck out Ruth three times that day,” he said. “But the first ball I pitch him is this far outside and he hits it over on Trumbull Avenue.” On another occasion, Herring had the great Lefty Grove beat until the Tigers’ tangle-footed first sacker, Dale Alexander, threw a ball away at first base.

After his five-season stint with Detroit in the early 1930s, Herring spent all of the next 10 years in the minor leagues with St. Paul, the White Sox’s American Association affiliate, save for seven token appearances with Chicago in 1939. Herring finally made it back to the big time for good with Brooklyn in 1944. Although he was part of the starting rotation in the minors, Herring spent most of his big-league career as a spot starter and long relief man. In 1946, coming almost exclusively out of the bullpen, he had his best season at age 39: a 7-2 record with a career-low 3.35 ERA, wininng five games in relief and saving another five for the Dodgers. He was sold to Pittsburgh at season’s end.

In 1947, the 40-year-old Herring – now the oldest player in the National League – shared the Pirates clubhouse with ex-Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg, who was winding up his career with one final season in Pittsburgh. He also pitched against Jackie Robinson, who was breaking the majors’ color line that summer. “He’s one of the greatest second basemen I ever saw play. He took a lot when he first came up. They’d knock him down, throw at him, yell ‘nigger’ from the bench. He didn’t say anything. He’d just go out there and play.”

“But that’s the way it was in that day and time,” said Herring, who, after being released by Pittsburgh, pitched a couple of seasons of semipro ball in Indianapolis before finally calling it a career. “Man, them bench jockeys. Of course, with Pittsburgh, it couldn’t be worse. We had Jews, Polacks….You’d have two teams going at each other all afternoon. I know when I’d be pitching, they’d be yellin’ at me, ‘Hey, sardine! Hey, kipper!’ But I didn’t care. I thought I was lucky. I just thanked the good Lord I was up there.”

2 replies on “Former Tiger hurler Art Herring pitched to Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson

  • Bill Pool

    Art was my uncle & we called him Bil in Oklahoma. I always admired the guy just because he was an admiral man. Not because of his baseball connections.
    Many good memories come because of the good times we had with him & Ruth & Arthur (who we called Dinkey or Son) & Sandra Sue

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