An Interview with Ed Herrmann

added 08/09/01 by Ray Kerby

Ed Herrmann was a catcher who came up through the White Sox organization and represented them in the 1974 All-Star Game. After brief stints with the Yankees and Angels, he played for the Astros from 1976 to 1978. He is now a baseball coach at San Diego Mesa College and is also a baseball scout for the Kansas City Royals. He has his own website, Ed Herrmann: A League of HIS own.

(c) Houston Astros
Ray Kerby: At what point in your life did you decide that you wanted to be a ballplayer?

Ed Herrmann: Probably four or five, like most people. You know, they have the dream. Reality didn't strike until probably my junior year in high school when I was told that I had a very good chance of signing with a team.

RK: What position did you play?

EH: I signed originally with the Milwaukee Braves (that's how far back it goes) as a pitcher. When I got down to Florida for my first year in ball they didn't have any catchers and I had caught a few games in high school. Dave Duncan, Bobby Boone and myself were all on the same team. Dave was the catcher, Bob played third base and I was a pitcher/first baseman. When they didn't have any catchers, they asked if anyone wanted to catch and I said, "well I have [caught] a few games in high school". As it'd be, I never saw the mound again.

RK: So what teams did you follow?

EH: The Braves, because my grandfather played for them. That was back in Boston in 1912 or 1913.

RK: Did you grow up in the Boston area?

EH: No, I grew up in San Diego but, being that my dad followed the Braves when my grandfather played on it, it was just natural for me to follow them because he was following them.

RK: It seems unusual for a pitcher to switch to catcher. How would you rate your pitching as a prospect?

EH: Well, I had a lot of success as a pitcher in high school. I only lost three games. I was 10-1 in my last year.

RK: Fastball and curveball?

EH: Fastball, curveball, slider. That's when the slider was just coming in. We called it a "cut fastball" back then and the terminology changed in probably the mid to early Sixties.

RK: It's impressive to make that switch and still make it to the majors as such a young age (20)

EH: Well, yeah, but you gotta remember that I had 51 scholarships for football, so that area was basically inbred in me. I loved the contact, I loved the roughness of it, so that's why I enjoyed the conversion. I'd much rather have caught but, at the time with Dave Duncan there, we didn't need a catcher. I caught in Little League and all that as I was coming up, and then when I got to High School... well I pitched and caught as most kids do that are your better players in the little leagues and Pony leagues. As I got to High School they just converted me to a first baseman/pitcher rather than a catcher/pitcher.

RK: You only played a few games in your first year. Was that the year you caught Joel Hoerlen's no-hitter?

EH: I came up because Jerry McNertney got hurt. They brought me up and I was there August, September and part of October. That was 1967. The catchers on the team at that time were J.C. Martin, myself, and Duane Josephson. Duane was hurt but they didn't put him on the DL whereas when Jerry got hurt they had to.

RK: So you caught the no-hitter in 1967?

EH: '67 and '76, if you can believe it.

RK: So one of the three games you caught in 1967 was a no-hitter...

EH: I caught the last end of it; I didn't start the game. I came in and caught the last end of it when J.C. got hurt. He fouled a ball off of his foot.

RK: But you're still counted as catching it..

EH: Yeah, they classify it as that. Whereas in Dierker's I caught the first pitch to the last pitch.

RK: I was at that game.

EH: Oh, were you? (laughs)

RK: Yeah, so I definitely remember who Ed Herrmann is. I think I remember you hitting a home run in that game.

EH: Ahhh, I'm not sure. All I worried about was the catching end of it in that game.

RK: When you were catching that no-hitter, what was the dugout like during the game?

EH: You know, it's a normal dugout until about the seventh inning. Then everybody starts to do everything they can not to talk about our side of the defense or, you know, what he's [Dierker] doing. You do everything you can to keep your mind, especially his mind, off of what's going on on the field -- until the ninth inning. In the ninth inning, Larry and I'll sit next to each other and we'll talk about the guys that are coming up -- 6,7,8 or whatever it was. Then we go over them, "do you want to keep this guy away?", or "do you want to throw him in?", or whatever we have to do. But basically, [in innings] 7 and 8 you don't say a word. If you can get by 7 and 8, in 9 you have a pretty good chance.

RK: That's a baseball superstition, right?

EH: Yeah, although I can go back to my White Sox times when Stan Bahnsen went 8 2/3rds no-hit and I thought we had it. (laughs) Walt Williams hit a three-hopper right through the 5-hole. If [third baseman Bill] Melton had been playing back he would have gotten that ball but he was up because Walt had a tendency to bunt at that time in his career, so that was the difference between Stan having a no-hitter and not. But it is fun catching them.

RK: I feel fortunate because I found the radio broadcast of the 1976 no-hitter

EH: Is that right?

RK: Yeah, it's available for sale online and so...

EH: Where can I get it?

RK: I'll email the link for you. Yeah! I guess you'd like to have that game.

EH: Yeah, I have absolutely nothing from Houston. I have no signed balls, I have nothing.

RK: What was really nice for me about the tape was that I got to listen to the post-game interview with Larry Dierker for the first time. One thing that Dierker said was that from the 5th or 6th inning onward he threw nothing but fastballs, which I thought was pretty unusual.

EH: Yep, but not if your fastball is moving enough. I look at Sandy Koufax and all the years that he threw. The majority of his pitches were fastballs because his ball moved enough. Larry, that day, had a ball that really was moving a lot. It was going in on righthanders, and he turned it over very well on lefthanders. So actually it's not [just] a fastball, it's a very moving pitch. We eliminated his slider because basically he had a backup slider all day going into righthanders, and he had the sinker and slider that was going backup to lefthanders. He didn't have to throw much more.

RK: In 1973, you had a really great season with the White Sox

EH: Nineteen home runs. I was platooning with "Josie", Duane Josephson, at the time. As you know, there are more righthanded pitchers than there are lefthanded, so I got to play more than he did. I had a very good year -- it really surprised me. And then the next year I go and have my appendix out, which just destroyed me.

RK: Are there any high points from that season that stick out in your mind?

EH: Basically, the way that the team got along, the manager at the time wasn't real good because the year after, we got a new one. Chuck Tanner came over from the Angels and started coaching us. The managerial portion of the White Sox at that time wasn't real good . Our manager was Don Gutteridge. He was a coach in the White Sox organization for many years and he was very close to a lot of players. Well, when you're close to a lot of players like a lot of coaches get, it's hard to become the head coach and completely reverse their way of thinking of you being the "nice guy". It was real hard for him to make the adjustment. He tried to stay in that "nice guy" mold and it was real hard as far as telling guys they couldn't play because most of them would talk him out of it. You'd come out to the mound and he'd go to take a pitcher out and the pitcher says "Hey, I've got another one or two hitters in me". Rather than him being the dictator and saying "well, I don't think you do. Let me have the ball". He'd always say, at least the majority of the time, "OK, we'll give you another one or two hitters" and by then it was too long.

RK: Well, you know Larry Dierker is the manager for the Astros and originally he was credited for letting the starters go deep but now he's criticized for leaving them in too long. Sometimes I think it's too easy to second-guess managers in hindsight.

EH: Yeah, it's real hard, especially for Larry, because he doesn't have the true setup man that he can bring in in the 7th

RK: Actually, this year they have really bolstered the bullpen, but I agree that last year it was horrendous, especially after Wagner was injured.

EH: How's Wagner throwing this year?

RK: He's back to his old self. His strikeouts aren't as high, but he's throwing his slider a lot more.

EH: Well, he's learning how to pitch now.

RK: Yeah, right when he's starting to think about being a free agent

EH: (laughs)

RK: OK. This is something I wanted to ask you. When you were in the All-Star Game in 1974, how competitive is the atmosphere in the dugout? How bad do you want to beat the other team?

EH: Real bad, or you wouldn't be an athlete. You do not like to lose. You can have fun while you're going about your business, but "losing" is not in your vocabulary. I don't care where you're at or what you're doing, that's why you see so many athletes when they're on a golf course, they blow up. It's a game that's hard to master and they're the type of people that don't like to lose. The competitiveness in them is unbelievable.

RK: It seems there's a lot more joviality in the All-Star Game nowadays.

EH: Yeah, but when they come out of that dugout, they're out there to throw balls. They're out there to catch balls. They're out there to strike guys out. When you go up to the plate, you're there to hit. Yeah, the pressure is taken off a little bit more because it is an All-Star Game, but once you get out of that dugout, it's right back to the reality of competing.

RK: What do you think about the players that get selected and say they want the time off instead?

EH: Well, I can say two things. One, if they have injuries, they should take the time off because their main club is the one that should mean the most to them. Secondly, in this day and age with the dollars and cents that are involved in sports, a lot of guys are just pampered so much that they end up doing what their agent wants them to do, which derails their way of thinking. A lot of guys that don't play are not playing because the agent has already set up other engagements for them, for dollars.

RK: In 1975, you were traded to the Yankees. What was it like playing in New York compared to other cities?

EH: I enjoyed New York. I really did -- other than the hours that everybody stayed up. I thought it was a place where people knew the game of baseball. They expect you to excel because you are a major-league baseball player, football player, basketball player. If you don't do what you're supposed to, they let you know about it. Whereas in Chicago, they knew baseball but they weren't quite as mean -- let me put it that way. They expected you to fail once in a while. Like everybody knows, you're going to fail 70% at the plate anyway. New York couldn't understand that; they never expected you to fail. And believe me, they would throw everything they could at you if you did.

RK: Well, since you played considerable time in both leagues, which city would you say has the most irate fans?

EH: As far as people that don't like opposing players, Boston is real good at that. They do everything they can to intimidate opposing players. And Philadelphia just doesn't like people. (laughs) Let's put it that way, unless you're on the Phillies.

RK: ...if you're having a good game. They didn't really like Mike Schmidt, either.

EH: No. And there's a Hall of Famer. It sure took a lot of years for them to finally say, "You know, he's a pretty good ballplayer".

RK: You had platooned with other catchers early in your career. When you came to Houston, you were placed in a platoon with Cliff Johnson. Was it any different...

EH: Not really because Bill Virdon was my manager with the Yankees and Bill and I got along very well. Mel Wright was the pitching coach with the Yankees and also in Houston. So both of them basically told me what was expected of me. You know, what my role would be as far as the leadership portion goes and everything else. I had a great time coming over there. I had no problem platooning with Cliff. In fact, it didn't take long for them to figure out that Cliff was going to be strictly pinch-hitting. As it went on, I did come in defensively for him in later innings if we were ahead. I did that in New York, too.

RK: Who did you platoon with in New York?

EH: There were two guys, when they were there. Rick Dempsey, the old "Dempster", and Thurman Munson. At the time when I went over there, Catfish [Hunter] and I got along real well and I was his personal catcher. That got me some playing time in New York, probably more than I should have gotten.

RK: Did Virdon and Wright have any influence with you getting traded to Houston?

EH: Oh yeah, they tried to get me right out of New York. They couldn't work a deal with the Astros, so what happened was I went with the Angels and then the Angels sent me over. I was only with the Angels two months. I knew I was going over there [to Houston] because I saw him [Virdon] in Spring Training and he had told me that I would be coming over eventually. It was just a matter of time until they got everything worked out.

RK: Aside from the no-hitter, are there any other memories that stick out from your days in Houston?

EH: Yeah, the day we got rained in! I thought that was the most amazing thing in the world. I never thought, going to a domed stadium, that there would ever be a day that I wouldn't play a game of baseball.

RK: So what kind of impact did it have on you when you started playing in a dome?

EH: A great impact. As far as the dome goes, I woke up every day knowing that we were going to be playing and it's easier to prepare that way. Whereas if you wake up and it's cloudy, and there's an 80% chance of thunderstorms like there was in Chicago many times, you'd get to the ballpark and you can't take batting practice. You don't know for sure if the game is gonna go so you're anticipating playing but in the back of your mind you'd kind of sit there and say, "well, I'm not sure I'm going to". So mentally, you're really not as prepared as you would be in a domed stadium.

RK: That's a great observation. After all, the first thing most people think of is the impact of the turf...

EH: Well, the turf is the turf. We had it in Chicago, we had it in Kansas City when I was in the American League - and those are outdoor stadiums.

RK: I didn't know that Old Comiskey Park had turf.

EH: Yep. They did it for one year. And the way they did it is they put it on the infield. They left the outfield as grass and the dirt lines as dirt. It was dumb.

RK: In your playing days, who was the toughest pitcher you had to face?

EH: Well, probably everybody. But the one that irritated me probably more than anybody else was the Fish -- Catfish [Hunter]. When he was at Oakland before I started catching him in New York, I had no idea what he did to prepare himself to pitch and how he knew how to get hitters out. He would throw me pitches that I thought that I could drive anywhere I wanted to and it would be a routine fly ball. After I started catching him in New York, we used to go out and have a couple of beers together and he explained to me what he used to do. He constantly took notes, and kept notes on every hitter that he would ever face. He knew how high up a ball had to be for you to hit it well, but not hit it out of the ballpark. It'd make you feel good so that you're not mad at him, and the next time up you're gonna do the same thing. Then you walk off the field with an 0-for-4; you hit the ball hard four times and you're telling yourself, "gee, I can't even get a break". But it was him throwing the ball to where he knew he could get you.

RK: I'd like to ask you a couple of questions related to catching and umpiring. Did you ever try to influence the umpire's "ball or strike" call by adjusting your position in the box? How important is how you catch the pitch?

EH: Well, what I do when I tutor now is, if you have a pitcher that is consistently 2,3,4 inches off the plate -- outside -- and your glove is not moving hardly at all (that's why Maddux gets so many of them), the umpire will give the pitcher that pitch. The catcher's not moving, everybody in the ballpark knows where the pitch is gonna be, and it's up to the hitter to make the adjustment because he [the pitcher] will not get the inside pitch.

RK: Did you change the way you called a game based on the umpire?

EH: Sometimes I did, yeah. Ron Luciano, before he passed away, when he was in the American League and he and I broke in together, used to be a "wide-plate" umpire. The plate, instead of being 17 [inches wide], was like 20. If we had people like Frank Robinson who loved the ball inside, we'd never give him a pitch inside and always stay away from him because we knew Ron would give us that call. Jerry Crawford -- you had to throw the ball over the plate and in the strike zone, never above the belt. So we would go lower, because he would give you the low pitch but would never give you anything above the belt. So yeah, every umpire had their own way of calling games and pitchers and catchers adjusted to the umpire. The umpire did not adjust to the pitcher and catcher.

RK: Did you talk a lot to the umpire during the game?

EH: Some of them I did, some of them I didn't. There's a lot of them that don't like to talk. Some of them come in with chips on their shoulder from the game before, if somebody argued with them or whatever. You had to learn the personalities of umpires the same way that managers learn the personalities of their players. You can proceed accordingly.

RK: Do you have any advice that you'd like to offer to aspiring catchers?

EH: The biggest thing would be to work as hard as you can to get a scholarship. Take the scholarship, get your education and, if you are good enough to sign after your junior year in college, go ahead and sign. A great example is the kid that's right here in San Diego with the Padres: Ben Davis. Coming out of high school, everybody knew he had a lot of potential. But until this last summer, he did not mature enough to be classified as a big league ballplayer. This year, finally, he has matured, became the leader, became everything that you're supposed to be as a catcher. If he would have stayed in college, I'm sure that he would have still gotten the same amount of money, if not more, and he would have had an opportunity to mature a little bit. But definitely go to school. If you have an opportunity to get an education through athletics, take it.

RK: Great advice. I've got one more question. Normally, I wouldn't ask a personal question like this but you have this featured prominently on your website. You mention December 23, 1991 as an important day and would you like to talk about how your life has changed since that day?

EH: Tremendously, really. When my Dad passed away, I was living a life similar to what I did when I was in baseball. I drank a lot, I was out a lot, I didn't bother to take care of the family things as much as I should have. The day my Dad died, I was basically alone because he was my mentor. He was the one I looked to when I needed things answered... even at the age of 40, 45. When he died, I was looking for someone else to take over my life and I found Him by prayer. I opened up my heart and brought Jesus in, and I will say that my life has changed tremendously. My family and myself now get along extremely well. We've talked about a lot of things I used to do. My last drink was August 2nd, two years ago. I haven't had a drink since.

RK: Congratulations!

EH: Thank you! (laughs) It took a lot of years and I got a lot of people a lot of good dividends out of their stocks if they were in the alcohol business. But I think what happened to me is like a lot of other people. I finally realized that baseball was no longer part of my life, as far as professionally. I was still coaching at the high school (I'm coaching now at the college level) but I finally matured enough to realize that the professional life is gone. It was time for me to turn that corner and do something with my own life that would not only benefit me but would benefit my family. Christ was the answer for me.

RK: Mr. Herrmann, I've taken up a lot of your time and you've been very gracious and accommodating for this interview. Thank you for a wonderful interview.