#CardCorner: 1988 Topps Tom Herr
Tom Herr, who began his big league career with 1,160 at-bats without a home run, turned that speed into runs batted in like few hitters ever had.
Born April 4, 1956 in Lancaster, Pa., Herr starred on the basketball court for Hempfield High School in Lancaster but also excelled in football, baseball and track. He accepted a basketball scholarship to Duke University, going undrafted by all 24 MLB clubs in 1974 despite excelling on the diamond in high school and for his local American Legion team, which finished third in the Pennsylvania state tournament that year.
But when Bill Foster replaced Neill McGeachy as the Duke basketball coach, all of McGeachy’s scholarship offers were voided. The Cardinals, however, kept tabs on Herr and signed him as an amateur free agent.
In 1975, Herr made his pro debut with the Johnson City Cardinals of the Appalachian League, hitting .308 in 42 games.
Cardinals Membership Card
Relive your cherished baseball memories and favorite moments from your team with your personalized membership card.
“I had better high school hitters,” Hempfield High School coach Harry Wirth told the Lancaster New Era. “I had boys with better arms and guys who probably were faster. But I never had anybody who put it all together in one package and also had so much in the way of baseball aptitude.”
Herr spent the 1976 and 1977 seasons with St. Petersburg of the Class A Florida State League, hitting .303 with 50 stolen bases – the top total in the FSL – in the latter campaign. He began the 1978 season with Double-A Arkansas and was promoted to Triple-A Springfield late in the year, finishing the season with a .290 batting average and 33 steals over both levels.
After getting a look-see by the big league club in Spring Training in 1979 – his second straight season where he was invited to the major league camp – Herr hit .293 with 29 steals back at Triple-A. He debuted in the big leagues on Aug. 13, 1979, after Cardinals starting second baseman Mike Tyson was injured. Herr appeared in 14 games down the stretch, coming to the plate just 12 times and recording two hits.
Then in 1980, Herr made the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster as a reserve infielder after Tyson was traded to the Cubs in the offseason. He served as a backup to Ken Oberkfell at second base but was hitting just .163 when he was sent back to Triple-A on June 28.
But after hitting .312 in 37 games for Springfield, Herr was recalled to St. Louis and batted .337 from Sept. 6 through season’s end, finishing with a .248 mark in 76 games with St. Louis.
Whitey Herzog, who took over as Cardinals manager midway through the 1980 campaign, moved Oberkfell to third base in 1981 and made Herr his Opening Day second baseman despite the fact that Herr hit only .206 in Spring Training.
“He hit the ball well all spring,” Herzog told the Lancaster New Era, “and didn’t have any luck.”
After going 0-for-10 in the Cardinals first three regular season games, Herr settled in and became one of the team’s most consistent hitters. He played in each of St. Louis’ 103 games in that strike-shortened season, batting .268 while committing just five errors, leading the league in fielding percentage (.992) and assists (374) among second basemen. The Cardinals’ 59 wins were more than any other National League East team, but St. Louis finished second in both the first half and second half of the split season, falling short of a playoff berth.
Herr also set a record when he recorded two RBI on one sacrifice fly in Game 4 when Milwaukee’s Gorman Thomas stumbled while fielding Herr’s long second-inning drive, allowing Willie McGee and Ozzie Smith to score on the play.
The Cardinals won the World Series in seven games.
“When I realize I was part of a championship team,” Herr told the New Era, “and had what it took to contribute to a winning situation under enormous pressure, that’s very gratifying.”
Herr had arthroscopic knee surgery following the season, setting the stage for an injury-plagued 1983. Herr was leading the NL with a .323 batting average on Aug. 6, 1983, before missing the Cardinals’ final 54 games that year due to ongoing knee problems. He would endure three different procedures on his left knee that year.
The 1983 season did, however, feature Herr’s first big league home run. It came off the Giants’ Andy McGaffigan in his 1,161st at-bat on May 10.
He committed more than nine errors in only one of his 13 big league seasons and finished his career with a .989 fielding percentage that still ranks in the Top 15 all-time.
“He was probably the best of the 40 second basemen that I’ve played with,” Smith said toward the end of his Hall of Fame career. “Tommy and I never really had to work a lot together because the chemistry out there on the field was great.
“I knew where he was, he knew where I was and it worked.”
A side muscle pull slowed Herr in 1984, but he still hit .276 in 145 games. Then in 1985, Herr changed his approach at the plate – moving up in the box, which straightened out many hard-hit balls that were landing in foul territory. Herr began the season with eight hits in his first 17 at-bats, hitting third in a lineup that would eventually feature speedsters Vince Coleman and Willie McGee in the first two spots.
Herr, who was the Cardinals’ player representative that season, was mentally fatigued by the labor negotiations, which resulted in a two-day work stoppage Aug. 6-7 before the issue was resolved.
“I went 1-for-14 the three days before the strike,” Herr told the New Era. “As a player rep, I had a lot of outside things on my mind, especially the week before the strike deadline. I felt I was so weighed down by that I wasn’t preparing myself as usual for games, and mentally I was really under a strain. I was swinging at bad pitches.”
But after the dispute was resolved, Herr reeled off a nine-game hitting streak as he finished August with a .323 batting average, the same mark he was at on July 31. A late-season slump dropped his average to .302, but Herr recorded his 100th RBI of the season on Sept. 19 and scored the go-ahead run in the Cardinals 7-1 win over the Cubs Oct. 5 that clinched the National League East for St. Louis on the season’s penultimate day.
Herr’s eight home runs made him the first player since George Kell in 1950 to reach the century mark in RBI while hitting fewer than 10 home runs. Since then, only Paul Molitor in 1996 has matched those totals.
Herr drove in three runs in the Cardinals’ win over the Giants in the NLCS, including a two-run, sixth-inning single in Game 7 that gave St. Louis a 6-0 lead and iced the game.
In the World Series, Herr got hot as the Fall Classic progressed. Herr had been held hitless in the final two games of the 1985 World Series and the first two games of the 1987 Fall Classic, but snapped an 0-for-21 skid with a sixth-inning single in Game 3. He had two hits and two walks in Game 4 as St. Louis tied the series, and the Cardinals were one win away from a title after a 4-2 win in Game 5.
But with the series heading back to the Metrodome – where the Twins had a huge home-field advantage – Herr was cautious about the Cardinals’ chances.
“I’m not even sure we are in command,” Herr told the Lancaster New Era after Game 5. “We went into Kansas City in the 1985 World Series with a 3-2 lead and couldn’t put them away.”
Once again, the Cardinals lost the final two games of the World Series despite Herr’s four hits in nine at-bats.
With Herr’s contract sent to expire after the 1988 season – and the Cardinals, as always, looking for more power in the lineup – St. Louis traded Herr to the Twins for outfielder Tom Brunansky on April 22, 1988, opening the door at second base for prospect Luis Alicea.
“I was shocked,” Herr told the Intelligencer Journal. “It’s the farthest thing from your mind that you’d be traded.
“It’s tough to leave, considering everything we’ve won.”
Herr hit .263 in 86 games for the Twins, then was traded to the Phillies on Oct. 24 despite the fact that he was about to become a free agent. But the lure of playing close to his Lancaster home brought Herr back to the Phillies on a two-year deal worth $1.65 million.
“I wanted to stay home. I didn’t want to uproot my family,” Herr told the Associated Press. “Ever since I was traded to Minnesota, I set my sights on playing in Philadelphia and getting back to the National League.”
Herr hit .287 in 151 games for the Phillies in 1989 but drove in only 37 runs as the Phillies finished last in the NL East. He was hitting .264 through 119 games in 1990 when the Phillies traded him to the Mets on Aug. 30. Herr helped stabilize New York’s infield down the stretch, but the Mets finished four games behind Pittsburgh in the race for the division title.
Herr returned to the Mets on a one-year deal for 1991, reuniting with Coleman – who signed as a free agent with New York after leading the NL in stolen bases in each of his six seasons with the Cardinals. But the magic from St. Louis was never recaptured as Coleman battled injuries and Herr hit just .194 before being released on Aug. 5. He hooked on with the Giants for the final month-and-a-half of the season.
When he found no offers for 1992, Herr retired. Following his playing career, Herr served as an assistant coach for several seasons at Hempfield High School in football, basketball and baseball.
He returned to pro ball in 2005 as the first manager of the Lancaster Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League, and led Lancaster to the league title in 2006. He managed the Washington National’s Class A affiliate in Hagerstown in 2007 and later returned to the Barnstormers as a coach.
In 13 big league seasons, Herr totaled 1,450 hits, 188 steals and 574 RBI. He was named to the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2020.
“My goals are pretty much team oriented,” Herr said in 1981 as he prepared to start his first full season in the big leagues. “I really want to make myself a complete ballplayer who’s going to help the team.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum