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Herr an unexpected pacesetter at plate; Hawkins finally halted

The St. Louis Cardinals, whose super team balance has begun to assert itself in the National League East, may also have the Player of the Year in second baseman Tommy Herr. Herr, whose best previous year with the Redbirds was 1983, when he hit .323 but in just 89 games, is currently protecting the plate so well that he is forcing most pitchers to come to him.

While Herr has never been thought of in terms of a batting championship before, he currently leads the league with a .352 average, with only teammate Willie McGee (.349) applying the heat.

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Until this season, Herr, a switch-hitter, was always considered more of a tablesetter for the power batters further back in the Cardinal lineup. While managers do appreciate the value of a lifetime .276 singles hitter who doesn't strike out much, it isn't often that a guy with a three-year RBI average under 40 suddenly gets to bat third.

``There are a couple of reasons why I moved Herr into the No. 3 spot for us,'' explained St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog. ``One reason was because nobody else I had tried there was doing the job for me. The other was because of Tommy's consistency at the plate. He just looked like he was ready for more responsibility.''

Herr has already driven in more runs than he did before in a full season. Yet basically Tommy hasn't changed anything about the way he hits, except maybe to move his hands up higher on the bat anytime he's in a two-strike situation.

``With Vince Coleman and Willie McGee batting ahead of me and Jack Clark behind me, I'm getting a lot more good pitches I can reach,'' Herr said. ``Because Coleman and McGee are always a threat to steal, you can almost forget about seeing a breaking pitch when they are on base and gear up for the fastball. Pitchers don't want much of Clark, either, who is also a lot more apt to hit the ball out of the park than I am.''

Herr, who has never won a Gold Glove or been voted to the National League All-Star team, is hoping that his hot bat this year will not only place him on the all-star squad but also call more attention to his outstanding fielding. He is probably as fluid at turning the double play as any middle infielder in the game.

``I've been disappointed in the past when players who weren't fielding as well as me got more attention than I did,'' Tommy said. ``It's pretty obvious, I think, that reputations in baseball are built mostly on what you do offensively.''

Remember pitcher Juan Marichal, who went 10-0 to open the season with the 1966 San Francisco Giants? Since then nobody in the National League has done as well, not, that is, until right-hander Andy Hawkins made it 11-0 with the San Diego Padres before finally losing last week. But even at 11-1 he owned the league's best start since Pittsburgh's Elroy Face went 17-0 in 1959. Because Andy has never been this consistent before, this development might seem strange. It really shouldn't. Hawkins has always had good stuff, and last October, working out of the bullpen against the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, he allowed only one run in 152/3 innings of pitching.

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``Partly because of what Hawkins did in the World Series and partly because I needed another starter this year, I decided to put Andy into the rotation this spring and see what happened'' explained San Diego Manager Dick Williams.

What happened was that Hawkins, who had never challenged that many hitters before, began coming inside with his fastball, then following up with a slider outside that nobody could seem to reach.

Of course that streak had to end for Hawkins sometime and the team that finally handed Andy his first defeat was the Los Angeles Dodgers. Actually the honor of knocking off Andy belonged more to Pedro Guerrero, L.A.'s hardest hitter in June with a flock of home runs, his 14th being the one that buried Hawkins.

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