In this feature, we will help you acquaint yourself with some of the finest practitioners of the most thankless task in baseball to ever don the “tools of ignorance” for our beloved Chicago Baseball teams. This week we feature Ed Herrmann.
There were few jobs worse or more thankless than catching for the White Sox in the early to mid 70s. The teams weren’t bad, mainly riding Dick Allen’s bat to some decent records. Unfortunately, they had what amounted to an all-star team in Oakland keeping them from playing more than 162 games in a season.
But that’s not what made the job so bad. The Sox went all-in on knuckleballers, starting with Hoyt Wilhelm and Wilbur Wood, before replacing Wilhelm with Eddie Fisher.
The oh-so-doughy Wood was the Sox workhorse, racking up 5 straight years of 40+ starts, topping off with 49 in 1972. In that stretch, Wood won 20+ games 4 times, and lost 20+ twice, including doing both in 1973.
So this meant whoever got stuck behind the plate had a worse job than the shovel guy at the Shrine Circus. That was Ed Herrmann. Herrmann led the American League in passed balls 4 out of 5 years from 1969-1974, thanks in no small part to all those damn knuckleballs. It didn’t even help that he had a special mitt for catching the knuckler, that basically looked like a bean bag chair from a Lincoln Park bachelor pad.
Herrmann was a pretty decent hitter, topping off at 19 home runs in 1970. He was named to the 1974 AL all star game, but due to an injury he showed up with crutches. He was also an excellent plate blocker, having been a linebacker in high school. This earned him the nickname of “Fort Herrmann”, even though his teammates called him “Hoggy”.
After his all-star season, he held out for more money. White Sox management balked, and traded him to the Yankees. He got into 80 games there, but the spot behind the plate clearly belonged to Thurman Munson. He then bounced from the Angels to the Astros (where he caught Larry Dierker’s no-hitter) to a brief stint in Montreal backing up Gary Carter before his playing career came to an end at age 31.
His one other significant contribution to the White Sox was being one of the builders of the “Big White Machine”, which would circle the field after each win of the 1970 season. All 56 of them.
It looked more suited for tooling around the Michigan dunes than driving around a big league ballpark (Groundskeeper Gene Bossard’s son Roger would handle the driving to make sure it stayed on the warning track and off the grass). But it went over with the White Sox faithful, who didn’t have much to cheer for that year.
Herrmann stayed active as a scout and coach of high school players until his death in 2013.