Tom Herr – 1989 Fleer
September 30, 2010
Tom “Iron Horse” Herr
Irascible (in a good way) columnist Patrick Reusse of the Minneapolis Star Tribune gave Herr that nickname during his disastrous (with a capital “D”) 1988 campaign in Minnesota.
How disastrous was that 1988 season?
Well, it tore apart a team, friendships, and fan support for the team. Other than that…
(The irony is that the 1988 Twins won six more games than the 1987 Twins, but still…)
The Cards and Twins just met in the 1987 World Series, won 4-3 by the Twins thanks to four Dome games. One of the catalysts of the Twins’ rise from the absolute nadir of the league to the top was Tom Brunansky. Bruno was part of the 1982 Twins that went 60-102 but broke in long time stalwarts Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Randy Bush, Frank Viola and Tim Laudner. He was stolen from the Angels for Doug Corbett (a one-year wonder out of the game by1988) and Rob Wilfong (who never met a sac bunt he couldn’t lay down).
The 1988 Twins got off to a 4-10 start, and after a 11-6 loss to Cleveland (who was, inexplicably 13-3) GM Andy MacPhail thought something needed to be done. Bruno was off to a slow start, and second baseman Steve Lombardozzi was hitting sub-.100 at the time. Lombardozzi wasn’t well liked, either, as some thought he was selfish and me-first (which only crops up when you are losing).
Herr was doing his Tom Herr thing, but the Cards were 4-11. The Cards, never a power-hitting team to begin with, were batting Herr cleanup.
Tom Herr, cleanup.
Now, I loved Tommy Herr when he was on my APBA team. I had Herr and Ozzie Smith as my 2B and SS and had the best infield defense possible. But one thing I know, in my heart of hearts, is that Tommy Herr is NO cleanup hitter.
So two struggling teams needing a kick start made a trade. Sure, why not?
It was Herr for Brunansky. A straight up trade – the Cards getting power and the Twins getting a second baseman.
Herr was perfect for St. Louis. Yes, his OPS+ was low, but he could field, run and put the ball in play. In Minnesota, though, those weren’t the skills needed for success.
Brunansky went to St. Louis and did his bit. Yes, he hit for a low average, but he walked and hit home runs and surprisingly stole 16 bases! The Cards had a poor year (75-87) but it wasn’t Bruno’s fault
Herr, on the other hand…
1. Forced the Twins to play Gene Larkin, John Moses and Randy Bush more than expected. While they all had nice seasons, none of them had the power that Brunansky had.
2. Hated the fact he was traded. Reusse said that “The Iron Horse came to Minnesota with a chance to play an important role on a team trying to defend a championship. Herr brought with him the enthusiasm normally associated with being called to an IRS audit.”
3. Missed a lot of time due to a leg injury, which the aforementioned Mr. Reusse didn’t think was serious enough to keep him out of the lineup as much as he did.
4. Because of #3, forced Lombardozzi back into the lineup after he got a vote of ‘no confidence’. He responded by dragging his average all the way up to .209 and playing himself out of the league.
5. Because of #4, an incident happened during a mid-July game. With Herr out, Lombardozzi had been playing second but was slumping and Al Newman was taking some time from him. He had a ‘red ass’ all of the time, and when Tom Kelly pinch hit Kelvin Torve for Lombardozzi in a loss at Boston, Lombo erupted in the clubhouse.
On the flight home, Dan Gladden and some other Twins players argued with the second baseman. The Twins had an off day the next day and Lombo went over to “Dazzle” Gladden’s house to settle differences. They settled them. Gladden cracked a bone in his right ring finger and Lombardozzi had scratches and a black eye.
6. He was very open about religion and was a clubhouse preacher. While Greg Gagne was a Christian, he was rather quiet about it. Herr was not.
7. Because of #6, he wrecked the chemistry of the club and almost put a permanent end to the friendship of Gaetti and Hrbek. Those two were inseparable louts, fun loving and non-serious. But Herr was the main catalyst to convert Gaetti into a fundamentalist, and almost overnight he was the exact opposite of Hrbek.
While chemistry can be overrated, something that drastic that happens during the season can’t be good. And even though, as noted above, the Twins won more games in 1988 than in 1987, they never were in the race and finished a very distant second to Oakland.
By the beginning of the next season, Gaetti and Hrbek were speaking again but still very tentative about their relationship. Herr and Lombardozzi were exiled – Herr to Philly for Shane Rawley, Lombardozzi to Houston for two minor leaguers. In a cost saving move, Blyleven was dealt for Paul Sorrento, and the Mets traded the decaying remains of Wally Backman to the Twins for three minor leaguers. Oh, and Jim Dwyer was traded to Montreal late in the year, and then traded back from Montreal at the end of the season. In 1989, the Twins finished fifth. In 1990, they were in last, setting up the improbable 1991 World Series win.
MacPhail and his replacement, Terry Ryan were reminiscing about some bad deals they made. Ryan brought up the infamous release of David Ortiz in 2002, to which MacPhail replied,
“Yeah, but you didn’t trade Tom Brunansky for Tommy Herr.”