SABR

Sherm Lollar

This article was written by John McMurray.

Soft spoken and self-effacing, Sherman Lollar provided a strong defensive presence behind the plate during his eighteen-year Major League career. Lollar spent twelve seasons with the Chicago White Sox, after spending all or parts of six seasons with three other American League teams. An All-Star catcher seven times, Lollar won American League Gold Glove awards from 1957 through 1959, the first three years it was given.

Though Lollar played well and received awards during the 1950s, he did not receive as much national recognition as did fellow catcher Yogi Berra, who won three Most Valuable Player awards. As Red Gleason wrote in The Saturday Evening Post in 1957, “It is the fate of some illustrious men to spend a career in the shadow of a contemporary. Adlai Stevenson had his Dwight Eisenhower. Lou Gehrig had his Babe Ruth. Bob Hope had his Bing Crosby. And Sherman Lollar has his Yogi Berra.”

John Sherman Lollar, Jr. was born on August 23, 1924, in Durham, Arkansas, to John and Ruby (Springfield) Lollar. When Lollar Jr. was three years old, he moved with his family to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where his parents opened a grocery store.

Lollar’s interest in baseball began at an early age, and he remembered playing catch with his father outside the store as a six year old.1 When he was eight, his father died unexpectedly during surgery. At that early age, Lollar, who was the oldest of four children, including two girls (Bonnie and Pat) and a boy (Jerry, who was born after his father’s death), had to take on additional responsibilities at home.

His mother sold the grocery store and began working in a nursing home for the Veterans Administration. She told Gleason, “Sherman took a large share of the responsibility of looking after the younger children. He was both a big brother and father. Our being left alone so soon created a sense of oneness in all of us that remains even now.”

Despite his additional responsibilities, Lollar’s interest in baseball never waned. In 1936, shortly before he turned twelve, Lollar became a batboy for the Fayetteville Bears in the Arkansas-Missouri League. After graduating from Fayetteville High School, a school that had no baseball team, the sixteen-year-old Lollar took a job with J.C. Penney in Pittsburg, Kansas. He played with a team affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce in the Ban Johnson League while also studying at Pittsburg State Teachers College (now Pittsburgh State University). Two years later, after the Ban Johnson League folded, Lollar both played for and managed the semipro Baxter Springs (Kansas) Miners, working as a brakeman in a local mine when he wasn’t playing baseball.

The Baltimore Orioles of the International League signed Lollar in 1943, when he was eighteen. His pay was $20 a month. He batted just .118 in twelve games, but improved to .250 with fifteen home runs in 1944. He also drove in seventy-two runs, one of the highest totals for any catcher in organized baseball that year.

Lollar won the International League’s Most Valuable Player award in 1945, tearing up the league with thirty-four home runs, 111 runs batted in, and a league-leading batting average of .364. Baltimore had a working agreement with the Cleveland Indians and was forced to sell its top slugger to the Major League team for $10,000.

After making his big league debut on April 20, 1946, Lollar played infrequently behind veteran catchers Frankie Hayes and Jim Hegan. He asked to go back to Baltimore so he could play regularly. Back in the International League, Lollar was unable to duplicate his previous year’s batting success. He batted just .234, but he did hit twenty home runs in only 222 at-bats for the Orioles. His biggest plus that year was meeting his future wife, Connie Mattard, whom he married in 1949.

In December 1946, Cleveland included Lollar in a five-player deal with the New York Yankees. The Indians had been willing to trade Lollar because of concerns about his attitude. According to writer Bill Roeder, “The Cleveland complaint was that Lollar displayed insufficient dash and spirit. He had the ability all right, but no inclination to exploit it. Within a month, he was homesick for Baltimore, and [Cleveland manager Lou] Boudreau sent him back. Now Sherman belongs to the Yankees, and they hope he will react favorably to the fresh start.”

In New York he was caught in a catching logjam that included Ralph Houk, Charlie Silvera, Aaron Robinson, Gus Niarhos, and Yogi Berra. As a consequence, Lollar spent most of the 1947 season with the Newark Bears, the Yankees’ farm club in the International League.

Lollar appeared in only eleven regular-season games for the Yankees in 1947, but he did play in the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, getting three hits, including two doubles, in four at-bats. About Game Three, sportswriter Dan Daniel wrote, “A secondary standout was Sherman Lollar, who started the game as a surprise entry. [Manager Bucky] Harris benched Berra in favor of the right-handed Lollar against the southpaw [Joe] Hatten. Lollar got a single which became a run in the third, and in the fourth drove in a run with a double.”

A contemporaneous article called Lollar “a Charley Gehringer type,” adding, “He appears a colorless, dispassionate individual, on and off the field, but he gets his job done effectively. If Lollar hits as well as Gehringer did, no one will care if he doesn’t say a word all season.”

In parts of two seasons with the Yankees, Lollar saw action in only thirty-three games. Yogi Berra was on his way to becoming a star and Lollar’s playing time was further reduced by a hand injury caused by a foul tip, requiring him to get stitches on two fingers of his throwing hand. In August 1948, Dan Daniel wrote, “Sherman Lollar, right-handed hitting catcher, is another who has possibly had his last big opportunity with the Bombers. Now that Yogi Berra is available again, Gus Niarhos will handle all the receiving duties against left-handed pitching.”

Not surprisingly, Lollar was soon traded, this time to the St. Louis Browns on December 13, 1948, with pitchers Red Embree and Dick Starr and $100,000 in return for catcher Roy Partee and pitcher Fred Sanford. In St. Louis, Lollar took over for Les Moss as the team’s regular catcher and batted .261 in 1949 with eight home runs. For three seasons, Lollar stabilized the catching position for the second-division Browns while earning All-Star honors for the first time in 1950.

After the 1951 season, the Chicago White Sox were looking for a replacement for incumbent catcher Phil Masi, and on November 27, they received Lollar from the Browns in an eight-player deal. According to his son, Lollar’s salary was increased to about $12,000 when he was traded.

Arriving in Chicago was the break Sherm Lollar needed. Unlike the Browns, who had won only 52 games in 1951, the White Sox had finished eight games over .500 and were considered a potential World Series contender. But the 1952 season was a disappointment for Lollar, who endured additional stress when his wife fell ill after childbirth. While he batted only .240, his work with manager Paul Richards helped turn the young catcher’s career around. As Gleason recounted in The Saturday Evening Post, Lollar later said:

“When I was having that terrible year in 1952, Richards called me into his office late in the season. He told me that my natural style of catching lacked appeal and I would have to be more of a holler guy. Paul said he understood my problem because he had been the same kind of catcher that I was. I feel that I’ve always hustled in baseball, but until Paul talked to me I probably had a misconception of what ‘hustle’ meant. I hustled to first base on a batted ball, and I hustled when the ball was around me. Richards made me see that something more was expected.

“Paul told me to show a little more animation. He wanted me to be a little more agile in receiving, and to show more zip in returning the ball to the pitcher. He recommended that I run to and from the catcher’s box between innings, instead of just strolling out there.”

Gleason wrote that Richards recommended Lollar’s distinctive style of catching, with his left knee on the ground, because, according to Richards, “This moved him up – closer to the plate – and down – closer to the ground.”

Lollar caught 100 or more games in each of his twelve seasons with the White Sox, and he was an American League All-Star six times (1954–1956 and 1958–1960). As evidenced by his Gold Gloves, he developed into perhaps the best defensive catcher in the game. In 1957 he played without making an error in his first eighty-nine games before throwing wildly to second base on September 14.

Years after trading for Lollar, White Sox general manager Frank Lane said, “It was one of the best trades I ever made. Sherm turned out to be one of the best catchers in the American League, behind only Yogi Berra and maybe Jim Hegan.” Paul Richards told Gleason that Lollar was a better handler of pitchers than Berra.

Throughout his time in the American League, Lollar was compared to Berra, whose offensive numbers and championships outshined Lollar’s. Wrote Gleason in The Saturday Evening Post, “Where Berra is distinctive looking, to put it mildly, the brown-haired Lollar is a sad-faced, sad-eyed individual. In most of his pictures, he looks as though someone has stolen his favorite catcher’s mitt. In his ‘smiling’ pictures, the smile seems forced. Berra is celebrated for malapropisms. Lollar is seldom quoted. An unobtrusive workman, he is obscured on his own club by crowd-pleasers such as Nellie Fox, Minnie Minoso, Jim Rivera, and Luis Aparicio.”

On April 23, 1955, against Kansas City during a 29–6 rout, Lollar accomplished the rare feat of getting two hits in an inning twice in the same game. He had his finest offensive season for Chicago’s 1959 pennant winners, batting .265 with twenty-two home runs and eighty-four RBIs. In both 1958 and 1959, he finished ninth in the American League’s Most Valuable Player voting.

Perhaps most importantly, Lollar was instrumental in handling the team’s pitching staff in 1959. Although he batted only .227 in the World Series, he hit a three-run homer in Game Four off the Dodgers’ Roger Craig with two outs in the seventh inning to tie the game at 4–4. Other than the three home runs hit by Ted Kluszewski, Lollar’s home run was the only one hit by a White Sox player in that Series. However, a key point of the Series came in Game Two, when the slow-footed Lollar was thrown out at the plate while trying to score from first base on Al Smith’s eighth-inning double, which helped ensure a 4–3 Chicago loss.

Lollar’s overall offensive performance began to decline in 1960, and the White Sox released him on October 4, 1963. Although he was not known as a power hitter, the six-foot-one, 185-pounder had 155 career home runs among his 1,415 hits. Lollar committed only 62 errors in 1,571 games behind the plate in his Major League career, finishing with a .992 fielding percentage.

In his 2001 Historical Baseball Abstract, historian Bill James rated Lollar as the thirty-first best catcher ever. James wrote” “[Lollar] led his league in fielding percentage five times, in double plays three times, also has the lowest career passed ball rate of any catcher listed here.”2

After his playing career ended, Lollar sought a minor-league manager’s job. Al Lopez remarked, “[Lollar] had tremendous ability with young pitchers. I think he shows great ability at handling men, which is the most important part of managing in the game.”

Lollar coached with the Baltimore Orioles from 1964 through 1967 and with the Oakland Athletics in 1968. He managed two Oakland farm teams: the Iowa Oaks of the American Association from 1970 through 1972 and the Tucson Toros of the Pacific Coast League in 1973 and 1974. He left the Toros after the 1974 season reportedly because of a dispute with Athletics owner Charley Finley.

Lollar barely escaped serious injury while managing in Iowa in 1970. He was sitting in his car at a red light after a game, when a nearby building suddenly collapsed. “I was just sitting there listening to the radio when—wham! It was like the sky falling,” he recalled. “What made it worse was that I had no idea what was happening. I couldn’t see a thing because of the dust and debris.” Luckily, he was unhurt.

In the last few years of his life, Lollar operated a bowling alley in Springfield, Missouri, and refereed high-school basketball games. After a long battle with cancer, he died in Springfield on September 24, 1977. He was fifty-three years old. Lollar was survived by his wife, Connie, and a son, Sherman III. He is buried in Rivermonte Memorial Gardens in Springfield.

 

This biography is included in the book "Bridging Two Dynasties: The 1947 New York Yankees" (University of Nebraska Press, 2013), edited by Lyle Spatz. For more information, or to purchase the book from University of Nebraska Press, click here.

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