SABR

Lefty Herring

This article was written by Craig Lammers.

Many players played for National and American League teams in Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia or St. Louis. Just a dozen men played for Washington teams in both leagues. Some of the best known are John Anderson, Jack Doyle, Win Mercer and Kip Selbach. Most of the rest are recognizable to fans of Deadball Era major or minor league baseball. Easily the most obscure is a Washington area amateur who had two cups of coffee in the major leagues five years apart. Silas "Lefty" Herring pitched for Washington's National League team briefly in 1899, and was used as a first baseman and outfielder five years later by the city's American League team.

Silas Clarke Herring was born in Philadelphia on March 4, 1880. His father Fred was a 26-year-old clerk, and his mother, the former Elizabeth Potts, was likely 33 years old. Silas was the family's second of nine children. At the time of his birth, the family's Carlisle Street household also included Elizabeth's brother Harvey, a boarder (who was also a Cadet at West Point), and a servant.

During the mid-1880s, the Herrings moved to Washington, D.C., and Fred entered the real estate business. Evidently successful, he soon had two offices and also made loans and sold insurance. The family lived at 1019 F Street Northwest in Washington. A member of the firm Herring & Ayers, Frederick Herring died on November 3, 1895, leaving a widow and six children living at home. With four children under the age of ten, Elizabeth Herring was soon forced to obtain employment as a government clerk. Her oldest daughter Marion almost certainly cared for the younger children, and Silas joined his mother as a government clerk by the end of the century.

During off hours, Lefty Herring was making a reputation in baseball. He played for the Hamiltons, one of Washington's better amateur teams. Mostly a pitcher, he was sometimes used at third base, despite being a left-handed thrower. Amateur teams in the District of Columbia, many affiliated with government offices, had produced major league players for decades. One of the first stars was catcher Charles "Pop" Snyder, an eighteen-year major leaguer (1873-91).

In 1899, the National League consisted of twelve teams. Washington was one of four cities absorbed from the defunct American Association after 1891. The Senators were a perennial second-division team. In eight years of National League play, their best finish was to tie with Brooklyn for sixth place in 1897. They finished last once and eleventh three other seasons. Team owner Earl Wagner operated an under-funded team and was always scrambling to find talent. In early 1899, that search led to the city's sandlots and Lefty Herring.

Bill Dinneen was later an effective major league pitcher for the National League team in Brooklyn and American League teams in Boston and St. Louis, but in 1899 he was a young and inconsistent pitcher for the Senators. On the afternoon of May 16, 1899, he was the starting pitcher against the Boston Beaneaters. Boston had won the National League pennant in 1898 and would finish second in 1899. In mid-May, they were struggling in fifth place. That would begin to change against Dinneen. The Washington Post said of his performance that day, "Pitcher Dineen's [sic] twists of the ball were slammed, beaten, biffed all over the Wagnerian acres. Willie was awry, tacky, ratty, excited, and inflicted with stage fright when the champions introduced themselves to his dizzy pivots and fantastic benders in the fifth. So awry was this pitcher that he assisted at his own doom in the fifth by taking a wild west shot at the grand stand on Fred Tenney's bunt." Boston scored four in the fifth and three more in the sixth that afternoon, taking an 8-3 lead.

Dinneen was removed after the seventh, and Herring entered the game. According to the Post, the youngster was "a mere lad of seventeen [actually nineteen], with a free swing in delivering the ball and a drop ball that fooled Tenny [sic] into a strike." Describing Herring's inning of work, the Post noted that "Tenny [sic] nibbled at one of his curves for a fly to [first baseman Pete] Cassidy—a neat catch by the way. [Herman] Long waited for a base on balls. [Jimmy] Collins was thrown out by [third baseman Win] Mercer and [Hugh] Duffy gave [left fielder Jack] O'Brien an easy fly."

Despite being the home team, the Senators batted first that day. In the top of the ninth, "Herring walked to bat in the final inning, and slammed a grounder past Herman Long for a single. O'Brien hit on the fly to Long, and the novice lost his head by failing to return to first, being doubled up." The Post reported Herring "was a hit with the crowd. He possesses speed and control, and with the benefit of coaching should be developed into a clever left-handed pitcher."

As it turned out, the teenager made just one more appearance in the National League. When manager Arthur Irwin took over the Senators late in 1898, after a successful season managing at Toronto, he brought several Toronto players to the National League with him. One of those was pitcher Kirtley Baker. Baker had failed trials with Pittsburgh and Baltimore earlier in the decade, but he had shown enough late in 1898 to be retained by Irwin for 1899. That effectiveness deserted him in 1899, and June 1 was typical. Visiting Pittsburgh scored ten runs in the third, and Baker was removed after four. Herring entered the game in the fifth. He pitched a scoreless inning, allowing just one baserunner on a walk to opposing pitcher Jim Gardner. Gardner returned the favor, walking Herring in the bottom of the inning. The young pitcher possessed speed, scoring from first on a one out double by rookie Jimmy Slagle. Washington scored eight runs that inning, prompting Irwin to remove Herring for the more experienced Mercer. Washington lost 11-10, but it was certainly a painful win. Mercer bowled over Pirate catcher Frank Bowerman, knocking the ball out of his hand to score Washington's tenth run in the seventh. In the bottom of that inning, Senator catcher Dick Butler knocked out Pittsburgh's Jack McCarthy on a wild throw back to pitcher Mercer.

Though effective on the mound, at bat, and even on the bases, Herring didn't receive a further trial from a team that escaped the National League's cellar only because Cleveland posted a record of 20-134. Washington, 54-98 on the season, was one of four teams dropped by the National League in early 1900, depriving Lefty Herring of another opportunity as a major league pitcher.

Surprisingly, that wasn't the end of Herring's career as a major leaguer. He remained an amateur player, probably because he could make more money as a government clerk than as a minor leaguer.

Sometime during those seasons, Lefty Herring became a centerfielder. Contemporary sources don't give a specific reason, but injury or simply being a better hitter than a pitcher are the most likely explanations. In the summer of 1904, Herring was playing for the Mount Pleasant Congregational Church team in Washington's Sunday School League. The Sunday School League was more competitive than might be expected. It was probably the area's top amateur league and featured at least one other future major leaguer, Johnny Beall. Splitting his time between first base and the outfield, Herring was batting .429, best on the Mount Pleasant team, when he was invited to tryout for the Senators.

In 1904, the baseball situation in Washington was even bleaker than it had been in 1899. Ownership problems caused the team to be taken over by the American League. Unlike the situation in Washington a little over a century later, no thought was given to the long-term improvement of the franchise. Players were loaned to Washington by other AL teams and then taken back if they showed the ability to help their old team. Even worse, Ban Johnson allowed trades and sales that were advantageous to Boston, New York and Detroit without helping the league's doormat. The 1904 Senators were one of the worst teams of all time, finishing with a 38-113 record, 55½ games out of first place and 23½ games behind seventh-place Detroit.

Many of Herring's Sunday School League games were played on a field near the Mount Pleasant Church, where former National League President Nick Young was frequently a spectator. Whether Young recommended Herring to the Senators is unknown, but it wasn't long before someone tipped them off. On July 7, the Washington Post reported that Herring had "practiced with the Senators several days, and is ambitious to be given a chance." Initially scheduled to play in a home doubleheader that day against Philadelphia, rained postponed his opportunity two days. Herring broke into the Senator lineup July 8 against Philadelphia. He was overmatched that day against Eddie Plank, but then again so were the rest of the Washington batters. The Senators lost 2-1, scoring an unearned run and managing just a bunt single. Herring was 0-2 that afternoon. In the next day's doubleheader, he got a hit in each game and scored a run in a rare Washington win in the second game. His first American League hit was against Rube Waddell. Manager Patsy Donovan was pleased with his play, particularly defensively.

Expecting to play his first home game in front of family and friends on July 12, a swollen hand resulting from an insect bite forced him to miss the first two games of a home series against St. Louis. Finally appearing before the home fans on July 14, he received applause on his first plate appearance, drawing a walk from the Browns' Willie Sudhoff. the Post thought he was overmatched at the plate: "Herring can pick out the good ones at bat, but lacks the skill to land them safely." The Post also believed Herring needed a few pointers defensively: "The only fly that came to him was neatly pocketed, but on throwing to the plate earlier in the game he used the Sunday-school League habit of trying to throw on a line to the catcher. Had he sent the ball to Clarke on a bound a runner would have been retired."

The arrival of veteran Frank Huelsman in a trade with the Browns sent Herring back to the Sunday School League. At the end of July, the Sunday School League all stars played the Senators before 5,000 fans, the largest crowd to see a game in Washington all season. Since the Senators were 17-61, fans naturally expected the amateurs to play a competitive game against their major league opponent. Lefty Herring started in center and went 0-3 in the 17-0 loss to the Senators. That might have been the last game Herring played in a major league ballpark, but fate and an injury gave him another chance.

At the end of July, the American League club sold third baseman Bill Coughlin and catcher-outfielder Lew Drill to Detroit. The transaction left the Senators with just two solid major leaguers in the lineup—shortstop Joe Cassidy and first baseman Jake Stahl. During the second game of an August 13 doubleheader in Detroit, one of those players would put the other on the bench. The Post said, "Cassidy's error on [Charlie] O'Leary's grounder gave the opening wedge. It also put Jake Stahl out of the running for several days, as the throw from Cassidy took an ugly bound and bent back the little finger on Jake's right hand so that the joint protruded. Dr. Tapert, the Detroit club's physician, was called and reduced the dislocation." Initially, Washington used catcher Bill Clarke at first, but soon an extra player was needed to avoid overworking fellow catcher Malachi Kittridge, who was bothered by a sore wrist.

After Herring, in the words of the Post, "acquitted himself creditably and gracefully" during practice, Donovan decided to use him at first against Detroit on August 22. Lefty's opportunity was again delayed by a rainout. In the lineup the next day for a doubleheader, he singled and scored a run against George Mullin in the opener, and also hit safely against "Wild Bill" Donovan in the second game.

Though not charged with an error, Herring struggled defensively the next day against Cleveland. The Post mentioned two incidents late in a tenth-inning win: "Townsend's slide into first base in the ninth, made a spectacular play. ‘Lefty' tossed the ball too soon, and Jack had to dive for it, but retired [Charlie] Carr. One gone in the tenth, [Harry] Bay walloped a hot single to Herring, and while ‘Lefty' was loafing in recovering the ball, speedy Mr. Bay legged it toward second, but was thrown out." The Post observed, "Herring is good on handling thrown balls, but forgets what to do when grounders are hit his way."

The next afternoon was one Lefty Herring certainly remembered for the rest of his life. The game itself was a rather ordinary Cleveland win, but Herring's afternoon was extraordinary. In the third inning, he got Washington's first hit, a double over the head of Cleveland centerfielder Harry Bay. He also scored the Senators' first run of the game. The Post described his fifth-inning play: "Herring opened the fifth with a dandy single to center, advanced to third on two outs, and scored on [Terry] Turner's wild throw of [Hunter] Hill's grounder." In the sixth, Herring completed a double play with shortstop Cassidy and second baseman Barry McCormick. He accounted for another run in the bottom of the sixth. The Post account of the game said, "With two gone in the Senators' half, Donovan singled, Kittridge beat a slow bunt, and Herring slapped a fine single to right, scoring Donovan." The Post described his fielding as "good although not up to the professional standard. What he did with his stick pleased his large following of friends in the crowd." His three hits were off Cleveland's Bill Bernhard, a 23-game winner in 1904.

Perhaps Herring should have left the Senators after that game. The rest of his brief major league career was undistinguished. The next day, he was overmatched against Addie Joss. The Post said, "Herring could have won the game two different times with a hit, but it wasn't in his bat." In fact, he would hit safely just once more as a major leaguer. Still, the Post felt he had value for the Senators, commenting that he was a good judge of the strike zone and noting "Donovan has been fortunate in having such a capable young player around as Herring. ‘Lefty' has considerable to learn of the game, but he has fitted in nicely when the team was in need."

With more experience, his defense was improving. He made just one error in 109 chances at first base for a .991 percentage. On the 29th of August, he made a strong play to retire "Snags" Heidrick of the Browns. The next afternoon, in the second half of a doubleheader with the Browns, which the Post described "as dull as the overhanging clouds, 'Lefty' Herring caught [Bobby] Wallace's low liner and doubled up [Charlie] Hemphill unassisted. Great."

Stahl returned the next day, and Herring remained at first only due to a lineup switch to replace the injured McCormick at second base. Herring got a hit against Sudhoff that afternoon, and Stahl returned to first the next day when a replacement second baseman was acquired on loan from Connie Mack's Athletics.

Lefty Herring appeared in just one more major league game, September 3, against the White Sox. The Post said, "[Centerfielder Bill] O'Neill was ill at the hour for starting the game, and Herring occupied his field. 'Lefty' tainted his good record my making an error which let in two runs. He also misjudged a short fly he should have taken easily." O'Neill recovered in time to play the second game of that day's doubleheader, and Lefty Herring's major league career was over.

Herring played amateur and semipro ball after his trial with Washington but didn't again turn professional. Sometime after 1910, he married. Herring and his wife Mary initially lived in northern Virginia, where their first child Lillian was born in 1915. The family soon moved to Philadelphia, and Lefty took a job as a salesman for the Amalgamated Paint Company. Two more children were born, a daughter Marion and a son Frederick. By 1920, Herring probably looked older than his forty years. His hair was already beginning to turn gray. Later in the decade, his marriage ended in divorce.

Lefty Herring spent much of the remainder of his life living with siblings. In 1930, he was living with his youngest brother Walter in Miami, Florida. Walter Herring was a mechanic and the father of three. Silas Herring worked at the same auto dealership as a salesman. By the 1940s, Herring was living with his older sister Marion and her husband Charles Martin in Berlin, New Hampshire. When Silas Clarke Herring died on February 11, 1965, in Massapequa, New York, he was the next-to-last survivor of the 1904 Washington Senators. Catcher Lew Drill died on July 4, 1969.


Sources

Washington Post -- 1895, 1899, 1903-04.
Boston Globe -- 1904.
Chicago Tribune -- 1904.

United States Census
Pennsylvania, 1880, 1920.
District of Columbia, 1900.
New Hampshire, 1920, 1930.
Florida,1930.

Other Genealogical Sources
World War I Draft Registration for Silas Herring, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
World War II Draft Registration for Silas Herring, Berlin, New Hampshire.

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