SABR

Hank Behrman

This article was written by Rob Edelman.

Hank Behrman was a minor contributor to the golden age of baseball in Brooklyn. His career was all promise and little delivery. Yet the five-feet-eleven, 174-pound right-hander did have one sterling season for the Dodgers. In 1946, his rookie campaign, he appeared in forty-seven games and posted an 11-5 record with a sparkling 2.93 ERA. A year later his cumulative ERA for the Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates jumped to 6.25 and by 1950 he was out of the majors for good, at the age of twenty-nine.  

Henry Bernard Behrman was born in Brooklyn on June 27, 1921. By the time he reached high school, his family had moved to Maspeth, in the borough of Queens. The Dodgers signed Behrman after he attended a tryout at Ebbets Field in 1940. The youngster spent the 1941 campaign playing for the Valdosta Trojans in the Class D Georgia-Florida League. His 18-10 record and 3.11 ERA earned him a promotion to the Durham (North Carolina) Bulls in the Class B Piedmont League for 1942. On July 25 he tossed a no-hitter for the Bulls at Asheville, and completed the season with a 14-11 record and a 2.92 ERA. 

At the close of the 1942 campaign, Behrman entered the Army. After basic training, he was assigned to the 326th Glider Infantry Regiment. He spent the bulk of his time in service at the Alliance Army Air Base in Nebraska, where he pitched for the base team. In February 1945 the 326th arrived in France. With the end of the war in Europe in May, Behrman was selected to play for the 13th Airborne Division Black Cats, who compiled a 33-4 record. The 326th returned to the United States in August and, on January 30, 1946, Behrman was mustered out of the military. The Dodgers assigned him to the Montreal Royals, their top farm club.

Despite his status as a raw rookie, Behrman proclaimed that he would rather quit baseball than spend the 1946 season in the minors. During spring training, the twenty-four-year-old hurler impressed the Dodgers brass with his rubber arm and his money pitch, a lively fastball that zoomed upward or sank as it neared home plate. On April 2 Behrman started for Montreal against the Dodgers and held them to six hits and no runs in seven innings. 

“He has what it takes to win,” observed Branch Rickey Jr., head of the Dodgers’ minor-league operation.1 “He’s the sleeper of this camp.” Fresco Thompson, the team’s new assistant farm director, noted, “He pitched a couple of innings the other day, right after having been laid up with the flu, and he made me sit up and take notice. He has something more than a chance of making the grade in a hurry.”2

The day before the start of the 1946 season, Behrman was reassigned to the parent club—and quickly proved himself a stellar addition to the Dodgers’ mound staff. He began the campaign in the starting rotation and impressed in his major-league debut, turning back the Braves in Boston on April 17. After a shaky two innings, in which he allowed four hits and two runs, Behrman settled down and gave up just five more safeties in the final seven frames. 

Behrman eventually was relegated to the bullpen, where manager Leo Durocher felt he was most needed. On June 24 he relieved Kirby Higbe in the second inning of a game against Cincinnati and whiffed seven of the first eleven hitters he faced. Three days later he took over for Joe Hatten against Boston with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth inning. In what New York Times sportswriter Roscoe McGowen described as an “almost flawless pitching performance,” Behrman got out of the inning and pitched four more frames, allowing just one Brave to reach base.3

In 1947 Behrman reported to spring training underweight and promptly hurt his arm. On May 14 he married Ellen Leffert, a Long Island native; they eventually became the parents of five offspring. Yet that same year, a further distraction for the hurler came when he was hit with a paternity suit. His preference for the nightlife over keeping fit was being recognized within the Dodgers’ inner circle.        

Behrman appeared in forty games for the 1947 Dodgers, posting a 5-3 record—but with a 5.48 ERA. Then again, he did not spend the entire campaign with the team. On May 3, he, pitchers Kirby Higbe and Cal McLish, catcher Dixie Howell, and infielder Gene Mauch were traded to Pittsburgh for outfielder Al Gionfriddo and a sum that was reported to be between $100,000 and $200,000. Behrman’s performance in Pittsburgh was lackluster. He got into just ten contests, losing two with no victories. His ERA was an abysmal 9.12. However, his trade to the Bucs was conditional. If the Pirates wished, they could return Behrman to Brooklyn without explanation. And so on June 14, six weeks after being dispatched to Pittsburgh, Behrman was sold back to Brooklyn for $25,000. (Some accounts list the sum at $50,000.) 

Upon his return to the Dodgers, sportswriter Herbert Goren observed that “it seemed as if some of the zing was off his fastball.”4 Behrman was inconsistent for the rest of the season, with his outing in Pittsburgh on September 17 being one of the high points. In the eighth inning, he replaced Hal Gregg, and the 33,916 fans who had packed into Forbes Field greeted him with boos. Behrman promptly quieted the crowd by striking out two future Hall of Famers, Ralph Kiner and Hank Greenberg. Then he set the Bucs down in order in the ninth inning, preserving Brooklyn’s 4–2 victory. Behrman appeared in five games during the 1947 World Series, all in relief, giving up nine hits in six and a third innings. 

In February 1948 the Dodgers assigned Behrman to Montreal. His reputation as an irresponsible young man who was not reaching his potential as a frontline hurler now was firmly in place among the Dodgers higher-ups—and his demotion to the Royals reportedly was a disciplinary measure. On March 3 Behrman disclosed that Branch Rickey, the Dodgers boss, had given him the okay to try to make a deal for himself with another team. He had been unable to do so. But he promised that his foray to the minors would be temporary. “Maybe,” he mused, “this is just what I needed. I know I’ve made some mistakes. I’ll work my head and arm off for Montreal and then next spring maybe they’ll give me another chance. I know I’ve got the stuff to win for them.”

Buzzy Bavasi, the Montreal general manager, reported that Behrman stayed in shape and was well-behaved. “He’s the first guy to check in every night,” Bavasi said.6 Behrman compiled a snazzy 6-2 record that earned him a return to the Dodgers. Curiously, he initially balked at the move. “I am very happy where I am and I want no part of the Dodgers,” he claimed, but then he relented after conferring with Bavasi.7

Still, the Dodgers brass was not pleased. Behrman was optioned back to Montreal for what were described in the press as “personal reasons.” After winning two more games for the Royals and compiling an overall ERA of 2.55—that at season’s end was second best in the International League—he was summoned back to Brooklyn. Behrman was described by Roscoe McGowen as “the returned prodigal.”8

Behrman got into thirty-four games for the 1948 Dodgers; his record was 5-4, and his ERA was 4.05. On August 25 he was a key participant in a controversial play. In a game against Pittsburgh, Carl Erskine relieved Hugh Casey in the ninth inning with two outs and runners on first and third. With the count on Eddie Bockman at three balls and one strike, manager Burt Shotton replaced Erskine with Behrman. On Behrman’s first pitch, Bockman grounded to Pee Wee Reese for a force play at second, ending the game with the Dodgers in front, 11–9. 

However, according to the major-league rules, a reliever who enters a game must complete pitching to at least one batter before being replaced. The Pirates disputed Erskine’s quick exit. Their protest was allowed by National League President Ford Frick; Bockman’s at-bat was erased and the contest was scheduled for completion on September 21. In the replay, Erskine walked Bockman to load the bases. Behrman then entered the game. His first three pitches to Stan Rojek were balls. His next two were called strikes. Then Rojek hit a bounder that caromed off the glove of third sacker Tommy Brown and the tying and winning runs scored. 

In January 1949 Branch Rickey hired Behrman to work at Ebbets Field as an assistant groundskeeper. Rickey did so to keep tabs on the errant hurler. For eight hours a day, at ninety cents an hour, Behrman toiled to prepare the Ebbets Field turf for the coming season, trading his baseball uniform and glove for work clothes, and a rake, pick, and shovel. 

“I’ve worked in the yard at home, but this is a big yard,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in February. “I like the work even if it does get me up at six o’clock in the morning. There won’t be any alibi for Pee Wee Reese fumbling a ground ball behind me when I get through smoothing out this infield.”9

Behrman was eagerly anticipating the coming campaign. “I hope Mr. Rickey will let me start this year,” he declared. “I could win fifteen for the Dodgers. Twelve if he keeps me on relief. I didn’t have such a lousy record last season, either. But I would have to go out for a pinch-hitter and the next guy to come in would blow the ball game wide open.”10

Rickey optimistically observed, “This may be the making of that boy. He told me he never had worked for wages in his life.”11 The general manager surely must have been smiling when Behrman noted, “I like [the groundskeeper position]. But, boy, am I tired when I get home at night! I eat my dinner and go right to bed at 7:30.”12 Rickey’s mood quickly changed when, after two weeks on the job, Behrman abruptly left Brooklyn and headed to Vero Beach before he was scheduled to report for spring training. Rickey soured even further when the pitcher made public his claim that the team refused to pay him the $75 he had spent while awaiting the opening of camp. After driving from New York to Florida, Behrman was rebuffed when he tried to enter Dodgertown—even though Pee Wee Reese, Ralph Branca, and several newspapermen already were living on the grounds. Behrman was forced to move into a Vero Beach inn. 

Even though he had signed his contract for the 1949 campaign, an irate Behrman promised to not officially report to spring training. He now claimed that laboring with the Ebbets Field grounds crew had affected his health, resulting in his “coughing every day.” He said “working under those damp stands in Ebbets Field was no good for me. Since I’ve been down here, my coughing has stopped almost completely.”13

Before the close of spring training, Rickey sold Behrman to the New York Giants for a reported $25,000. He pitched in forty-three games, including four starts, and compiled a 3-3 record with a 4.92 ERA. Behrman returned to the Giants in 1950 and suffered through a difficult spring training. He was sidelined by a badly bruised left knee and a series of nosebleeds, and had a cyst removed from the left side of his face. Despite these maladies, he was pitching in exhibition games by mid-March. As the spring workouts neared their close, however, Behrman was released outright to the Pacific Coast League Oakland Oaks.

Behrman had seen his last days as a big leaguer. During his career he primarily worked in relief, starting only twenty-seven of the 174 major league games in which he appeared, and compiling a 24-17 record and 4.40 ERA. As Brooklyn Daily Eagle writer Tommy Holmes noted a couple of years after the hurler’s departure from the big leagues, “Behrman had the arm. He could knock the bat out of your hands with his fast ball and catch you looking at his curve.”14

But his time in the majors is most notable for what he did off the field rather than on—and for his well-earned reputation for disobeying the rules. While on the road, he often ignored curfews; it was no different when the Dodgers were at home. “Hank lived at St. Albans, on Long Island, and rarely made it to Ebbets Field on time,” reported Loren McMullen in the October 1951 issue of Baseball Digest. “But he never was caught without an excuse. Either the train broke down, or his mother suffered an appendicitis attack, his brother was chased by gunmen, or a tornado struck his community.”15

After finishing in the majors, Behrman hung around professional baseball for a few more seasons. In 1950, he compiled a snazzy 17-8 record in Oakland, with a more than respectable 4.25 ERA. It was Behrman’s last top-flight campaign. He spent the next season playing for the Class AA Oklahoma City Indians in the Texas League and the Class AAA San Francisco Seals and Oakland Oaks of the PCL. In 1952, Behrman was hurling for the Class AAA American Association Toledo Mud Hens and Charleston Senators He was back with the Senators in 1953, but went 6-16 with a 4.87 ERA, and was plagued by arm trouble. Charleston released him the following spring, and his baseball career was over. 

Behrman returned to New York, found employment as a truck driver for a food concessionaire and faded into obscurity. In late 1986, he underwent a triple heart bypass, and passed away the following January 20. The causes of death were complications from the operation and the onset of pneumonia. He was sixty-five years old, and was survived by his wife and five children. Behrman is buried in Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island. 

Author's note

I also would like to acknowledge: Bill Carle, Bill Deane, Craig Lukshin, Steven McPherson, Stephen Milman, Rod Nelson, and Roland Sullivan.

 

Sources

Allen, Maury. “Former Dodger Behrman dies.” New York Post, January 28, 1987.

Holmes, Tommy. “King Recrowned by New Pitch.” Baseball Digest, July 1951.

McMullen, Loren. “It’s Happy-Go-Behrman.” Baseball Digest, October 1951.

Richman, Milton. “It Was a Year for Throwing Spat Balls.” Baseball Digest, January 1949.

Burr, Harold C. “Rickey Picks Winter Job for Behrman as Pick-Shovel Artist.” Brooklyn Eagle, February 9, 1949.

Daley, Arthur. “Sports of the Times: The Voice of the Turtle.” New York Times, February 28, 1961.

------. “Sports of the Times: Touching All Bases.” New York Times, March 29, 1949.

Drebinger, John. “Baseball Season Begins Tomorrow.” New York Times, April 17, 1949.

------. “Dodgers to Play Pirates Today; Giants Engage Reds Tomorrow.” New York Times, May 5, 1947.

------. “Giants Are Back At Phoenix Base.” New York Times, March 29, 1949.

------. “Hatten Wins, 10-3, Aided By 3 Homers.” New York Times, April 20, 1949.

Effrat, Louis. “Behrman Returns From Montreal To Bolster Dodger Mound Staff.” New York Times, June 24, 1948.

------. “Dodgers Acquire Negro Shortstop.” New York Times, February 24, 1949.

------. “Dodgers Top Reds in 13th Inning, 6-5.” New York Times, June 25, 1946.

Goren, Herbert. “Behrman Shows Winning Form.” New York Sun, June 29, 1947.

McGowen, Roscoe. “Arrival of Casey Cheers Durocher.” New York Times, March 4, 1948.

------. “Behrman of Dodgers Halts Braves In His First Big League Start, 4—2.” New York Times, April 18, 1946.

------. “Braves Set Back Dodgers by 5-4 On Torgeson’s Hit in 9th Inning.” New York Times, July 29, 1947.

------. “Brooks Bow to Blackwell, 4-0, Then Top Reds in 9-8 Slugfest.” New York Times, June 23, 1947.

------. “Dodgers Seeking Home-Run Hitter.” New York Times, March 28, 1947.

------. “Gregg Wins in Box For Brooks, 4 to 2.” New York Times, September 18, 1947.

------. “Montreal Defeats Dodgers by 6 to 1, Homer in 9th Preventing Shut-Out.” New York Times, April 3, 1946.

------. “Restriction Irks Pilot of Dodgers.” New York Times, March 7, 1946.

------. “33,045 See Dodgers Defeat Braves, 3-1.” New York Times, June 28, 1946.

Murray, Arch. “Behrman Gets Last Laugh—He’s Back!” New York Post, June 10, 1948.

Roeder, Bill. “Unworried by World Conditions, Behrman May Be Big Help to Bums.” New York World-Telegram, June 24, 1948.

Steiger, Gus. “Flock Glad Behrman Heart Was in Flatbush.” New York Daily Mirror, October 14, 1947.

Young, Dick. “Giants Buy Behrman For 25 Gs.” New York Daily News, March 27, 1949.

------. “No Fatted Calf, Flock’s Behrman Sulks in Vero.” New York Daily News, February 26, 1949.

“Behrman Keeps in Shape As Ebbets Field Laborer.” New York Times, February 9, 1949.

“Behrman to Come Back.” New York Times, June 11, 1948.

“Dodgers Reclaim King.” New York Times, June 15, 1948.

“Giants Release Pitcher Behrman to Oakland Team; Six Rookies Are Dropped.” New York Times, April 2, 1950.

“Henry (Hank) Behrman.” The Sporting News, February 23, 1987.

“Other 28—No Title.” New York Times, September 19, 1948.

“Porterfield Top Pitcher.” New York Times, December 6, 1948.

“Royals Win No-Hitter.” New York Times, April 18, 1948.

“Obituary: Ellen Behrman.” Tampa Tribune, June 14, 2004.

 

Notes

1. Murphy, Edward T. “Behrman Is a Dodger Sleeper.” New York Sun, February 19, 1946.

2. Murphy, Edward T. “Behrman Is a Dodger Sleeper.” New York Sun, February 19, 1946.

3. McGowen, Roscoe. “33,045 See Dodgers Defeat Braves, 3-1.” New York Times, June 28, 1946.

4. Goren, Herbert. “Behrman Shows Winning Form.” New York Sun, June 29, 1947.

5. Murray, Arch. “Behrman Gets Last Laugh—He’s Back!” New York Post, June 10, 1948.

6. Richman, Milton. “It Was a Year for Throwing Spat Balls.” Baseball Digest, January 1949.

7. Richman, Milton. “It Was a Year for Throwing Spat Balls.” Baseball Digest, January 1949.

8. McGowen, Roscoe. “Dodgers Defeat Pirates, 6-2, 8-6, As Robinson Drives Home 6 Runs.” New York Times, June 25, 1948.

9. Burr, Harold C. “Rickey Picks Winter Job for Behrman as Pick-Shovel Artist.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 9, 1949.

10. Burr, Harold C. “Rickey Picks Winter Job for Behrman as Pick-Shovel Artist.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 9, 1949.

11. “Behrman Keeps in Shape As Ebbets Field Laborer.” New York Times, February 9, 1949.

12. Burr, Harold C. “Rickey Picks Winter Job for Behrman as Pick-Shovel Artist.” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 9, 1949.

13. Young, Dick. “No Fatted Calf, Flock’s Behrman Sulks in Vero.” New York Daily News, February 26, 1949.

14. Holmes, Tommy. “King Recrowned by New Pitch.” Baseball Digest, July 1951.

15. McMullen, Loren. “It’s Happy-Go-Behrman.” Baseball Digest, October 1951.

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