Floyd Caves (Babe) Herman, 84, one of baseball's top batters who was probably best known for his part in bringing the Brooklyn Dodgers and Brooklyn itself a national reputation for irrepressible daffiness, died yesterday in a hospital in Glendale, Calif.
In his first stint with the Dodgers, from 1926 through 1931, Mr. Herman's batting prowess seemed somehow less enduringly significant than the fielding miscues and mental lapses that helped create lasting baseball legend and won him and his team special recognition that went far beyond Brooklyn.
Mr. Herman, who had a lifetime batting average of .324 in 13 major league seasons, died of complications that stemmed from pneumonia and from a protracted illness that began in 1984 with a series of strokes.
During the Depression when much of the nation turned to baseball for entertainment and temporary relief from hard times, Mr. Herman was in the forefront of those who seemed to demonstrate the fun in the games.
Early in his career with the then-hapless Dodgers, it was said that Mr. Herman was struck on the head with a fly ball. Although the 6-foot-4 inch Buffalo native denied the accusation, the story was accepted as an article of faith by baseball fans.
In an interview, Mr. Herman insisted that no fly ball had ever struck him on the head, and offered to bet anyone who said it was so. "What about the shoulder?" he was asked.
"Shoulder doesn't count," Mr. Herman maintained.
At that point, the account goes, Mr. Herman drew from his pocket a cigar and placed it in his mouth. The cigar, his questioner observed, was already lit, and Mr. Herman's reputation for dizziness only grew.
Fate seemed to wish it so. In 1930, the year Mr. Herman, a left-hander, batted .393, a stratospheric mark and Brooklyn Dodger record, he was defeated for the National League batting championship by Bill Terry of the New York Giants, who hit a staggering .401.
At times, Mr. Herman's hitting embroiled him in incidents exemplifying the celebrated Dodger ineptitude. A bases-loaded line drive that he knocked against the wall in famed Ebbetts Field generated a base-running fiasco so confusing that there are still more versions than bases.
Although widely asserted and a cherished part of Brooklyn lore, it cannot be confirmed that Mr. Herman and two other Dodgers simultaneously occupied third base and that a triple play was made against them.
What appears certain, however, is that the contretemps, caused by Mr. Herman's heads-down dash around the diamond while his teammates hesitated, led to at least two men claiming third, converted a double into a double play and enhanced an image of amusing futility.
After leaving the Dodgers, Mr. Herman played seasons or parts of seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers. In Cincinnati's Crosley Field, on July 10, 1935, he became the first player to hit a home run in a big league night game.
In 1945, in a move that appeared born of wartime necessity and popular sentiment, he returned in his forties to the Dodgers and to Ebbetts Field, for one last season, in which he hit .265, largely as a pinch-hitter.
In later years, at a time when legend was reexamined, it was said that he was a reasonably good fielder whose reputation for fallibility came in great part from the poor play of the teams with which he was associated and from inevitable exaggeration.