Sunday, May 29, 2016

Meet the Brewers #26: Mike Hershberger

On April 22, 1970, the Brewers debuted a new starting rightfielder. Mike Hershberger was finally healthy again, and he found himself batting third against the California Angels and its starter, Clyde Wright, in front of only 5,120 fans in Anaheim. Hershberger went 1-for-4 -- a single in the midst of three straight hits in the sixth inning against Wright that plated the only run Milwaukee scored in the game.

During Spring Training in 1970, Hershberger was impressing the Brewers' staff and front office with his hitting. He was set to be the Brewers starting rightfielder. Then, Hershberger pulled his right groin muscle and found himself watching the first two weeks of the season from the bench.

1970 McDonald's Milwaukee Brewers
Norman Michael Hershberger was born in Massillon, Ohio, on October 9, 1939. He was a great athlete in high school, as one would expect, and he starred in both baseball and football. Indeed, he logged one year of college at the University of Cincinnati after high school on a football scholarship. After his freshman year, however, and despite being slated to be the starting tailback for the Bearcats the next season, he signed to play professional baseball with the Chicago White Sox.

Hershberger got married to his high school sweetheart Judy in the fall of 1959. Those two stories are odd in that Judy Hershberger seems to have gotten more press coverage than most anyone else's wife that I have seen so far. The first link is from a Sarasota newspaper in 1959 and is titled, "Think You'd Like To Be A Baseball Player's Wife?" (subtitled, "Reporter Interviews Five 'Unusual' Visitors"). The second is from the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1970 and highlighted the fact that five Brewers' wives lived within two blocks of one another in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The weird thing about that second story is that it comes across about 150% more sexist than the first article -- providing first names for only two of the women (they are otherwise known as "Mrs. [fill in ballplayer's name]") and calling Ted Kubiak's wife, "a long legged Canadian beauty" -- again, without providing her first name!

1971 O-Pee-Chee [Back]
By the time he turned 22 years old, Hershberger had already made his major league debut for the White Sox in 1961. He spent four years on Chicago's South Side and, like the remainder of his baseball career, he showed very good contact skills -- striking out in less than 10% of his plate appearances (Hershberger regularly featured in the top 10 most at-bats per strikeout between 1963 and 1967) -- but not much power. Add in the fact that he was not a very successful base stealer (74 of 110 for his career), and you have someone who best fit the role of a fourth outfielder. Still, he had a strong arm and led the AL in assists in 1965, 1966, and 1967.

1971 Topps/O-Pee-Chee
His career with the White Sox ended before the 1965 season when he was a part of a big three-team trade. He went to the Kansas City Athletics with Jim Landis and, eventually, Fred Talbot from Chicago. The A's sent Rocky Colavito to Cleveland in the deal. The White Sox sent Cam Carreon to the Indians as well. Cleveland sent Tommie Agee, Tommy John, and John Romano to the White Sox.

His career with Kansas City and, then, Oakland, went well until 1968. In 1968, the A's started forming the base of the team that would become the back-to-back-to-back World Series Champions from 1972 to 1974. The base of the team to which I'm referring is their outfield, comprised of 21-year-old Joe Rudi, 22-year-old Rick Monday, and 22-year-old Reggie Jackson. Of course, that 1968 A's team has a bunch of guys who would later play with Milwaukee/Seattle in the next two-to-three years, so that tells you that they weren't quite ready for primetime yet (that list includes Hershberger, Jim Pagliaroni, Ted Kubiak, Phil Roof, Jim Gosger, Lew Krausse, Jack Aker, Ed Sprague, Diego Segui, Ken Sanders, and George Lauzerique at least).

1970 Flavor-est Milk Set (1986 Reprint)
Hershberger's time in Milwaukee did not last past 1970. Hershberger pulled another groin muscle -- this time on his left side -- near the end of July, causing his season to end after a 1-for-3 performance on July 26. How he pulled the muscle underlines what an unlucky season it was for him: According to the July 29, 1970, Milwaukee Journal, Herschberger was attending a family picnic on an off day after the July 26 game against Boston. The skies opened up, and the family ran for the car. As Hershberger ran for his car, he slipped and pulled the muscle.  In the end, he started just 28 games in 1970, and the team released him after the season. He caught on for one more season in Chicago before retiring.

1994 Miller Commemorative Set
After his baseball career ended, Hershberger ended up in sales in the toy industry. He worked for Hasbro Industries -- the company that gave us the excellent game that killed many folks, "Javelin Darts" or "Jarts" or, simply, lawn darts. Accompanying that nightmare game was another game called The Hypo-Squirt -- described on Wikipedia as "a hypodermic needle shaped water gun tagged by the press as a "junior junkie" kit.

Any of you guys who collect toys own a "Hypo-Squirt"?

Anyway, Hershberger left Hasbro in 1975 and went to work for The Ohio Art Company -- which produced and owned the "Etch A Sketch" toy for over five decades until it sold the product to Spin Master Corp. in January of 2016. 

From there, he moved on to working in sporting good sales for the rest of his life. He spent his spare time working with charities such as the St. Joseph's Orphanage, the Special Olympics, and The Massillon Boys Club, among others. Hershberger passed away at the age of 72 on July 1, 2012. 

Hershberger appears on 8 cards/items as a Brewer (counting the original and the reprint Flavor-Est Milk sets as two separate items). I have the ones I have shown here, and I am missing the 1970 Mike Andersen Postcard (which features the same photo as the Flavor-Est set again...) and the 1970 Milwaukee Brewers Picture Pack of Hershberger.

Have a great day, and thanks for reading.

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