Ray Herbert, Detroit sandlot ace and 1962 AL All-Star, dies

Detroit News
Ryan Kryska |  Associated Press

Ray Herbert, a 1962 All-Star Game winning pitcher who threw batting practice for his hometown Detroit Tigers for decades after retiring, died peacefully in Plymouth, Michigan, five days after his 93rd birthday.

Herbert started his big league career with Detroit in 1950 and pitched for four teams over 14 seasons. He was a 20-game winner for the White Sox in 1962, then led the American League with seven shutouts in 1963 with Chicago.

Herbert was a part of a generation of Detroiters who flocked to the diamonds of the city’s historic Northwestern Field, a sandlot that turned out players such as Willie Horton, Bill Freehan and Frank Tanana. It was famed Tigers scout “Wish” Egan who spotted Herbert and his older brother, Donald, on the field so loaded with talent that sponsors, reporters and scouts alike were in attendance.

Herbert died Dec. 20 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, his brother Richard Herbert said. He was born Dec. 15, 1929.

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A Detroit Catholic Central Hall of Famer, Herbert’s high school teams won two league championships in 1947 and ’48, with Donald catching his pitches in ’47.

The storied program deemed Herbert “one of Catholic Central’s all-time greatest pitchers” when he was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2008.

Herbert and his brother had aspirations to be a major league battery before Donald was drafted into the Korean War. Donald Herbert Sr. died in 2016 at 87 years old.

At age 19, Herbert struggled in the beginning of his professional career but had a “sinking fastball that major league franchises dream of,” wrote the late John Gabcik in a Society for American Baseball Research biography.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound righty got by on raw arm talent and his ability to contribute at the plate, packing enough power to “hit it out to Grand River,” his brother Richard said about the since-renamed Northwestern Field.

“He had seven home runs in the majors but he said they finally figured out he couldn’t hit a major league curveball,” said his younger brother, who along with Herbert’s stepdaughter took care of him in his later years.

Herbert threw a complete game in his big league debut with the Tigers in 1950, losing to the Philadelphia Phillies 4-3 on a late homer. He was able to even his record three days later in relief against the Washington Senators, but his career was filled with highs and lows for a better part of a decade before a reawakening with the White Sox.

In 1962, Herbert went 20-9 with a 3.27 ERA and recorded a win in his only All-Star Game appearance. Pitching in the second of two All-Star Games held that season, he retired future Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson and Orlando Cepeda in three shutout innings at Wrigley Field.

He retired in 1966 after four years with Detroit, five with the Kansas City Athletics, four with Chicago and two with the Philadelphia Phillies. He was 104-107 with a 4.01 ERA.

He then threw batting practice for the Tigers for three decades.

Despite his Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, Herbert never forgot the sandlot tales of his youth at Northwestern. He also remembered quite fondly striking out Mickey Mantle in 1954 and hitting a home run in Fenway Park in 1962.

He and his brothers were able to enjoy a Catholic Central sports Hall of Fame honors ceremony together in 2015.

Herbert is survived by his brother Richard; his stepdaughter Roxanne Eaves; his children Roxanne, Melanie, Mark and Matthew; and many nieces and nephews, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

AP Sports Writer Ryan Kryska is the great nephew of Ray Herbert. His younger cousin once asked him to take her to a memorabilia store to try and find a Herbert baseball card. Together, they found a box holding hundreds of old timers. The first card Olivia Herbert picked out of it was her great uncle Ray’s.

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