Brooklyn Boro

Gene Hermanski: The Fog of War

June 2, 2023 William A. Gralnick
Share this:

You’ve heard of the Fog of War? There’s also the fog of childhood, things remembered but not sharply, pieces of thoughts, and mental pictures that won’t connect fully in the mind. Not too dissimilar, I might add, from the aging person’s memory. I remember Gene Hermanski; at least, I’m pretty sure I do. Maybe it’s sort of not pretty sure, but pieces of him are in my memory. I was nine, and we were a Brooklyn Dodger household. Nine is old enough to remember.

Hermanski, who was born May 11, 1920, was a good ball player, a lefty at bat who threw with his right hand. Signed by the Philadelphia Athletics as an amateur free agent in 1939, the 5’11” 180 lbs. Hermanski made his major league debut with the roster-depleted Brooklyn Dodgers on August 14, 1943, and appeared in his final game on September 22, 1953. He did everything well, just not spectacularly. He might have been better than he was, but like so many ballplayers of that day, he gave up the meat of his career to his country. While in the service, he attempted to balance dreams, dreams of being a ball player and dreams of being a pilot. It is an interesting story, as told by Gary Bedingfield in his book, “Baseball in Wartime.” Brooklyn was a big part of it.

Hermanski joined the Coast Guard in the fall of 1942. Stationed at Floyd Bennett Field, he played for the Coast Guard’s baseball team. After 15 months, he tried to join the Navy, hoping to become a pilot. During this time, he was given a two-month leave and returned to the Brooklyn Dodgers organization to play with Durham in the Piedmont League. After ten games, he was called up to the Dodgers and made his major league debut on August 15, 1943. Hermanski played 18 games for the Dodgers while on leave, batting an even .300 in 60 at-bats.

Sometimes, dreams, or at least parts of them, come true. The Society for American Baseball Research tells this story. “In the first game of a doubleheader against the Reds at Ebbets Field. Gene batted third, played left field, and went hitless in four at-bats. He started the nightcap in left field as well and had his first big-league hit, a single, off Reds starter Bucky Walters. Gene also had another single in the game and started a double play from the outfield.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

In the next day’s doubleheader against the Cardinals, Hermanski became a local hero, at least for a day. He played right field in the opener and went 2-for-3, with a double and two runs batted in. The Dodgers lost but won the nightcap with Gene driving in the game-winning run. St. Louis had taken a one-run lead in the top of the tenth inning, but the Dodgers came right back in the bottom of the frame. With one out, the score tied and the bases filled, Hermanski, who was 0-for-2 in the game, strode to the plate to face Ernie White. After throwing two wide ones, White was replaced by right-hander Howie Krist.

Gene fouled off the first two Krist offerings, then took ball three. With the crowd going wild, Krist threw ball four to force in the winning run. Hermanski, was so caught up in the excitement, he headed for the dugout without touching first base. Cooler heads intervened, and Hermanski made it safely to first and the game was over.8 On August 20, Gene hit a triple in the bottom of the eighth against the Cubs and then stole home as the Dodgers won, 6–3.

Hermanksi’s request to join the Navy sent him to Colgate for a course in Naval Aviation. After six months, however, he had not made the grade and returned to the Coast Guard in 1944 to manage and play outfield with the Floyd Bennett Field Fliers. In 1944 he batted .410 with the club. He hit .350 in 1945.


In addition to playing with the Coast Guard team, Hermanski also played with the Brooklyn Bushwicks, a semi-pro team under the assumed name of Gene Walsh. In 1945, he played 83 games with the Bushwicks batting .338 with ten home runs and 58 RBIs. After the war, he made it back to the Dodgers. He played with the best of the best and was a valued teammate. Reese, Robinson, with whom he also played in Montreal, and Campanella were his “besties.”

SABR describes the meat of his career this way. Hermanski was Brooklyn’s starting left fielder on April 15, 1947, the day Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. He had a single and a sacrifice fly and helped to deliver the first Dodgers’ run with a rolling take out of Braves second baseman Connie Ryan, thereby avoiding an inning-ending double play.11 The Dodgers prevailed, 5–3, in the historic contest. Gene got into seventy-nine games in 1947; he batted .275 and displayed some power.

His first major-league home run came on April 26 before a sell-out crowd at Ebbets Field. In the sixth inning, with Dixie Walker on base, Hermanski laced the first pitch from Giants starter Bill Voiselle into Bedford Avenue. The two-run blast gave the Dodgers a lead they never relinquished as they went on to win, 7–3, and take over first place.12 Hermanski finished Brooklyn’s pennant-winning campaign with seven doubles, a triple, seven home runs, and thirty-nine RBIs. Playing mostly left field, he had five assists and made just two errors in 112 chances.

Hermanski started all seven games of the World Series against the Yankees, going 3-for-19 in the losing cause. His lasting memory of the 1947 series is: “I hit the ball very hard, but each time it was right at one of those Yanks.”

In 1948, Hermanski became the Dodgers’ full-time right fielder and responded with his best season. He played in a career-high 133 games, set career marks for hits (116), walks (64), doubles (22), triples (7), home runs (15), runs (63), stolen bases (15), and RBIs (60), and achieved his third highest batting average (.290). His fifteen home runs led the club.” Can you imagine 15 homers being tops on a contending team today? Hard to, no?

“The highlight of Gene’s ’48 season came on August 5 when he hit three home runs…at Ebbets Field. The three home runs accounted for five of the Dodgers’ six runs as they defeated the Cubs 6–4.

Defensively, Hermanski had thirteen assists, tied with teammate Carl Furillo for fifth-highest among National League outfielders. However, his .971 fielding percentage was second lowest in the National League among everyday outfielders.

Ten different players played the outfield for Brooklyn in 1949, with Duke Snider and Carl Furillo as the only two regulars. Hermanski played seventy-seven games in the field, most among the other eight outfielders. He displayed all his hitting talents on April 26 hitting a home run off Braves starter Johnny Sain in the bottom of the first to knot the score at 1–1. Then in the third, with two aboard and no one out, he made a shoestring catch of a drive base runners Sain and Eddie Stanky thought he could not reach. He then fired the ball to Robinson at second, who in turn relayed it to first baseman Gil Hodges for the 7–4–3 triple play.14

Hermanski hit his two career grand slams in 1949. The first came on July 2 at the Polo Grounds…, and the second… at Wrigley Field. Gene played in eighty-seven games in ’49 and had a career-high .299 batting average. He had forty-seven walks to go with his sixty-seven hits to yield an impressive .431 on-base percentage. Hermanski perennially had an on-base percentage at least 100 points higher than his batting average.

Once more, the Dodgers won the pennant and, once more, they lost to the Yankees in the World Series. Hermanski appeared in four of the five games, hitting .308 (4-for-13) with a triple and two runs batted in. After initially balking at his 1950 salary offer, he signed for $12,000 (a mere $149,000 plus today, hundreds of thousands less than “bonus babies” or today’s rookies make), reportedly a “slight raise.”15 Hermanski played in ninety-four games that year and produced almost identical statistics as in the previous two seasons: a .298 batting average, seven home runs, and 34 runs batted in. Playing primarily against right-handed pitchers, he had developed into a consistent hitter.”

“He was traded to the Cubs, finished his playing career in Pittsburgh, and wrapped it up with a lifetime batting average of .272. He hit for occasional power, leaving the league with 147 dingers to his credit and clutch RBI numbers of .276. He was also a fine fielder. Mainly playing left and right field, with an occasional stint at first, he closed out his career with a .977 fielding average.”

Like the players that came before him and those of his era, Hermanski had to work after he left the game. He went into sales in the truck supply business in Pittsfield, Ma. The noise of the crowd went silent.

He didn’t have Hall of Fame numbers, but he did have a Hall of Fame heart. And here lies what should be considered Gene Hermanski’s greatest gift to the game–being a loyal teammate. There is no reason to recount the trials and tribulations of number 42, Jackie Robinson when he came up. They are well known. The constant threats included threats of assassination. Hermanski suggested a solution for Robinson’s safety. Everyone should wear #42. That way, he reasoned, it would be hard to pick out Robinson when the team took the field. The obvious flaw in the proposal kept it from implementation, but he was willing to be in the line of fire for his friend and teammate. To me, being a much better person overshadows having a bunch more RBIs or homers.

Like many others of his generation, he hung it up and moved to Florida. The sunshine did him wonders. He died in the little fishing town of Homosassa Springs at the ripe old age of 90. The year was 2010. So come May 11, let’s remember this birthday boy as the Brooklyn Dodger with the Hall of Fame heart.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment