Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Herrs: The Error That Went Viral

I got an email from friend of the blog Cliff Blau two months ago pointing out a discrepancy and some confusion regarding Joe Herr and Ed Herr.  I've been meaning to write something up about this ever since and never got around to it until now.  This is a convoluted story, so bear with me.

Over three years ago, I wrote a series of posts about the 1888 St. Louis Whites, a club that David Nemec, in The Beer & Whiskey League, called "a kind of farm team."  The club was owned by Chris Von der Ahe and played in the Western Association.  Essentially, I was looking for evidence of a relationship between Von der Ahe's Browns and his WA club in order to prove or disprove David's statement about the nature of the Whites, an opinion that Peter Morris also supported.  While I was initially sceptical, I think that I was able to prove that the Whites were essentially a proto-farm team for the Browns and that David and Peter were correct.

Now in the course of writing up the series on the Whites, I identified on of the players on the club as Ed Herr.  If you look at the tags in the right-side column of the blog, you'll notice a tag for Ed Herr that leads you to all of the posts I've written that mentions him.  I wrote the following brief sketch of Herr:

Ed Herr: shortstop; played three seasons in the majors between 1887 and 1890; played with the Browns after the breakup of the Whites (and again in 1890); after he was finished with baseball, Herr worked as a carpenter in St. Louis; he died in 1933, drowning in the Mississippi.

The problem here has multiple parts.  First, there was a 19th century baseball player by the name of Ed Herr but he never played for the Whites or the Browns.  Second, the player who did play with the Whites was named Joe Herr but Ed Herr's full name was Edward Joseph Herr.  Both Joe Herr, of the Whites, and Ed Herr, not of the Whites, were born in St. Louis, less than a decade apart.  Both Herrs died in St. Louis, exactly a decade apart.

What appears to have happened is that somehow Joe Herr became identified as Ed Herr, essentially confusing the two men.  The error appears in numerous places.  It's on my website.  If you search "Ed Herr" at Baseball-Reference, one of the entries that pop up is Joe Herr.  It's at Deadball Era, where Frank Russo provides an obituary from The New York Times that identifies Ed Herr as having died in 1933, information that matches Joe Herr's date of death at Baseball Reference.  It's at Find A Grave, which has entries for Edward Joseph Herr, Joseph "Joe" Herr and Edward Joseph "Eddie" Herr.  The Beer & Whiskey League identifies the Whites' player as Ed Herr (although David has told me that, like myself and just about everybody else, he made an error).  It's at BR-Bullpen.  It's at Wikipedia.  

This error, which essentially is the misidentification of Joe Herr as Ed Herr, is everywhere you look.  It is an error that went viral.  And I played a part in that, something which I have to take responsibility for.  I made a mistake and the information that I passed along about was wrong.  I take a great deal of pride in this website and I've spent years building my credibility as a historian and researcher.  I make a lot of jokes about how few readers I have but the truth is that there are a lot of people who read this blog and use it as a resource.  The people who visit my site trust me to provide them with accurate information and, in this case, I failed to do so.  Now, I don't want to be all dramatic about this but I did make a mistake and I think I played a role in spreading this error.  So I do feel the need to apologize and take steps to correct the error.

So here's what I know:

The guy who played with the Whites and the Browns in the late 1880s was always referred to as Joe Herr.  The St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Sporting Life, Inter-Ocean and various other papers always referred to him as Joe.  I have not seen one reference to this player being called Ed Herr.  Joe Herr played with the Whites in 1888 and with the Browns in 1888 and 1890.

Ed Herr played with various minor league clubs, beginning in the mid 1890s.  In the newspaper sources I've seen, he is always referred to as Ed, Eddie or Edward.  He was never, to the best of my knowledge, referred to as Joe.  Ed Herr never played with the Whites or the Browns.

Now as to their biographical data, I haven't bothered to run that down.  I assume that the data given for Joe Herr at Baseball-Reference and Find A Grave, which states that he was born on March 4, 1865 in St. Louis and died on July 12, 1933 in St. Louis, is correct.  Also, I assume the information for Ed Herr, which states that he was born on May 14, 1873 in St. Louis and died on July 18, 1943, is correct as well.  It does appear that their baseball records, as they appear at Baseball-Reference, are also correct.  But just to be clear, this is Joe Herr and this is Ed Herr.

Again, I apologize for my part in all of this but the best part of working in the media I do is that I can run corrections like this and make it a permanent part of the record.  To that end, I want to note that there is an entry for Joe Herr in Major League Baseball Profiles, 1871-1900, Volume 1 that was written by Peter Morris and David Nemec.  They wrote the following:

A carpenter by trade, Joe Herr grew up near where the St. Louis Maroons' Palace Park was built in 1884 and by 1885 was a member of the famed semi-pro Peach Pies.  He began 1886 with independent Bellville, IL, and then moved to St. Joseph of the Western League.  Signed for 1887 by the new Cleveland AA entry, Herr was released to Lincoln of the Western League in May of that season at his own request after deciding that he could not play his best with such a weak team. 
The following spring Herr was named captain of the Western Association St. Louis Whites...In a WA game on May 1, 1888, he became only the fourth man to hammer a ball over the LF fence in Sportsman's Park...Herr later also became the fifth and sixth man to perform this feat.  The latter blast came in an AA game on June 27 after he had joined the Browns once the Whites folded.  Having established that he had extraordinary power, Herr soon also demonstrated that he lacked the necessary range to play SS...Although Herr remained on the Browns for the remainder of 1888 and participated in the World's Series against the New York Giants, he collected just 172 ABs.  Since RBI were not an official stat then, no one could have realized that his retrospective 43 RBI would be 12 more than any other player in AA history compiled in a season with less than 200 ABs. 
Something appears to have happened to Herr that winter, or perhaps he simply lost motivation after the Browns dropped him the following spring.  Herr began 1899 in the Western Association but was released by Milwaukee after 26 games...He then played in the Central Interstate League with Evansville...Riddled by Players League defections, the Browns rehired him in June 1890 and then released him less than two weeks later to Waco of the Texas League...That July, Herr took an offer from Jamestown of the New York State League but regretted it almost as soon as he arrived in that tiny town and was back in St. Louis in August.  Over the next eighteen months or so he married and began a family, seemingly having wasted a large quantity of baseball potential.  He was an unemployed carpenter living apart from his wife, Marie, in a men's shelter when he drowned in 1933.

Go buy the book so David doesn't yell at me for copying and pasting such a big chunk of it.  And remember, Joseph Herr played for the Whites and the Browns and Edward Joseph Herr, no relation, was a career minor leaguer who never played for a major or minor league St. Louis club.  



Cliff Blau said...

43 RBI with only 64 total bases! I'd love to see his splits.

Anyway, good job of clearing up this confusion. My interest was aroused because Ed Herr managed in the minors for years, and those teams had been credited to Joe Herr in the SABR Minor League Database.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

It is amazing how tangled the situation is and attempting to explain it was not exactly easy. I think that's one of the reasons it took so long for me to write the post.