Baseball Legend: Rockwell's Holshouser was taken deep by the Babe, Gehrig

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 27, 2011

By Mike London
SALISBURY — There’s a certain claim to fame for athletes who were dunked on by Wilt Chamberlain, knocked out of their skates by Bobby Hull or hospitalized while trying to tackle Jim Brown.
Herm Holshouser, a Rockwell pitcher who made it to the major leagues, falls into that category. On June 25, 1930, at Yankee Stadium, a 23-year-old Holshouser was taken deep by Babe Ruth in the fifth inning — and by Lou Gehrig in the sixth.
That was a daily double that befell even all-star hurlers in the 1920s and ’30s, but it’s likely that day in the Big Apple was the longest of Holshouser’s long life.
Holshouser was employed by the St. Louis Browns, who finished a distant sixth in 1930 in the eight-team American League race won by the Philadelphia Athletics.
As a rookie, Holshouser’s role often was to keep the Browns from being embarrassed. There were times that meant taking one for the team to save the staff.
That ill-fated June day in New York, Holshouser relieved with none out in the fourth and the Browns already in a 6-0 hole. Holshouser made it the rest of the way, but his ERA bore the scars all season. His pitching line in a 16-4 defeat was five innings, 13 hits allowed, 10 runs allowed (eight earned), two walks, three strikeouts.
That’s not to say Holshouser was a poor pitcher. Actually, he was an exceptionally good one. If you weren’t good, you didn’t get to serve up homers to Ruth.
Major League Baseball was closed to blacks in 1930 and Latin players were rare, but with just 16 teams, there were only 160 MLB pitchers. Holshouser was one of them.
Born Herman Alexander Holshouser in Rowan County on Jan. 20, 1907, Holshouser was good enough to pitch college ball for North Carolina.
As an 18-year-old in 1925, he pitched Carolina’s hyped game with Virginia that reportedly drew the biggest crowd for a baseball game the city of Greensboro had ever seen. Holshouser dropped a 2-1 struggle, but he struck out eight and was soon hurling professionally.
In 1926, Holshouser took the hill frequently for the Salisbury-Spencer Colonials, an entry in the six-team Piedmont League. The Colonials weren’t strong, but they did have shortstop Buck Jordan, a Cooleemee native four days older than Holshouser who would enjoy a fine big league career. The Colonials also boasted outfielder Johnny “Patcheye” Gill, who would play in the majors.
Holshouser was the ace of a pitching staff that featured characters such as Lefty Larsen and Jinx Harris.
There was one rough day when Holshouser tried to pitch both games of a doubleheader. That effort hurt his stats. “The High Point Pointers made merry with the Rockwell lad,” is how the Salisbury Post creatively put it.
Still, Holshouser finished 14-12 for the season with a team-best 3.50 ERA.
Holshouser spun a pair of neat four-hitters against Winston-Salem and Greensboro. The game with Greensboro’s Patriots may have been the one that caught the attention of big league scouts. The Boston Braves signed him before the season was over.
Holshouser enjoyed a huge 1928 season in the minors with the Binghamton (N.Y.) Triplets of the New York-Penn League. He was 20-10 with a 2.90 ERA and a league-leading 153 Ks.
There’s never a bad time to make a big league roster, but when Holshouser made the Browns in the spring of 1930, it was the worst moment ever to be a pitcher.
Just about every regular hit .300 that season, and New York Giant Bill Terry hit .401. That was the year Hack Wilson belted 56 homers and had a record 191 RBIs.
Baseball officials made the ball more lively. Fearing fans might stop coming to games after the Wall Street crash of 1929, moguls wanted non-stop offense to keep patrons interested. They got it.
It couldn’t have been a picnic for Holshouser, who was pitching for a 64-90 team with a juiced-up ball, and the Browns faced Ruth’s Yankees and the Jimmie Foxx-led Athletics 22 times apiece.
Holshouser debuted on April 15, 1930 — opening day, no less — and shut out Detroit for an inning.
He made his first — and only — start nine days later. The Browns whipped the Tigers 12-4 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, but Holshouser narrowly missed a win. A homer by Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer had him down 4-1 when he exited after five innings.
The Brown rallied for seven runs in the sixth — one inning too late to give Holshouser the decision.
Herm never did get that elusive victory, although he did earn a save on what had to be his best day. With St. Louis leading 3-2 at Cleveland on May 22, Holshouser blanked the Tribe on one-hit over the final three innings.
His second-best day came at Yankee Stadium. He pitched 22/3 scoreless innings on Aug. 9. That gave the Browns a chance to rally, but they still lost 9-8.
The angry Yankees got their payback five weeks later, blasting Holshouser for six runs and four hits in two-thirds of an inning in St. Louis on Sept. 16.
That would be his last appearance in the big leagues. His final numbers —25 games, 0-1 record, 37 strikeouts, 28 walks, eight homers allowed, 7.80 ERA.
On the way down from the majors, Holshouser enjoyed an all-star season, winning 22 games for the Richmond Colts. He had 92 professional wins to his credit by 1934 when injury ended his career. He was just 27.
By 1935, he was managing the Kannapolis club.
Holshouser eventually went to work in the textile industry. He died in 1994 in Concord at the age of 87.