Honoring a Special Man
On Saturday, March 31, I was fortunate to serve as Master of Ceremonies for a tribute to my high school baseball coach, John Herbold. The event was held at the Long Beach Petroleum Club and was attended by approximately 150 former players, coaches, scouts, and umpires. Players traveled from places as far away as Kansas, Texas, Arizona, and Northern California to pay their respects to a man who touched us all in a special way.
Mr. Herbold retired three years ago after serving 49 years as a high school baseball coach at Long Beach Poly (1955-1968) and Lakewood (1969-1983) and college head coach at Cal State Los Angeles (1984-2004). He won a total of 938 games, including more than any baseball coach at CSULA, as well as 18 Moore League titles, three California Interscholastic Federation championships, and two California Collegiate Athletic Association Conference crowns. Many consider him to be one of the best baseball coaches in the country and perhaps the single greatest high school coach in the history of Southern California. As a prep coach, Herbold compiled a record of 438-176, winning 73% of his games in one of the nation's toughest leagues and regions.
Herbold, who also served as a scout for the Dodgers, Angels, and Padres during his coaching career, sent more than 300 players to the professional ranks, including 13 who played in the major leagues. Tommie Sisk, Brian McCall, Ollie Brown, Oscar Brown, Randy Moffitt, and Willie Norwood of Poly, and John Flannery, Floyd Chiffer, Mike Fitzgerald, Craig Grebeck, and Larry Casian of Lakewood all made it to The Show. [Photo of Fitzgerald, second from the left, and Chiffer, far right, with Shawn Arnold and Dan Gausepohl.] Baltimore Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons and pitcher Mike Burns of CSULA also played for Coach Herbold. He also managed two number one draft picks who never made it to the majors: George Ambrow (Poly, 1970) and Bill Simpson (Lakewood, 1976). In addition, the list of MLB players from Poly includes Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, Chase Utley, and Milton Bradley, as well as attendee Chuck Stevens, who played for the St. Louis Browns before and after World War II. The 88-year-old Stevens prepped at Poly HS during the 1930s, nearly 20 years before Coach Herbold arrived.
A recipient of the Lefty Gomez Award, presented annually by the American Baseball Coaches Association to an individual who has distinguished himself amongst his peers and has contributed significantly to the game of baseball locally, nationally, and internationally, Coach Herbold is in the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame plus the Hollywood High School, Cal State Los Angeles, and the Long Beach Century Club Halls of Fame.
We had a great group of speakers, including longtime family friend Jack Teele, a former sportswriter with the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram and executive with the Los Angeles Rams and San Diego Chargers, as well as the Chief Executive Officer and General Manager of the Barcelona Dragons of the World League of American Football. Teele served in the Korean War with Herbold and was partly responsible for him getting his first job at Poly High School in 1955.
Other guest speakers included Bob Myers, a former coach at rival Millikan High School and the state coach of the year at Long Beach City College in 1976; Jerry Jaso, an All-CIF baseball player at Poly in 1968 who later coached his alma mater to five CIF football titles during his 21 seasons as an assistant or head coach and sent over 100 players to Division I universities and 16 to the NFL; Bill Powell, a graduate of Poly, won two Connie Mack World Series championships while the manager of the Long Beach Cardinals and served as a high school coach in the greater Los Angeles area (including Poly) for more than 20 years; my brother Tom Lederer, an All-CIF selection at Lakewood and the winning pitcher in the CIF Finals at Anaheim Stadium in 1970, and one of the organizers of the event; Russ McQueen, All-CIF at LHS in 1970, won four consecutive NCAA championships at USC and was the MVP of the College World Series in 1972; Mike Ruddell, an All-CIF selection for LHS in 1969, pitched two no-hitters in a single minor league season for the Cincinnati Reds; and John Flannery, a two-time All-CIF selection at LHS, the seventh youngest player in the American League when he made his major league debut in September 1977, and a scout with the Atlanta Braves for the past 19 years. [Photo of Flannery at the podium.]
Brad Peasley, a bridge between the Poly and Lakewood programs and another organizer of the event, presented Coach Herbold with a framed photo of him during a game in 1972, which all of the attendees autographed. Brad's wife also made up centerpieces for each table, using sod to create baseball diamonds with pennants of Poly, Lakewood, and CSULA hanging from the foul poles. Special thanks also go to Jim George (Poly, 1968, and USC, 1971) and Tom Patterson for their help in putting this evening together.
After a couple of hours of thank yous and stories, I had the distinct privilege of introducing our guest of honor. Coach Herbold, more mellow than ever, spoke for about 15 minutes, sharing memories with a sold-out room of his former players, opposing coaches, and other distinguished guests. He was the last person to leave, generously talking individually to players and autographing programs and baseballs upon request.
To this day, I can't watch a baseball game without thinking about what I learned from Coach Herbold - be it fundamental or strategy. Don't make the first or third out at third. Throw the curve around and under the barrel, then shake hands with the center fielder. Pull down on the shade when throwing a changeup. More than anything, Coach Herbold taught his players how to think, how to carry themselves, and how to play the game the right way.
No detail escaped Herbold. Every practice was organized to the minute. He mimeographed and handed out practice sheets to all of the players everyday. We folded and carried them with us in our back pockets, checking every so often to learn if you were throwing a bullpen session or batting practice, running sprints in the outfield, doing pickups, shagging balls, etc.
Coach Herbold would write in the margins comments such as:
We used verbal signs when a batter or runner missed a physical sign.
Coach Herbold was innovative. He maintained performance charts for hitters and pitchers, and they were posted in the locker room for everyone to see (including students not on the baseball team). As an example, pitchers would get one point for throwing a strike on the first pitch, getting the first batter in the inning to make an out, preventing a runner from advancing from second with no outs, forcing a hitter to hit a ground ball in a double play situation, getting the batter out after falling behind 3-and-0 in the count, and for a strike out. Pitchers would be credited two points for keeping a runner on second and/or third from scoring with 0-1 outs, keeping the ball in the infield with a runner on third and 0-1 outs, and walking less than three batters in a complete game. Pitchers would earn three points for not allowing a run to score from third with 0-1 outs.
On the other hand, one point was subtracted for not throwing the first pitch for a strike; two points were subtracted for walking any hitter unintentionally, allowing a fly ball with a runner on third and 0-1 outs, giving up a base hit off an 0-and-2 pitch, balking, hitting a batter, and not getting to first in time on a ball hit to the right side; and three points were subtracted for allowing a man on second or third to score with two outs.
More than just a coach, Mr. Herbold was a teacher, an educator, and a mentor. A smart man, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Journalism and earned a Master's in Education from Stanford University, and was a high school English teacher for nearly three decades.
If you have had a special coach or teacher in your life, be sure to tell them thanks. Better yet, organize a tribute. It will mean a lot to the honoree as well as to you and your teammates or classmates.
Thank you, Coach Herbold. You made a difference in my life.
Additional photos by Mr. Herbold's son-in-law, Don Tamaki, can be viewed here.