Herb Simpson – A Fan’s Perspective
Herb Simpson is a living piece of history – a baseball player whose eight-year career began in 1946. A WWII veteran, meeting him is a thrill for any baseball fan or history buff. Spending time with him – that is a true gift.
Meeting Herb doesn’t even compare to meeting your favorite sports legend. It’s better. If you’re lucky, a legend shakes your hand, signs an autograph, lets you take a picture and moves on. Herb gladly shared real details. He provided in-depth glimpses of baseball 60 years ago. Listening to him speak is like being there. I could almost “see” the fans in Sick’s Stadium when he walked up to the plate. Talking with him makes you realize: players, rules, venues and even cities with teams change. But baseball, the game – our game – is consistent.
He tells stories as though you are a long-time friend. He grins with you. He sighs with you. He’ll maybe even tease you, just a little. At least, he teased me as he recounted just how much he disliked the weather in my hometown, Spokane, Washington, when he played for the Indians.
What other stories did Herb share? He spoke with pride about the Coke Satchel Paige bought him. It was a congratulatory drink for Herb’s double and a single off him during an earlier game. He sighed with pleasure as he told us about marrying his wife at home plate in Albuquerque and the Duke’s wedding gift – half the day’s gate receipts. He spoke of his friend, “a white guy,” who was instrumental in his contract being purchased by Albuquerque. And, he told us of his 1946 All Star trip to Hawaii.
Perhaps it’s the way Herb loves the game and understands its nuances that make you feel like you’re talking with a friend. I think it’s also how he makes you feel as though you’re “in the know” right along with him.
That’s just how he made my husband Pete and me feel on the Friday night of Ken Griffey Junior’s Hall of Fame Induction weekend. It was late in the game. The Mariners were trailing the Brewers by quite a bit. Both teams had committed multiple errors and in New Orleans, where Herb is from, it was past midnight. He leaned over and told us he was ready to go if we were. Then he said, in a conspiratorial voice, “You know, this really isn’t a very good baseball game.”
To which we replied, “Especially if you’re a Mariners fan.” And we laughed. All of us. Together.
Although we had the advantage of spending time with Herb before he was honored Saturday, it was obvious the not only the fans in the stadium but also his fellow honorees felt the same connection. Anxiously, we watched from the 300 level for a glimpse of “our Herb.” Our binoculars were glued to our eyes as the others on the field greeted him. Many lingered nearby or came back to speak with him after the formal procession. Even from a distance, you could tell he was a hit and was charming them with the same humble, gracious courtesy he had displayed to us. Those sitting around us appreciated all the stars, but appeared the most enthralled when Herb, a living piece of baseball history, walked onto the field. After all, we were looking at one of the last opportunities to come face-to-face with this time period in our sport. He was real – as real as the loyalty of those of us who regularly fill the “cheap seats” on the 3rd level.
After the weekend, I posted items on Facebook, sent pictures to the RBI Club, gathered memorabilia for friends who had met him and wanted to make a scrapbook page. I told everyone who would listen about this amazing man. The interest was universal. Even non-baseball fans were fascinated by the history. Many asked me to send pictures. Regardless of the content of the conversations, their comments can be summed up in one shared sentence, “I wish I could have met him.”
We thought we were lending a hand. Instead, we received an opportunity of a baseball lifetime.