Herb Gorman is best remembered for suffering a fatal heart attack in the sixth inning of a Pacific Coast League game between Hollywood and San Diego in 1953.
Born in San Francisco on 19 December 1924, Herbert Allen Gorman was a star outfielder with the Balboa High School nine and local American Legion teams, drawing the attention of Brooklyn Dodgers scouts and eventually signing a contract that sent him to Montreal of the International League. Before he could get his career started, though, he enlisted with the U.S. Coast Guard, where he served the duration of World War II, finally being discharged in early 1946.
At first he was dispatched to Johnstown, then Trois-Rivieres in Canada. In 1947, he played with Spokane, where he lead the Western International League with 138 RBIs while batting a crisp .351. He was moved to Pueblo in the Western League where he led the league in doubles with 45, batted .341 with 20 homers and more than 90 walks, and was a unanimous all-star selection. In 1949, he was moved up to Hollywood in the Pacific Coast League, which would be his home for the next three seasons. Gorman hit over .300 in successive seasons, but in 1951, he tried a new set of spikes with longer cleats and, while sliding into second base, broke his leg and ended his season.
Despite this, the Cardinals drafted the minor league veteran with the quiet and efficient left-handed swing in the Rule 5 Draft and sent him to spring training with the big league club. Making the team for 1952, Gorman got a lone pinch hitting attempt before the Cards decided he was too slow to be an outfielder and had too many options to keep him as a first baseman. (He grounded out against Turk Lown as a pinch hitter for Willard Schmidt in an 8-1 loss to the Cubs in Wrigley Field on April 19.) Gorman was sent to San Diego in the PCL where he took time finding his swing, finishing the season with a .261 batting average. He spent his winter playing ball with Guaymas in the Mexican Coast League, where he proved to be a top hitter.
On April 5th 1953, San Diego manager Lefty O’Doul gave Gorman his first start of the new season in left field – the opening game of a double-header. Gorman had only had two pinch hitting trips in early action, with one hit, and told his manager that he felt fine – even though he told his wife of one year, the former Rosalie Bloom, that he felt tired that morning. In his first two trips to the plate, Gorman rapped out doubles, driving home the first Padres run of the game.
In the sixth inning, while in left field, Gorman doubled over with chest pain – managing to yell out, “Time!” Players helped him to the dugout, but he climbed a screen and walked through the dugout to the clubhouse without assistance. Given oxygen by trainers, Gorman fell into a coma. A physician was called out of the stands, who ordered an ambulance. Unfortunately, any efforts to treat Gorman failed – he was declared dead upon arrival at Mercy Hospital.
Told the news, O’Doul yelled out, “No! No! Don’t tell me that!” The first game ended with Hollywood winning, 4 – 2, but between games the president of the PCL, Clarence Rowland, told the players what had happened. Saying he felt that Herb would have wanted the teams to play, Rowland acknowledged, “You are to decide whether the second game will go on…” The players on both teams voted to postpone the second game, and fans – told of Gorman’s death – filed quietly out of Lane Field and headed home.
Gorman was remembered for being generally happy and frequently smiling, good with kids at the various ballparks, and ready for life after baseball. He had invested in a jewelry business at the time of his passing.
“Shantz, Gorman, Genovese Top Western League Stars”, The Sporting News, 9/15/1948, Pg. 30.
“Transactions”, The Sporting News, 9/22/1948, Pg. 38.
“Hollywood Notes”, The Sporting News, 7/11/1951, Pg. 54.
Bob Broeg. “Younger Redbirds to Get Full Chance to Make Grade — Saigh”, The Sporting News, 11/29/1951, Pg. 9.
Red Byrd. “Redhead Tries First Base Mitt and Finds It’s Good Fit”, The Sporting News, 3/12/1952, Pg. 6
“Heart Attack During Game Fatal to Padre’s Gorman”, The Sporting News, 4/15/1953, Pg. 34.
“Herb Gorman Collapses at Outfield Post”, Oakland Tribune, 4/6/1953, Page 43.
“Gorman Like Pro Even as Prep”, Long Beach Press Telegram, 4/6/1953, Page 12.
“Death Takes PCL Player Herb Gorman” Council Bluffs Nonpareil, 4/7/1953, Page 4.