According to my dog-eared copy of the “Baseball Hall of Shame” compiled by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo, Billy Herman made his major league debut for the Cubs against Cincinnati on Aug. 29, 1931. Herman fouled off a pitch from the Redlegs’ Si Johnson. The ball hit behind home plate, spun forward, hit Herman in the head and knocked him unconscious.
Herman was carried off the field on a stretcher. It was not the most auspicious of major league debuts.
In 1975, Billy Herman, whose batting average over 15 big league seasons was .304, was elected to the Hall of Fame.
So not to worry, Kris Bryant.
Kris Bryant of Bonanza High School and the University of San Diego was the second player selected in last month’s major league draft. The Chicago Cubs picked him, and a couple of weeks ago the Cubs paid him a ton of peanuts and Cracker Jack — a $6.7 million signing bonus — and so young Bryant become their property.
He made his Northwest League debut for the short-season Class A Boise Hawks on July 23, last Tuesday, against the team from Eugene, Ore.
Bryant’s was the fourth recent Boise debut of note: Shawon Dunston, son of the former Cubs (and a bunch of other teams) shortstop, plays center field for the Hawks and leads them in hitting at .328; Trevor Gretzky, The Great One’s offspring, sometimes plays left field and bats seventh; Bill Buckner is the Boise hitting coach.
Young Bryant, who is 21 and has a shock of dark hair and a $6.7 million-dollar smile and the kind of gee-whiz attitude about playing baseball that you hope never will change, batted five times against the Emeralds at PK Park in Eugene.
He struck out all five times.
That’s right: In his first game in Class A, young Kris Bryant received the platinum sombrero. Or the Olympic rings. Or whatever term you prefer for striking out five times in the same game.
I’m blaming it on the wood bats.
When news the mighty Kris had struck out five straight times reached Chicago, Cubs fans, as Cubs fans are wont, overreacted. I am certain that if the proposed Jumbotron in left field already were there, a good many Cubs fans would have marched to Wrigley Field and jumped right off of it, causing a series of dull splats on Waveland Avenue.
The next night at Eugene, Bryant went 1-for-4 with a double. The next night he was 0-for-3 with a walk.
The next night, he flied out to center the first time up. The second time up, he hit a pitch from Spokane’s Yohander Mendez — in the minors there are left-handers, right-handers and Yohanders — into the trees beyond the fence in left-center field at Memorial Stadium in Boise.
At least I think it landed in the trees, because it was so far away from home plate, and the press box camera was shaking so much, it was hard to tell.
“I’ve got all of his at-bats on tape, including all of those strikeouts the other night,” Hawks broadcaster Mike Safford said as Mendez, a lefty, threw ball one.
“I do have his RBI double; we haven’t posted any of that,” Safford said as Mendez threw ball two high and wide. “I’d love to see a home run though.”
Yeah, the Boise announcer appears to be a homer. So what? So is Hawk Harrelson. Anyway, that’s what you want in the minor leagues; that’s what you want if you’re driving across the panhandle from Lewiston on your way to the Big Sky.
“With first base open and a left-hander on deck, I wouldn’t think Mendez is going to give the top hitter in college baseball much of anything to hit,” Mike Safford said just before the count went to 3-0 with another high and wide one.
And then, after the count went to 3-0, Mendez threw one not so high and wide.
“Swung on and a HIGH FLY BALL!” Mike Safford’s voice went up several decibels, like when Loverboy crosses the border from Canada to play the Idaho Center Arena in Nampa.
“DEEP LEFT-CENTER FIELD! WAY OUTTA HERE!!! KRIS BRYANT UNLOADS A TAPE-MEASURE SHOT!”
As Bryant stepped on home plate wearing a giant medieval “B” on the center of his baby blue and claret baseball shirt — the Hawks’ alternate jerseys look like Martin Lawrence’s “Skywalker” wardrobe from the “Black Knight” — Mike Safford told those driving across the panhandle on their way to the Big Sky there would be “many more of those in the future.”
That was Friday. Two nights later, on Sunday, Kris Bryant hit another homer against Spokane.
That Mike Safford sure seems to know what he’s talking about.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.