Tuesday, November 19, 2013

#129 Frank Herrera The Sporting News Rookie Stars

Cuban born Francisco "Pancho" or "Frank" Herrera played in 300 games with the Phillies over three years between 1958 and 1961. Don't let that short career fool you. Herrera is one very interesting guy. When he debuted for the Phils at the age of 23 he had already been in organized ball for about 8 years. He began at 15 or so around Havana as a member of a group of youngsters called gitanillos, or little gypsies. These players worked with Cuban pro teams during practices but sat in the stands with the other fans during games. Occasionally they were called on to actually fill-in for a regular.

He was also boxing (until him mother saw him KO'd and made him quit) and an agricultural student around that time. But baseball called and he signed to play pro ball in Cuba in 1950. He was obtained by the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League in 1952. His contract was purchased by the Phillies and he began in their organization in 1955.

He played some in Philly in 1958 and hit .270 in 63 at bats but spent the '59 season in the International League with Buffalo and just tore the league up to earn MVP honors. He stepped into a regular role as the Phils' first baseman in 1960 and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. He put together a .281 average with 17 dingers and 71 RBI but he fell off in '61, went back to the minors and was dealt to the Pirates. He never again played in the majors although he hung on in the minors with several organization through 1969 and then played in Mexico and with an independent Florida State league club as late as 1974. At times he served as player/manager.

Along the way Herrera had played winter ball in Nicaragua, Venezuela, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in addition to Cuba. He made his home in the US in Miami and was part of the Cuban culture there for many years. He worked for United Airlines and for a health service provider in South Florida as well as having several baseball-related interests such as batting instructor in Mexico and running a baseball camp with fellow Cuban Paul Casanova. 

The father of three daughters Frank Herrera died in 2005 in Miami. He is a member of the International League Hall of Fame. You can (and should!) check out his SABR bio here. More info on Herrera and his part in the integration of baseball (he was the Phils first black Latino player) can be found in this book on Google.

This card is one of three 'rookie' cards issued by Topps for Frank Herrera. One version of his 1958 card is prized because of the 'error' which is described as a misspelled name on the front. It seems to be a printing error. 

Here is the more common 'correct' version:

The 1959 Rookie Stars card is featured up top and he also had a 'rookie star' card in the 1960 set. That one is my favorite because I am a fan of that '60 Rookie subset.

Interestingly he had a 1961 All Star card but no regular card by Topps.


  1. nice summary of the Herrera cards. I always wanted to do this research. The 1961 AS card is a hard to get as it is a high number.

  2. What did he do to rate being an "All-star"?

    1. That's a very good question. here is the All Star subset checklist:

      566 Paul Richards
      567 Danny Murtaugh
      568 Bill Skowron
      569 Frank Herrera
      570 Nellie Fox
      571 Bill Mazeroski
      572 Brooks Robinson
      573 Ken Boyer
      574 Luis Aparicio
      575 Ernie Banks
      576 Roger Maris
      577 Hank Aaron
      578 Mickey Mantle
      579 Willie Mays
      580 Al Kaline
      581 Frank Robinson
      582 Earl Battey
      583 Del Crandall
      584 Jim Perry
      585 Bob Friend
      586 Whitey Ford
      589 Warren Spahn

      Who doesn't belong?

      Hard to believe that Topps picked Herrera as a likely '61 All Star. Joe Adcock, Bill White were coming off All Star seasons with White getting a Gold Glove. Dick Stuart had numbers as good or better. Hell, Norm Larker was coming off a .320+ average season. Why pick Herrera.

      It's a high number card I thought maybe he got off to a huge start and they went on that when they picked the set but I looked and he had a terrible April.

      Odd choice indeed.