By Bob McManaman, azcentral sports
Chris Herrmann forgets where he was when he first heard the nickname; remembering only that his wife liked it and she wanted to know what it meant. Actually, so did Chris.
At one point last season, Diamondbacks broadcaster Steve Berthiaume started calling him “Babe Herrmann” during games. Babe? As in George Herman “Babe” Ruth? The Sultan of Swat? The King of Crash? The Colossus of Clout?
Herrmann had his moments last season as a backup catcher and part-time outfielder, driving in some key runs here and there. But comparing him to the Bambino seemed like one whale of a stretch.
“Yeah, it was in reference to somebody else – this guy named Babe Herman,” Herrmann nodded with a slight laugh. “I haven’t looked up his stats or anything, but I guess he was an old-timer way back in the day and I guess it carried over to me. I don’t mind it.”
Floyd Caves “Babe” Herman was a right fielder and first baseman best known for his several seasons with the Brooklyn Robins in the 1930s. He was a career .324 hitter who hit for the cycle three times. He wasn’t so great with a glove and he had his share of foibles on the base paths, but still, the nickname was a compliment to Herrmann.
He prefers another moniker, however. The Herrmannator.
“Yeah, I had a lot of my teammates and the coaching staff all call me Herrmannator and I kind of like it,” Herrmann said. “Plus, I was a big fan of the Terminator growing up, so … ”
So if the Terminator could play baseball, he’d probably be an awful lot like Herrmann, whom Arizona acquired in a 2015 trade with the Minnesota Twins. Herrmann is known for his toughness and relentless play, not to mention his versatility to man almost any position on the field.
He’s listed as a backup at four different spots: left field, right field, catcher and first base. Last season, then-manager Chip Hale even had him warm up on three occasions as an emergency relief pitcher. Herrmann never actually took the mound, which he says now “was probably a good thing.”
“But I think I could maybe prop up to, you know, 90 mph if I wanted to,” he said confidently. “I’m definitely not trying to blow out my arm in a game, though. If I was training myself to be a pitcher that would be a different story.”
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Why not? He can do just about everything else.
“Yeah, we’ve been asking a lot of him because he’s going to wear a bunch of different hats this year,” first-year manager Torey Lovullo said. “He’s going to potentially get at-bats at first base and we’re going to start to transition him to the outfield. So because of that, we feel very fortunate.
“There’s a lot of moving parts in a National League game that I’m still getting familiar with and in this case, we know he is as versatile as they come and he gives you a quality at-bat. We’re lucky to have him. It’s up to us to make sure we prepare him for the role that he’s going to fall into and we’re doing that right now.”
Besides having to pack four to five different gloves in his bag every morning, Herrmann has to make sure he keeps a close eye on the workout schedule so he knows to which practice field and what batting group he is assigned.
“Being versatile, I’ve got to kind of like learn as I go, if that makes any sense,” Herrmann said.
Herrmann, 29, hit .284 for the Diamondbacks last season with six homers and 28 RBIs in 148 at-bats until a fractured left hand ended his year. In parts of five major league seasons, he’s never appeared in more than 57 games or had more than 178 plate appearances.
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He hopes his playing time grows in 2017, though he’s concerned only with locking down a spot on the 25-man roster at the moment.
“I definitely feel like I still have to earn a spot,” said Herrmann, who collected three singles on Tuesday against the Rangers. “I know some guys are blessed. They know they’re making the team and all that, but each and every year, I feel like I need to earn my spot on this team. So, it’s just keep working hard and show these guys I want to play.”
He felt he was making some great strides until he broke his hand. He hit for average, hit well with runners in scoring position and delivered some late-game heroics. Those are positives, he said, that he can look back and use as motivation for this season.
Learning how to add first base to his daily repertoire is keeping him plenty busy.
“I’m definitely playing a lot of first this spring,” he said. “I’ve played it some in the past when I was younger and stuff, so I get the idea of how to play there. But there’s all kinds of things that come into play, like cutoffs and relays and positioning yourself for lefties or righties.
“I think in the long run I would definitely just like to concentrate on catching, because I’m a catcher at heart. I’ve been doing that my entire life. Right now, this is what’s getting me a job, is being versatile. And that’s good. It’s helped me out and got me a lot of playing time last year. It got my bat in the lineup and that’s all that really matters right now.”
Reach McManaman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Wednesday night between 7-9 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.