Baseball Obit: Procopio Herrera 1926-2007
Web Posted: 08/28/2007 12:35 AM CDT
Procopi Herrera strode out of the fog hanging over Nashville's Sulphur Dell ballpark and into San Antonio baseball history in the fall of 1950.
The native of Nuevo Laredo, who died last week in Mexico City at the age of 81, had pitched nine innings for the Missions just two days before, winning Game 5 of the 1950 Dixie Series between San Antonio and Nashville.
But with the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the sixth inning, Missions manager Don Heffner needed his hottest pitcher for Game 7 of the series between the Texas League and Southern Association champions.
Herrera was the best he had. And he delivered, allowing just one base runner the rest of the way to preserve the victory and San Antonio's only title in the 39-year history of the Dixie Series.
Herrera was used to delivering in the big games. During parts of five seasons with the Missions, crowds at Mission Stadium would often double or triple on the days he pitched.
He was bigger than Fernando Valenzuela here, said longtime San Antonio baseball fan Johnny Cardona, who saw Herrera pitch at the old ballpark south of downtown and also witnessed Valenzeula's blitz through the Texas League in 1980.
He was the biggest of all the Mexican players here. Nobody made it as big here as Procopio.
Herrera was such a sensation in San Antonio that the local newspapers the Express, the News and the Light often referred to him only by his first name in headlines.
He was a big, big deal in San Antonio, said Al LaMacchia, who pitched against Herrera in the Texas League. He was the biggest drawing card they had.
The third-largest paid crowd in local baseball history, 12,141, showed up for a Labor Day doubleheader in 1948 that featured Herrera.
The fire department came out and roped off the outfield, Cardona said. There were people everywhere.
Herrera pitched professionally from 1945-58, often in both summer and winter leagues. He played three games for the St. Louis Browns in 1951, making him the second native of Mexico to pitch in the majors, and he was well-known on semi-pro diamonds throughout South Texas long after his career in the minors ended.
He would pitch on a Saturday many times, then sit with his elbow in a big bag of ice, and then the next day at 3:30 he was ready to pitch again, his son, Daniel Herrera, said in 2000. He'd rub some Bengay on it and pitch another game.
I've seen a lot of people who have a love for the game. I believe it was more than that for him he was a fanatic for baseball.
LaMacchia, who went on to a long career as a scout, said Herrera was one of the smartest pitchers he ever faced.
He knew how to use his stuff well how to pitch, LaMacchia said.
Herrera, who died Thursday of an apparent heart attack, moved back to Mexico in the 1960s and managed ball clubs for several seasons, then started a career as a golf pro. He worked at clubs in Mexico City for more than 13 years.
He has been on the nomination list for the Monterrey-based Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame, but never has been selected.
It would be a great honor to be part of the hall, he told a Mexican online newspaper last year. But I probably won't get the opportunity because I didn't play that much in Mexico.
I'll wait patiently, though.