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Timing is right for Herr, Suns

December 14, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

The new manager of the Hagerstown Suns has made more than one career out of taking advantage of situations as they present themselves.

Tommy Herr, a former major league second baseman, used that ability to be part of the St. Louis Cardinals' world championship in 1982, his first of three trips to the World Series.

Later, he had a chance to coach his sons at his high school alma mater in Lancaster, Pa. That led to a two-year stint as manager of the Lancaster Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League and a 2006 league championship.

It all leads to where he is today, managing the Suns in their first season as the Washington Nationals affiliate in the South Atlantic League. Herr was named to the position Tuesday.

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"It kind of fell in my lap," Herr said Wednesday by telephone from his lifelong home of Lancaster. "The timing was good. I had a fantastic year with Lancaster, and it was a great experience."

Herr, 50, comes to Hagerstown in the best of situations for himself and his newest career. The Nationals come to town as a local affiliate that could revitalize the interest in the team.

"One of the attractive things about the job was the fact that it was close to home," Herr said. "I could get back (to Lancaster) in a hurry if anything happens. I worked with my high school team (Hempfield High) to be able to watch my sons play. Then, when my youngest got through, I was able to start to work on my managing career."

The Barnstormers allowed Herr to stay close to home, but there was another step to make - managing a team affiliated with the major leagues.

"I had spoken to Bob Boone last season and had expressed interest in a job," Herr said. "I stayed in contact with them and I sent an e-mail out looking to see if there were any openings. It just materialized."

Herr played for St. Louis, Minnesota, Philadelphia, the New York Mets and San Francisco. He is best known for his eight-plus year run with St. Louis, where he was part of three National League championship teams, became an all-star and was in the NL MVP voting twice.

Herr played for Whitey Herzog, a tough taskmaster of a manger, in St. Louis. The experience helped build a foundation for his managing style.

"Whitey has a major effect on the way that I think as a manager," Herr said. "He ran a very aggressive style, but that was dictated by the personnel we had on the team. We had a lot of speed and not much power, so we had to run aggressively if we were going to score any runs."

"I will have to tailor my managing to what kind of team I have. If I have seven home run hitters, I'm not going to go out there and have them steal bases, but it is still important to be very aggressive out there, even if you are a base stealer or not. You can still go out there and run hard, go from first to third on hits and take extra bases."

The switch from Lancaster and the Atlantic League to Hagerstown and the Single-A South Atlantic League will be a test of sorts for Herr.

"The Atlantic League is a veteran league with 70-plus percent of the players having Triple A or Major League experience," Herr said. "My pro experience is working with veteran players. But here, we will be working with player development. There will be a lot more teaching and it will be a lot more hands-on work. I'm looking forward to that."

That is where Herr will get the chance to draw from his playing experience. In 13 seasons, he hit .271 with 28 home runs and 574 RBI. In 1985, the second World Series year with the Cardinals, he hit .302 and drove in 110 runs, despite hitting only eight homers.

"I'm going to get a better feel for it in spring training," he said. "My expertise is infield play, specifically second base. I have the experience of hitting at the top of the order early in my career and hit in the middle of the lineup later on. I think I have a wide range of knowledge to give."

Herr could have two of the Nationals top prospects in Hagerstown. Third baseman Chris Marrero and pitcher Colton Willems, a pair of 17-year-olds who were first-round picks in the 2005 draft, could be in Suns uniforms, according to Bob Boone, senior director of player development.

Herr and Boone said that Washington's record the past few seasons has allowed the Nationals to make a number of high draft picks, which could pay off in the near future.

"I'm anxious," Herr said. "I can't wait for spring. It's going to be fun to get in there and to be part of something."

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