Larry Herndon enjoyed many exciting moments with the Tigers. He had a penchant for big home runs during his seven seasons in Detroit. Herndon home runs won a World Series game, division title, and tied the record for most consecutive at bats with a home run. Despite the home run heroics, the highlight of Herndon’s career was catching Tony Gwynn’s fly ball to end the 1984 World Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Larry Herndon in the third round of the 1971 amateur draft. They traded him to the Giants in May 1975. Herndon played six seasons with San Francisco before being shipped to the Tigers in December 1981. He found a home in Detroit as a player and coach.
Herndon played seven seasons with the Tigers from 1982-1988. He hit over 20 home runs in 1982 and 1983. The right handed hitter slugged four consecutive home runs on May 17 and 18, 1982. He homered in his final at bat on May 17 and then launched three straight on the following day tying the record for most home runs in consecutive at bats. Overall, Herndon enjoyed his best overall season in 1983 with a .302 average, 20 home runs, 92 RBI, and .829 OPS.
Despite the success, Tiger management decided to platoon Herndon in 1984. They brought in Rupert Jones to play against right-handed pitching. Herndon’s playing time dropped from 153 games in 1983 to 125 in 1984. He still managed a respectable .280 season with 7 home runs and 43 RBI in 407 at bats. Most importantly, Herndon had the key hit in Game 1 of the World Series. He launched a two-run home run that provided Jack Morris all he needed. Detroit then proceeded to demolish San Diego in five games. Herndon caught the final out off of Tony Gwynn’s bat. Tiger fans have seen the highlight thousands of times over the past 30 years.
Detroit scuffled in 1985 and 1986. Herndon’s average dropped to .244 and .247 in those seasons. His OPS dropped below .700 for the first time since 1980. By 1987, his playing time diminished to 89 games. However, he had one last great season off the bench. Sparky Anderson maximized Larry Herndon leading to a .320 season and .898 OPS. The reserve slammed 9 home runs and knocked in 47 runs in 225 at bats. On the season’s final day, Herndon hit the division winning home run off Jimmy Key. Detroit won 1-0 behind Frank Tanana.
The Tigers lost the 1987 American League Championship Series in five games to Minnesota. The team contended in 1988, but fell just short of a second consecutive division title. Herndon slumped to .224 and he retired after being released that December. He returned as hitting coach in 1992 and remained in the role until his dismissal in 1998. Management needed a scapegoat for the team’s lousy performance and targeted Herndon as opposed to the front office and ownership. In 2010, Herndon became hitting coach for the Lakeland Flying Tigers. He remains in that position heading into the 2013 season.
Detroiters hold a special place for Larry Herndon. Fans screamed “Lar-ry! Lar-ry!” when he came to the plate. He enjoyed two all-star caliber seasons with Detroit in 1982 and 1983 before moving to a platoon and later reserve role. Regardless of his position on the club, he always seemed to come up with a big home run. He hit 20 or more homers twice, once hit big flies in four straight at bats, and hit game winning shots in the World Series and to win the 1987 American League East title. However, Herndon’s greatest moment came when he caught the final out of the 1984 World Series.