The Long Beach sports world lost a unique and irreplaceable figure earlier this month with the passing of baseball/softball champion and longtime Century Club volunteer Jim Herrick.
Herrick was golfing at Little Rec with three friends when he passed away at the age of 78.
“You don’t find guys like him very often,” said Sam Breuklander, a lifelong friend of Herrick’s.
Herrick was born in 1941 and was a starting interior lineman on the Long Beach Poly CIF-SS champion football teams of the late 1950s, a remarkable feat for an undersized 5’8” player, even in those days. Herrick was more known as a baseball star, playing in the first-ever baseball game at Blair Field, and helping to lead Poly to the first Moore League baseball title in 1958.
After graduating from Poly, he played catcher at Long Beach City College and at Long Beach State, where he was the starting catcher for the 1964 Dirtbags, which won the program’s first conference championship and first NCAA Regional Finals berth.
His playing career didn’t end after college, as he was the starting catcher for the Long Beach Nitehawks, the professional fast-pitch softball team that won several national championships. Herrick was also the catcher for Eddie Feigner’s King in the Court team of four, a Harlem Globtetrotters-esque team that played across the country, including in several Major League ballparks.
Nitehawks expert and Century Club stalwart Dan Gooch said that what separated Herrick from many other prominent athletes who had spent time with the club was how understated he was.
“He was the quietest guy in the world when it came to his own accomplishments,” said Gooch. “He never said boo about anything. But when Red Meirs or those guys would come in and see Jimmy, there eyes would light up. Because they knew him, they knew what he did.”
Herrick’s understated nature didn’t just mean that he didn’t bring up his own accomplishments–he also loved giving back to the community and highlighting the accomplishments of Long Beach’s youth. In 1987, he founded the Century Club’s high school sports award program with Bill Alexander, a program that Herrick was still volunteering to help organize this year, 33 banquets later. He’s also been Breuklander’s right hand man helping to organize the club’s Middle School Sports Banquet for the last 32 years as well.
“Any time you needed anything, he was always happy to do it to help recognize the kids,” said Breuklander. “That really meant a lot to him.”
Herrick is survived by his wife of 46 years, Joanne, and their son, Chris.
Herrick loved competing and played softball until late in his life, and had become an avid golfer in recent years. He was on the third hole at Little Rec when he had a heart attack.
“He hit the hell out of the ball and turned around smiling, the next guy goes to tee up and hears a noise, he was flat on the ground,” said Breuklander. “He was doing what he loved to do–they hadn’t been able to play for a few months and had been back out for three weeks when it happened.”
Breuklander said that in the last few weeks Herrick had stopped referring to him as his friend and started referring to him as his brother, and said that his wife said he’d been similarly sentimental with her.
“The last few weeks he’d been thanking her all the time for everything she did,” said Breuklander. “It was almost like he had a premonition or something, and he needed her to know that he appreciated her and he needed me to know we were brothers.”