In 2013, I wrote a column in The Jewish Press under the title, “The Tragedy of Herb Gorman.” Gorman, a Jewish baseball player, suddenly fell ill in the sixth inning of a game in 1953 and died before the game was over. His young wife, Rosalie, watched him being helped off the field by teammates.
I always wondered what happened to Mrs. Gorman. Well, she recently learned of my seven-year-old column and contacted me. I had a lengthy phone call with this most interesting 88-year-old woman who fielded all my questions and filled in all the blanks of the story.
Let’s dial back about 70 years ago to Los Angeles. At the time, professional baseball teams in the big West Coast cities belonged to the Pacific Coast League, one rung below the major leagues. L.A. had two teams: the Hollywood Stars and the Los Angeles Angels. Herb Gorman played on the Stars and enjoyed immense popularity with Jewish fans as he was one of the team’s best players.
In 1951, Rosalie Bloom, who was 19 years old at the time, was set up with Herb, who was 26, on a blind date. The date turned out to be a double date, and Rosalie was actually initially more excited about the other fellow, Robert Merrill. Seven years older than Herb and already famous for being part of the New York Metropolitan Opera, Merrill had played semi-pro ball years earlier and had used his salary to pay for voice lessons. (Many years later, he would sing the national anthem for big games at Yankee Stadium.)
Rosalie enjoyed being in the company of Merrill, but her date, Herb Gorman, eventually won her heart and the hearts of her parents, too. “Everybody loved him,” Rosalie said. “He was such a kind, loving, man.” In 1952, Rosalie Bloom and Herb Gorman were married at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Rosalie remembers seeing many celebrities – or stars – at Hollywood Stars ballgames, including Gene Autry, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Burt Lancaster, Barbara Stanwyck and others. One celebrity fan that stands out in Rosalie’s mind all these years later is Danny Kaye. “When Herbie came to bat, Danny would stand up and yell, ‘Give it a klop, Herbie, give it a klop,'” she said.
After three seasons with the Stars, Gorman was obtained by the St. Louis Cardinals. Herb busied himself during spring training in Florida trying to make the roster while Rosalie met the players’ wives and hit if off with the wife of star outfielder Enos Slaughter. But when Slaughter found out the Gormans were Jewish and that his wife was friendly with Rosalie, he ordered his wife to stop seeing Mrs. Gorman.
“Enos Slaughter was an anti-Semite and the meanest son of a gun,” Rosalie said. “The biggest star on the team was Stan Musial, and he was the opposite. He was the kindest, sweetest, nicest man.”
Gorman’s efforts in spring training paid off and he headed north with the big league squad. The Gormans sublet an apartment in St. Louis and Herb patiently waited for a chance to play in his first major league game. Finally, on April 19, 1952, Gorman made his major league debut in the seventh inning at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Pinch-hitting for the pitcher, Gorman grounded out as the Cubs went on to thrash the Cardinals 8-1.
It would be his only major league appearance, as he was sold to the San Diego Padres of the Pacific Coast League as April ended and went on to play in 108 games for San Diego in 1952 while batting .261, well below his career average.
On April 5, 1953, the Padres were playing a big doubleheader against rival Hollywood in their home park downtown, only a short walk from the Pacific Ocean. Gorman played left field in the first game. It was the last game of his life.
The first game was going great for Gorman as he rapped two doubles in two at-bats. But within minutes after trotting back to his left field position in the sixth inning with his wife watching, Gorman called “time” and staggered toward the infield. Teammates helped him to the dugout where he walked unaided to the clubhouse. The team trainer quickly applied oxygen and sent for a doctor who called for an ambulance.
Gorman, who fell unconscious, was rushed to the hospital still wearing his baseball uniform. Upon arrival at the hospital, the 28-year-old Gorman was pronounced dead. A massive blood clot that reached the heart would later be ruled as the cause of death.
Rosalie tries not to think of that day, but two things pop into her mind: seeing her husband lying on a hospital gurney and asking for a rabbi after learning of his death.
Teammates learned of Gorman’s death in the ninth inning while losing 4-2. When the game concluded with the same score, the almost 4,000 in attendance were informed of Gorman’s fate and that the second game would be cancelled in accordance with a vote of his teammates.
Gorman’s young widow made sure a rabbi would officiate over a proper Jewish funeral. At the service, while looking at Gorman’s grieving parents and widow, Rabbi Morton J. Kohn of San Diego’s Temple Beth Israel, said, “Herb Gorman had learned to play the game of life equally as well as he had learned to play the game of his profession.”
“We were only married for 14 months,” Rosalie recalled. “I was 21 when he died and went back to my parents’ home. For six months, I hardly left my room.” After three years, Rosalie found love again. “I met a real nice man and we have been married for 64 years and have two sons.”
Now 88, Rosalie is more active than people half her age. She loves traveling and driving around whatever country she’s visiting. She prefers to be behind the wheel instead of being a passenger in a tour bus. Borneo is on her radar and she’s toying with the idea of becoming a political volunteer.
One thing’s for sure: She gets my vote as one of the most interesting people I have ever met over the phone.