Alpine became so good a baseball town that in 1949 the Cowboys and the Junior Cowboy team, which Mr. Herbert had created so that less talented players from the former Cats wouldn't feel left out, became the two top teams in the Southwest. Over the next decade Alpine was the perennial Southwest champion. The Cowboys never finished higher than third at Wichita, but they were usually in contention.
Meanwhile, Kokernot Field's spring tenant, the Sul Ross Lobos, developed a formidable collegiate program, winning the first NAIA World Series, in 1957. A synergy developed between the Lobos and the Cowboys. The best Sul Ross players, including Cash, a future Detroit Tiger first baseman, played college ball in the spring and then suited up for the Cowboys in the summer, joining other college stars Kokernot had recruited—Baylor's Adrian Burk and Larry Is-bell, and Texas A & M's Yale Lary, later a Hall of Fame punter with the Detroit Lions. Mr. Herbert also gave his college players well-paying jobs on the O6 ranch so they could earn tuition money. Word of this arrangement spread far beyond Sul Ross, and soon Alpine was attracting collegians from all over the country.
Many semipro owners hired good players in the hope of eventually selling them to major league teams at tidy profits. This practice didn't sit well with Mr. Herbert, whose motto was always. "I sell my cattle, but not my ballplayers." He lost thousands of dollars annually, but the professional teams that came knocking always received the same answer from the little man in the cowboy hat: "You pay my players what they deserve or they stay here." Scouts came to respect this attitude. They also respected the fact that Mr. Herbert hired excellent instructors and that he fed and housed his players well.
Eventually, Mr. Herbert developed a nationwide network of contacts who tipped him off about talent. In 1955, for example, Milwaukee Braves scout Gil English telephoned Cowboy manager Tom Chandler and told him about a North Carolina farm boy who could throw hard but needed some seasoning. "Gil," said Chandler, "we have the finest college players in the country playing for us here, and you're asking us to pitch a high school boy?"
"I know," said English. "The Braves will pay his way down, and you just have a look." Soon the Cowboys witnessed the arrival of the greenest, gangliest rookie righthander Chandler had ever seen. However, the moment the rube got up on the mound everyone forgot about his awkwardness, for Gaylord Perry was a true diamond in the rough. After his season in West Texas. Perry moved up through the minors and eventually racked up 314 major league victories before he retired in 1983. He remembered his summer with Mr. Herbert's Cowboys with gratitude: "I was only a high school kid, playing on a very good team. Some of those guys were former major leaguers. Playing out there in Alpine and staying in the Sul Ross dormitories, that was a special summer."
Mr. Herbert made it worth a ballplayer's while to make his summer home on the range. Besides giving him a job. he set up a standing reward of $100 for a home run. $75 for a triple and so on. "When he shook hands with you after a game, he usually left something in the handshake," says Parsons, who played shortstop for the Cowboys in 1953 and '54. Following home games Mr. Herbert almost always threw a barbecue and dance for the players and their families at his ranchhouse. "Of course." says 75-year-old Wally Davis, who managed the Cats from 1942 to '45, "if you made an error, you didn't dare go to that barbecue."
Chandler, a former Texas A & M coach, managed the Cowboys from 1952 to '58 and quickly became almost family to Mr. Herbert. Shortly after Chandler took over the team, Mr. Herbert built his new manager a comfortable cottage beyond third base at Kokernot Field. Says Chandler, 64, who is now a scout for the Cleveland Indians. "One day Mr. Herbert came out to the stadium and saw my car parked outside the house in the rain. He said, 'Tom, you need a garage,' and he built me one of those, too." His generosity extended well beyond baseball. "If I had to guess, I'd say he put more than 700 kids through college, and he never counted the ones who didn't finish four years," says former Cowboy general manager Bud Richards. "There probably wasn't a school in the state that didn't receive money from Mr. Herbert. Of course, he helped anybody who needed it. Once at the El Paso livestock show, he heard about a boy who'd spent a year raising a prize pig only to have it die when the boy got it to the show. Mr. Herbert said, 'We can't have this,' so he bought it for $200. Paying $200 for a dead pig! I guess helping young people kept him young."
On game days the lonely roads from Marfa to the west and Marathon to the east were filled with baseball fans flocking to Kokernot Field to see the Fabulous Alpine Cowboys, and Mr. Herbert did all he could to make it worth the trip. In 1953, when Dodger pitching star Don Newcombe and St. Louis Browns righthander Bob Turley were stationed at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Mr. Herbert flew the entire Brooke team to Alpine to play the Cowboys. Recalls Newcombe, "Mr. Herbert would give me $100 an inning. Sometimes my arm was very sore, but I made sure I always pitched at least five innings. Later, when I got out of the Army, I used to leave him World Series tickets."
Mr. Herbert sometimes hired major league teams to play one another in exhibitions in Alpine. In 1951, Paige and the Browns took on the Chicago White Sox. Some 6,000 people jammed the place to see Paige. "He only pitched an inning," says Brooks, "but even now I can find you 20 old-timers around Alpine who will swear Satchel Paige struck them out that day." Before the game Paige told Mr. Herbert that he very much liked his cowboy hat. Shortly thereafter all the Browns players were quietly asked their hat sizes. A phone call was placed to Fort Worth, and a load of quality headgear was flown to the O6 in time to be passed out at the postgame cookout. "It wasn't a show of wealth," says Chandler. "Mr. Herbert was actually very timid. He just loved to make people happy."
When slick-fielding White Sox shortstop Chico Carrasquel heard Mr. Herbert announce his customary monetary prizes for hits, he asked, "How much for an assist?"