All at once he found himself the first-string catcher of the pennant-chasing Reds in the middle of the season. A heat wave, with temperatures hovering in the high 90s, made the East Coast a bubbling caldron. Wearing wool uniforms, ballplayers suffered damnably. In Philadelphia on July 26, the Reds won their seventh straight, 9-5, and Hershberger drove in two runs with a single in the first, his only hit in five at bats. He began to melt away. On July 27, in 100° heat, the Phillies whipped the Reds 5-3 and hold Hershberger hitless. The next day the Reds won the first game of a doubleheader against the Phillies 7-2, but lost the second 4-1, with Hershberger going 0 for 4. The grandstands were beginning to close in on him.
In the furnace of New York's Polo Grounds on July 30, Hershberger went 3 for 4 in the Reds' 6-3 victory over the Giants, but by then he had lost 15 pounds and was beginning to suffer from dehydration and exhaustion. Whatever it was that had been gnawing at him in the night, he finally surrendered to it on July 31. Reds pitcher Bucky Walters had a 4-1 lead over the Giants in the ninth inning, with two out. He was tiring, but McKechnie left him in. Walters walked Bob Seeds, and Burgess Whitehead homered to make the score 4-3. Walters then walked Mel Ott, and up came Harry (the Horse) Danning, who drove an 0-2 pitch into the balcony in left to win the game 5-4.
Hershberger was inconsolable. For the next two days he insisted on taking the blame for the loss, claiming that he had called for the wrong pitch to Danning. Craft says that Walters blamed himself. After the game the Reds climbed into a Pullman car and headed for Boston. Hershberger was sitting in his berth across from Bill Werber, the Reds' third baseman, and shaking his head. "If Ernie had been catching, we wouldn't have lost those ball games," Hershberger told him. "We'd have never lost that game tonight with Ernie behind the plate."
Werber waved that away. "You got nine guys out there, Hershie," Werber told him. "Everybody's responsible."
Hershberger would not hear it. "It's just terrible," he said. "Losing those ball games that you've got in your pocket. It's all my fault. All my fault." He had begun to feel, too, that members of the team were lining up against him. While sitting on the bench one day with Morrie Arnovich, a Reds outfielder, Hershberger confided: "There's a lot of fellows on this club who are down on me." Arnovich told him this was not so. Hershberger grew silent. He was drifting out of touch.
McKechnie began to sense how far the catcher had gone only on Friday, Aug. 2, when Hershberger went 0 for 5 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Bees. At one point in the game, he simply failed to field a swinging bunt in front of the plate, forcing pitcher Whitey Moore to come scrambling for it. After the inning ended, McKechnie put his hands on Hershberger's shoulders. "What's the matter, son?" he asked. "Are you sick? Is there anything the matter with you?"
"You bet there's something the matter with me," said Hershberger, his eyes wide. "I'll tell you about it after the game."
Riggs, who may have known Hershberger best, could see how far he had gone over the edge. "He caught that game through instinct alone," Riggs said. "When he would come back to the bench, he would not say a word to anybody. I don't believe he really knew what plays had been made."
Later that day, McKechnie took Hershberger to the ballpark's deserted grandstand, but Hershberger balked at sitting there. "I can't talk to you here," he said. "I'll break down."
It didn't really matter. Back at the Copley, on McKechnie's couch, Hershberger unburdened himself. "The kid just sat there and cried for a full hour, and I let him, because I wanted him to get it off his chest," McKechnie said. "Then he started to talk."