This article was written by Bill Nowlin
A weighmaster at the tobacco market in the offseasons, a veteran of the Army Reserve, a farmer, and honored by being named a Kentucky Colonel. And a right-handed pitcher who was a veteran of 17 seasons in minor-league baseball, with a 147-131 record and a 3.87 earned-run average. Eleven of Herb Moford’s seasons were spent in the St. Louis Cardinals system. He was brought to the majors four separate times between 1955 and 1962, each time with a different team, but never experienced a winning record in the big leagues. He holds a place in New York Mets history for pitching in the team’s very first game.
Herbert Moford was born in the city of Brooksville, home to less than 1,000 but the county seat of Bracken County, Kentucky, on August 6, 1928. He parents were tenant farmers Hazel “Ted” Moford and Naomi Strausbaugh Moford.
Herb was captain of the basketball team at Bracken County High School for two years and graduated in 1946. In 1947 he was signed to a contract with the Cardinals by Buddy Lewis at a tryout camp in Lexington, Kentucky. His first assignment was to the Johnson City Cardinals of the Appalachian League, where he got off to a rocky beginning in his first 29 innings of pro ball (1-4, with an earned-run average of 8.38). That was Class D ball, but he fared better with a sideways transfer to another D club, the Salisbury Cardinals of the Eastern Shore League. After going 1-4 at Johnson City he was 5-9 with a 3.86 ERA in 105 innings of work at Salisbury. Despite the poor start, he persevered and in 1948 enjoyed a spectacular season with Salisbury: 20-4 (2.39 ERA).
Moford’s 1949 season was split between Winston-Salem and Columbus (Georgia), Class B and A respectively. He didn’t get as much work, 79 innings in all. He was 2-3 in B ball and 3-1 with Columbus at Class A, but with a high combined ERA of 6.61. There was a rebound in 1950. He pitched all of two innings with the Houston Buffaloes in the Double-A Texas League, but threw 196 innings at Allentown with a 2.98 ERA and a record of 14-7.
Both 1951 and 1952 were begun with Columbus, but this time it was Columbus, Ohio, for the Red Birds, a Triple-A club. Moford didn’t get that much work, just 69 innings leading to a 2-5 (7.43) season – and 17 of those innings were all in one game, a 5-4 loss to Kansas City on April 25. The Red Birds had transferred Moford to Omaha in the Western League, but then found out that he’d signed up to take his Army Reserve training at Fort Hayes, in Columbus.i In mid-July Moford reported for summer encampment. That September he married Martha Beckett. He was with the Red Birds for only ten innings in 1952, spending the bulk of the season with Lynchburg (in Class B) – with a 4-7 record (5.52). Back-to-back seasons with Columbus in ’53 and ’54 saw seasons of 6-3 (3.91) and 17-14 (4.46).
Moford made the 1955 Cardinals in spring training and spent the first two months of the season with St. Louis. His first appearance came on Opening Day, April 12, against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. With the score 13-2 in favor of the Cubs, Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky brought Moford into the game to pitch the bottom of the seventh. He allowed one run on two hits, and then finished the game with a scoreless eighth – though he escaped a bases-loaded situation he’d created for himself with two singles and a base on balls.
In his next three outings, Moford didn’t give up a hit and earned his first two saves (retrospectively, since sages weren’t a statistic then). The second save came in the first game of a May 1 doubleheader in Pittsburgh. Moford was asked to pitch again in the second game and had a rough time of it, giving up four earned runs in two innings. The Pirates were already up 3-0 at the time, so he wasn’t charged with the loss.
Moford’s first major-league win came in front of a home crowd at Sportsman’s Park on May 11. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins: Herb came into a game the Phillies had just tied, 3-3, and inherited a bases-loaded situation with nobody out. Inducing a groundball to the drawn-in shortstop resulted in a force out at home plate, but Earl Torgeson’s single to right field drove in two runs and gave Philadelphia the lead. Torgy was thrown out trying to take second base. Herb struck out the next batter. And then his teammates scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to take a 6-5 lead. He’d been pinch-hit for, and Barney Schultz closed out the game.
The last game Moford pitched for St. Louis was his first start. It was at the Polo Grounds on June 12 and it didn’t go well. He lasted 3? innings, allowing eight hits and four earned runs. He bore the loss, making his record 1-1, with an earned-run average that had climbed to 7.88. Up to then he’d given up five home runs in 24 innings and had a WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) of 1.833. He was 26 years old and was returned to the minors, to Rochester, where he continued to struggle. At the end of July, he had to leave for two weeks in the Reserve, at Camp Breckenridge in Kentucky. By the end of the season, with an ailing arm, his ERA, against minor-league batting, was 4.71. He was saddled with a 1-6 record.
A middling year followed in 1956, starting with Rochester for six games and thereafter with the Triple-A Omaha Cardinals. (12-9 at Omaha, with a 4.23 ERA). In July, he and his wife welcomed their first child. Moford began the 1957 season with Omaha again, but was traded to the Detroit Tigers on July 14 for journeyman right fielder Bob Thorpe. The Tigers had him pitch for their American Association club, the Charleston (South Carolina) Senators. Combined stats for 1957 between Omaha and Charleston were 7-12, 4.97.
Moford began the 1958 season with Charleston and his 6-0 start, with an earned-run average of 0.95 in 57 innings of work resulted in a summons to Detroit. Both he and infielder Ozzie Virgil got the call on June 5. (For Virgil it was a milestone; he was the Tigers’ first black player.) Moford’s first appearance for the Tigers came on June 12 in Washington. He gave up only one run in 3? innings of relief but it was the run that gave Washington a 4-3 win. A little over a month later, on July 14 at Baltimore, he picked up his second loss, despite giving up just two runs in a complete game. The Tigers were shut out. On the 26th of July, Moford got a win with a complete-game 9-1 victory over the Washington Senators. And September 2 saw him retire the first 15 batters he faced and throwing a complete-game two-hitter, 6-1.
By season’s end Moford had recorded a 3.61 ERA in 109? innings (25 games, of which 11 were starts, and six complete games). The team ERA was almost identical: 3.59. Teammate Jim Bunning had a 3.52 ERA. Moford won four games and lost nine, and the team finished in fifth place (77-77).
It had appeared the Tigers wanted Moford for ’59, and The Sporting News said so as early as late August: “The bleak pitching outlook is brightened mainly by the savvy and skill of Herb Moford. While his record isn’t exciting, Moford has the know-how to give Detroit a creditable performance as a relief man or a spot starter. He figures strongly in 1959 plans.”ii
But the Tigers decided they had a greater need, for a catcher, and so in December they swapped Moford to the Boston Red Sox for Lou Berberet. Manager Mike Higgins had been impressed by Moford, acknowledging his negative won-loss record but noting that he’d pitched well in every game he’d been in. Moford started the season with Boston, but appeared in only four games, between April 16 and May 5, losing the first and the third (his two starts), with an 11.42 earned-run average. To cut the roster down to the player limit, he was sent to the Minneapolis Millers, where he was 2-2 before being sent to the Miami Marlins, the Baltimore Orioles’ Triple-A club, at the end of June, though kept on option by the Red Sox. He had a stellar 2.10 ERA for the Marlins, but just a 6-6 record. In 1960 he was 11-12 with the Marlins, with a 2.94 earned-run average.
Starting in 1961 Baltimore had Rochester (International League) as its Triple-A affiliate, and Moford pitched for the Red Wings in 1961, winning 15 games and losing 13, with a 3.16 ERA. On December 2 the newborn New York Mets purchased his contract from the Orioles for a reported $25,000 (payable only if he made the major-league club), and Moford joined the Mets in their first year of play.iii With Johnny Antonelli, Roger Craig, and Billy Loes, he was one of only four pitchers with big-league experience as the calendar year began. He appeared in seven games for manager Casey Stengel, all in April. He had the distinction of pitching in the first game in Mets history, though a one-hit scoreless seventh inning against the Cardinals on April 11, Opening Day in St. Louis, and he pitched in the Mets’ first home game as well, on April 13 at the Polo Grounds in New York, two innings with three hits and one run. Moford had just one decision for the Mets, a loss to Houston, also a new team in the 11th inning on April 17. His two innings of one-hit ball on April 29 were his last innings in the major leagues. He had a 7.20 ERA.
On May 7, two days before the cutdown date, Moford was returned outright to Rochester and found himself back in the Baltimore system and pitching for Rochester both in 1962 (10-11, 4.47 ERA) and part of 1963 (1-1, 10.29 in just seven innings of work.) He was released in mid-May and thus ended his career in professional baseball.
Batting was not Moford’s forte. In the big leagues, he hit safely just twice – both singles – in 44 at-bats (.045). His one RBI came on one of those hits, for the Tigers in 1958. In 44 chances in the field, he never made an error. In the minor leagues, he hit .152 over the course of 17 seasons. In his first 17 games of the 1953 season, he didn’t have even one at-bat; when it became his time to bat, he was taken out for a pinch-hitter.iv
Herb had a tobacco farm in Dove, Kentucky, and later in Minerva, Kentucky. He had some cattle too, but tobacco was the cash crop. Baseball-Reference.com reports that he served as the campaign manager for former teammate Jim Bunning‘s unsuccessful 1983 attempt to be elected governor of Kentucky. Moford was often mentioned when people looked back at the beginning of the Mets, and in October 1986, when the Hartford Courant ran a retrospective after the Mets had won their first World Series, author Sandy Keenan quoted Moford as saying, “For an old farm boy, it was really an accomplishment for me to play under Casey Stengel.”v
Moford died at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati on December 3, 2005. He was survived by his wife, Martha, and one of their daughters, Jo Estill of Minerva. Her sister, Minda Marie Moford, had died in 1977.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Moford’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
i The Sporting News, June 20, 1951.
ii The Sporting News, August 27, 1958.
iii The Sporting News, December 13, 1961.
iv The Sporting News, July 22, 1953.
v Hartford Courant, October 22, 1986.