Pitcher Troy Herriage’s big-league career was notable for both its duration and its difficulty. The Kansas City Athletics, who selected Herriage in the Rule 5 minor-league draft in November 1955, were required to either keep him on their roster for the entire 1956 season or return him to his old club.1 They not only kept him, but gave him regular work. In 31 appearances, the Oklahoma-born right-hander consistently showed that he wasn’t ready for prime time. Herriage finished in the American League’s top 10 for losses and hit batsmen, and closed his only big-league season with an ERA of 6.64 and a record of one win against 13 losses.
This is the story of his win.
Objectively speaking, there wasn’t much to draw baseball fans out to Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium on Tuesday night, May 22, 1956. The novelty the A’s enjoyed the previous year, their first in Kansas City, was wearing off somewhat, as the team’s average 1956 home attendance declined by more than 5,000 fans per game from 1955 levels.2 The visiting Washington Senators and the home A’s were chronic American League doormats, and neither team had shown any signs of improvement in 1956. Chuck Dressen’s Senators were in seventh place with a 12-18 record, while Lou Boudreau’s A’s were eighth and last at 10-19 – including a run of seven losses in their previous eight games. Rain was also in the forecast for the evening, and while it eventually relented, the start of the game was delayed by 39 minutes.3
The pitching matchup was scarcely the stuff of legends either. Kansas City starting pitcher Herriage had made five appearances in the early going, compiling an 0-2 record with a 10.29 ERA. Boudreau and the A’s coaching staff knew nothing about the 25-year-old pitcher at the start of spring training beyond his minor-league statistics, and a news article in late February suggested that he would be of little use to the team because of limited experience.4 By early March, though, Boudreau and coaches George Susce and Spud Chandler were booming Herriage as the most impressive new pitcher in camp. He stuck with the team out of spring training and was issued jersey number 17. “His ball is alive,” Boudreau told the Kansas City Times. “He has good stuff and he looks like a kid who knows how to pitch.”5
His opponent, Washington starter Bunky Stewart, had strung together a few good relief appearances to open 1956, coming into the game with a 2-0 record and a 1.35 ERA. But he had also compiled an undistinguished 0-4 record and 6.56 ERA in his career prior to 1956. (One of the Kansas City newspapers listed Dean Stone as the Senators’ intended starter, but Stone was held back a day for reasons left unexplained.)6
Despite the rain and the generally uninspiring matchup, 9,258 fans turned out to watch the game. Early on they could be excused for thinking that Herriage might be headed for another disappointing outing. In the top of the first, the Senators put two men on base on an error and a walk but could not score. They broke through in the second on a double by right fielder Jim Lemon, a walk to catcher Clint Courtney, a double-play grounder that advanced Lemon to third, and a single to right field by pitcher Stewart. Herriage got third baseman Eddie Yost to pop up for the third out, but ended the inning trailing 1-0.
The 1956 A’s hit .252 as a team, 8 points beneath the league average.7 But that didn’t matter in the bottom of the second, when the Senators gifted them a rally that scarcely required the A’s to take the bats off their shoulders.
Stewart started the inning by walking right fielder Johnny Groth, and second baseman Jim Finigan followed with a hard-hit double to left field to put runners at second and third. Catcher Joe Ginsberg walked to load the bases, and third baseman Rance Pless worked another walk to score Groth. Reliever Tex Clevenger came in to face pitcher Herriage – and walked him, giving Kansas City a second run and handing Herriage the only RBI of his career. Shortstop Joe DeMaestri grounded into a force play at the plate and center fielder Hector Lopez struck out, giving the Senators hope of escaping the jam. But Clevenger walked left fielder Gus Zernial to hand the A’s their third free run, and first baseman Harry Simpson doubled off the left-field wall to plate Herriage and DeMaestri. Groth, who had begun the inning, ended it with a groundout to shortstop. The A’s accumulated five runs on only two hits to take a 5-1 lead.
After that, Herriage settled down. The Senators went in order in the third, fourth, and fifth innings, including an appearance by 19-year-old Harmon Killebrew, who lined out to third base as a pinch-hitter for Clevenger in the fifth.8 Washington stirred briefly in the top of the sixth, when they began the inning with a single by shortstop Jerry Snyder and a walk to second baseman Pete Runnels. But Herriage rebounded, striking out left fielder Carlos Paula and first baseman Roy Sievers and getting Lemon to foul out to first base. Snyder’s hit, the Senators’ third of the game, was also their last.
Groth padded Kansas City’s lead to 6-1 in the bottom of the seventh with a home run off reliever Bob Wiesler, while Herriage reached base in the eighth by drawing the second and final walk of his major-league career. In the eighth and ninth innings, Washington could muster only one walk per inning. Finishing strongly, Herriage capped the game in the ninth by striking out Sievers and Lemon and getting center fielder Karl Olson to foul out to catcher Ginsberg. The game was over in 2 hours and 22 minutes.
In the clubhouse after the game, Herriage collected his teammates’ signatures on the final baseball used in the win. He credited his success to his control of his curveball and slider: “The fastball was still my best pitch. The difference was that before, when I couldn’t get the curve and slider over, the hitters were waiting for the fastball.”9 Manager Boudreau said it was “heartening” that the rookie kept his best stuff for the whole nine innings, adding: “He needed a victory to build his confidence and I am hoping he can continue to pitch in this vein.”10
It was not to be. In his next start, on May 27, Herriage surrendered six runs in six innings to the Detroit Tigers and took the loss. Not all of his outings went quite so poorly, but Herriage was never able to pitch consistently well enough to whittle his ERA any lower than 6.03. He managed to finish on a high note when he was called in to pitch against Cleveland on September 26. Brought in with two out in the fifth inning of a game the A’s were losing 7-1, Herriage struck out Indians star Al Rosen to end the inning – and his big-league career.11
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for general player, team, and season data and the box scores for this game:
Image of Troy Herriage downloaded from the Trading Card Database. This photo was part of a set of 28 postcards handed out to A’s fans on Livestock Night at Municipal Stadium, June 22, 1956.
1 According to The Sporting News, Herriage was the property of Oakland of the Pacific Coast League at the time he was drafted. He pitched in 1955 for the Montgomery Rebels, a Boston Red Sox farm team in the Class A South Atlantic League, posting a 15-7 record and a 2.41 ERA.
2 According to Baseball-Reference.com, the 1955 A’s drew 1,393,054 fans, or 18,330 per game, while the 1956 team drew 1,015,154 fans, or 13,184 per game.
3 Ernest Mehl, “Only Three Nat Hits,” Kansas City Times, May 23, 1956: 26.
4 Joe McGuff, “A’s Eye Progress of Herriage,” Kansas City Times, February 28, 1956: 18.
5 Joe McGuff, “Lou Names Best,” Kansas City Times, March 5, 1956: 20. This article also quoted Susce as saying, “I think someone from the Red Sox made a mistake when they didn’t protect that boy from the draft.”
6 Bob Williams, “A’s Salvage Job,” Kansas City Star, May 22, 1956: 16.
7 This team average placed them fifth in the eight-team American League. Washington (.250) and Baltimore and Cleveland (both .244) ranked beneath the A’s.
8 As of May 22, 1956, Killebrew had hit no home runs that season and only four lifetime. He went on to hit an additional 569 homers in a major-league career that continued through 1975.
9 Bob Williams, “Herriage Finds Plate with Breaking Stuff,” Kansas City Times, May 23, 1956: 26.
10 Ernest Mehl, “Boudreau Detects Silver Lining in Shrinking of Injury Roster,” The Sporting News, June 6, 1956: 6.
11 Rosen played only three more major-league games after this one. Herriage spent 1957 and 1958 in the minor leagues and then left baseball.