Whitey Herzog - player

June 17, 1956: Whitey Herzog steals home

More than twenty-six years before Glenn Brummer made his mad dash home on August 22, 1982, to give the Cardinals a 5-4 victory over the Giants in 12 innings, a Washington Senators rookie named Whitey Herzog swiped home for his second career stolen base.

Herzog, who engineered the Whiteyball teams that regularly stole more than 200 bases each season in the 1980s, played an eight-year major-league career with the Washington Senators, Kansas City Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, and Detroit Tigers. Primarily used as a utility outfielder, pinch hitter, and first baseman, Herzog stole 13 bases in 634 career games, including eight as a rookie with the Senators.

Managed by Chuck Dressen, the 1956 Senators were on their way to a 59-95 record and seventh-place finish in the American League. Herzog, who joined the club as the player to be named later in a deal with the Yankees, played center field between two sluggers – left fielder Roy Sievers, who hit 29 homers and drove in 95 runs, and right fielder Jim Lemon, who added 27 homers and 96 RBIs. Neither, however, was known for his defensive prowess.

They were “two of the worst outfielders in the American League, so I had my work cut out for me,” Herzog wrote in 1987. “Dressen told me to catch anything I got to because he never knew what would happen if Lemon or Sievers tried it.”[1]

On June 17, Herzog and the Senators were slated to play a double-header against the White Sox in Chicago. The first game was a 20-2 disaster for the Senators, as Bunky Stewart was charged with five runs allowed without recording an out. He was replaced by Bob Chakales, who didn’t fare much better, allowing four runs on six hits and three walks in just two innings. Connie Grob pitched the final six innings, allowing 11 runs – 10 earned – on 12 hits and a walk.

“I don’t think I had a single putout, but I still ran about 40 miles, backing up right and left, shagging balls off the walls,” Herzog recalled.[2]

Batting second in the order, Herzog went 3-for-5 with an RBI triple in the fifth inning that scored the Senators’ second run.

As Herzog relates the story in “White Rat: A Baseball Life”:

Charlie came up to me after the game and asked, “Do you think you can make another one?”

I said, “What the hell? I didn’t come to the big leagues to watch.” So I started the second game, damned near out of gas.[3]

Sievers hit his 15th home run of the season in the first inning to give the Senators a 1-0 lead, and in the second inning they broke the game open. Lemon and Lou Berberet singled to lead off the inning and Jose Valdivielso reached on a throwing error. After a sacrifice bunt and a ground out, Herzog came to the plate and hit a triple into right field that scored Valdivielso.

White Sox manager Marty Marion removed Bob Keegan in favor of Howie Pollet, and Herzog greeted Pollet by taking off for home plate, sliding in safely to make the score 6-0.

Washington went on to win 10-4 as Lemon put the game beyond reach with a three-run, ninth-inning double.

Altogether, Herzog would end the day with five hits, two triples, two runs scored, and two RBIs. Interestingly, the next day’s Chicago Tribune misreported that Herzog had scored on Pete Runnels’ ensuing double, not realizing that Herzog had stolen home earlier in the at-bat.[4] In his autobiography, Herzog misremembered a few details as well, writing that the scores were 18-4 and 2-1.[5]

Herzog’s 421 at-bats and eight stolen bases that season would mark a career high. He was never an efficient base thief, as his 13 career stolen bases came in 31 attempts. When Herzog was a manager in the 1980s, he continued to see the value in an aggressive running game. With artificial turf and spacious stadiums throughout baseball, Herzog recognized an opportunity to play an exciting, speed-oriented style of baseball.

When Brummer slid home with the game-winning run on that August day in 1982, it’s entirely possible that in some corner of his mind, Herzog was recalling the time 26 years earlier when a fresh-faced rookie looking to make a name for himself made his own mad dash for home plate.

Enjoy this story? Follow me on Twitter or Facebook or find similar stories listed by decade or by player.

[1] Whitey Herzog and Kevin Horrigan (1987), White Rat: A Life in Baseball, New York: Harper & Row, 48.

[2] Herzog and Horrigan, 48.

[3] Herzog and Horrigan, 48.

[4] Edward Prell, “Washington avenges 1st game deluge,” Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1956: F1.

[5] Herzog and Horrigan, 48.