Trevor Story of the Colorado Rockies took everyone by surprise when he smacked two home runs in his major league debut game on Opening Day. He didn’t stop there, as he hit another four home runs through his fourth game. Story is currently tied for second place in the home run category in the National League with eight home runs after eighteen games.
Story had previously played in the minors for five seasons, with only 61 games under his belt at the Triple-A level. He hadn’t expected to be on the major league roster when spring training ended, but he got his opportunity with the Rockies when starting shortstop Jose Reyes didn’t participate in spring training while he was dealing with a spousal assault charge that occurred during the offseason.
Now, Story is making Rockies fans forget all about Troy Tulowitski, their former perennial all-star shortstop who was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays late in the 2015 season.
Story’s story has been truly amazing, but he’s not the first big league player to come out of nowhere to display such an unforeseen start.
Back in April 1945, Dave “Boo” Ferriss had as improbable a start to his career as anyone before him, Although the circumstances of Ferriss’s beginning of his major league career was somewhat different from Story’s, the result was nevertheless similarly unexpected and record-setting at the time.
Ferriss had been discharged from the Army Air Corps on February 24, 1945, because of an asthma condition. Before his stint in military service during World War II, Ferriss’s actual pro experience was comprised of only 130 innings pitched in 1942 for Class B Greensboro, a Boston Red Sox affiliate. However, he had gained considerable experience when he pitched for service teams while stationed for two years as a physical training instructor at Randolph Field in Texas.
Like all the other teams in major league baseball, the Boston Red Sox roster had been depleted of its best players who were pressed into military service during World War II. In 1945 their regular pitchers, Tex Hughson, Joe Dobson, Mickey Harris, Earl Johnson, and Mace Brown, were serving in the military.
Ferriss was assigned to Boston’s Louisville minor league affiliate during spring training to start the 1945 season, but when the Red Sox lost their first eight regular season games, manager Joe Cronin immediately looked to his farm system for help. Before making even one regular season start for Louisville, Ferriss was called up to join the Red Sox.
After five days on the bench he got the starting nod at Shibe Park to face the Philadelphia A’s in the first game of a Sunday doubleheader on April 29. Before a crowd of 23,828, the 23-year-old right-hander from Shaw, Mississippi, got off to an inauspicious start in the bottom of the first inning. He walked the first two A’s batters on four balls; and after two more balls to the third hitter, he finally retired his first batter on a pop fly. Ferriss wasn’t out of the water yet, as he walked the fourth batter in the lineup to load the bases. However, he was able to get out of the nerve-wracking inning on a double play.
Ferriss would go on to yield five hits and three more walks to the A’s, but with the help of three double plays managed to hold them scoreless in his major league debut. In the meantime, the left-handed hitting Ferriss was a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate, as the Red Sox won, 2-0. Ferriss’s pitching gem over Connie Mack’s A’s was the first time that season a Red Sox pitcher had held the opposition to less than four runs in a game.
Ferriss got his second start of the season on May 6 against the New York Yankees. Although the game was interrupted by several rain delays, including one of 47 minutes duration, Ferriss managed to complete the game and hold the Yankees scoreless, even though he surrendered six hits and four walks. Ferriss collected two more hits and a walk, as the Red Sox put up five runs for the victory.
The Daily Boston Globe reported about the May 6th game, “In the opener, the Yankees, like the Nazis and Japs, learned that ‘Nothing can stop the Army Air Corps,’” referring to Ferriss’s second consecutive shutout win.
On May 13 Ferriss drew his third start against the Detroit Tigers. He yielded his first run of the season in the bottom of the 5th inning with one out, ending a remarkable 22 1/3 scoreless inning streak at the beginning of his career. His string of scoreless innings established a new American League record, formerly held by Buck O’Brien with 19 2/3 innings in 1911.
Ferriss went on to complete the game, although he wasn’t particularly efficient. He gave up nine hits and four walks, but countered that with a season-high ten strikeouts. Ferriss extended his hitting streak to three games with an RBI single, as the Red Sox won, 8-2.
Ferriss’s sensational start of his career became the talk of the New England area. In an article about the ex-soldier’s three consecutive wins and his batting performances, the Daily Boston Globe drew a comparison of him with former Red Sox player Babe Ruth, as a pitcher who might also have a future as a slugging outfielder.
Part of the Ferriss fairytale that had built up through his first three big league games was based on a story about him that he had previously pitched ambidextrously in semi-pro leagues, having once pitched the first five innings of a game right-handed, then switched gloves to pitch the last four as a left-hander. Furthermore, while playing at Mississippi State College, he played first base left-handed and pitched right-handed. While he would sometimes take fielding practice as a left-handed first-baseman, Ferriss never did pitch left-handed in a major league game.
On May 18, Ferriss was the starting pitcher against the first-place Chicago White Sox. He pitched his best game to that point by giving up only one walk and four singles in a complete game shutout, 2-0.
Ferriss defeated the St. Louis Browns, 4-1, on May 23, then overwhelmed the White Sox, 7-0, for the second time on May 27. On only three days’ rest against the White Sox, Ferriss tossed a one-hitter as he racked up his fourth shutout and sixth consecutive win. He had now hurled 51 of his 54 innings without giving up a run, compiling an unbelievable 0.50 ERA. Baseball pundits were beginning to wonder how long his winning streak could last.
In describing Ferriss’s popularity in New England and among fans across the nation, The Sporting News used a carnival ferriss wheel as an analogy for Ferriss’s thrilling consecutive winning streak over six different opponents, “Round and round the Ferriss wheel goes, and where it stops nobody knows.”
On May 31 Ferriss won his seventh consecutive game by striking out three and issuing three walks in the Red Sox victory over the Cleveland Indians, 6-2. He continued to show his hitting prowess by contributing two hits in four at-bats.
At that point in the season, Ferriss was sporting a lofty .444 batting average and .545 on-base percentage. In between Ferriss’s starts on the mound, Red Sox manager Joe Cronin was using his hitting talents as a pinch-hitter. Four of Ferriss’s hits had come in pinch-hit situations. Over the course of his career, Ferriss would go on to compile a .250 batting average, which is atypical for a pitcher.
After a relief appearance on June 3, Ferriss returned to his normal starting pitcher role on June 6 against the Philadelphia A’s, the team he defeated in this debut game.
In his quest for his eighth consecutive win in the first game of a doubleheader against the A’s, Ferriss had his worst outing to that point in the season, although he and the Red Sox ultimately claimed the victory. He generously gave up fourteen hits and three walks, but the A’s batters weren’t able to capitalize on the flock of baserunners, leaving fourteen stranded. Amazingly, Ferriss wound up yielding only two runs in the complete game win, 5-2.
Ferriss would lose his next start on June 10 against the Yankees, thus ending his impressive streak of eight consecutive wins.
At midseason Ferriss was on pace for a 30-win season, but he struggled with asthma during the last two months and had to settle for a 21-10 record. Despite the rookie’s heroic efforts, the Red Sox ended the season in seventh place.
Many observers surmised that Ferriss’s success in 1945 was due in large part to having faced weak lineups of opposing teams because of the shortage of experienced players during the war. However Red Sox manager Joe Cronin, said about him, “That boy is no wartime ball player. He’d be outstanding in any era.” Ted Williams confirmed Cronin’s observation after hitting against Ferriss in spring training in 1946. Williams told reporters, “Ferriss will win. Don’t worry about him.”
Indeed in 1946 when all of the soldiers had returned from the war and team rosters were largely restored with its pre-war players, Ferriss proved he was no fluke, since he would win 25 games. He would lead the American League with a winning percentage of .806, while helping the Red Sox to their first pennant since 1918. He won Game 3 of the 1946 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Unfortunately, Ferriss’s career was cut short by an arm injury suffered during the 1947 season. Consequently, he would make only nine starts from 1948 to 1950. Ferriss was the pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox from 1955 to 1959, and despite his shortened career he was elected to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2002.
Of course it remains to be seen how Trevor Story’s season will play out. In any case, like Ferriss, he has already secured his place in baseball history for an improbable major league debut and start of his big league career.