By Richard Cuicchi | October 14, 2016 at 04:57 AM EDT | 2 comments
I’ve previously written about some of the accomplishments of Dave “Boo” Ferriss as the “phenom” pitcher who won 21 games for the Boston Red Sox in 1945. He turned in another sensational season in 1946, when he won 25 games in helping the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series since 1918. His debut in the big-leagues back then would be analogous to the initial seasons of current-day major-league stars like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Jose Fernandez, and Matt Harvey. Unfortunately, Ferriss’s major league career was cut short due to an arm injury suffered in 1947.
Ferriss is a native of Shaw, MS, and most Mississippians know him as the legendary coach of Delta State University (Cleveland, MS) whose teams won over 650 games. He is a member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, and the Ferriss Trophy, named in his honor, is awarded each year to the top college baseball player in Mississippi.
And while many also know that Ferriss was a former major-league pitcher, they may not be aware of the impact the 23-year-old ex-G. I. had on the baseball world when he emerged to play for the Red Sox in 1945.
As part of the Games Project of Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), I researched and authored accounts of Ferriss’s historic first eight games at the start of his major league career. Each of the articles has now been published on SABR’s website and can be viewed at http://sabr.org/author/richard-cuicchi.
When doing the background work to prepare for writing the SABR game accounts, I found some really interesting tidbits about Ferriss’s first season, illustrating that he truly became a national sensation.
Ferriss literally came out of nowhere when he joined the Red Sox in April 1945. Before his call-up, his professional baseball career had consisted of only 130 inning in the Class B minors in 1942. When he was discharged from the Army Air Corp in February 1945 due to an asthma condition, he was expected to return to the minors to resume his baseball career. But after the Red Sox lost their first eight games of the season, his minor-league manager recommended the Red Sox take a serious look at him.
Remarkably, Ferriss won the first eight starts of his career. His winning streak included 22 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, then an American League record. He hurled eight complete games, including four shutouts. His sixth start was a splendid one-hitter, but then he yielded a whopping 14 hits in his eighth start. When later major leaguers such as Fernando Valenzeula in the 1980s and Josh Beckett in the 2000s were approaching extended consecutive win performances, Ferriss’s name would come up as having set the bar in the 1945. He was relevant then and is still relevant seventy years later.
In addition to his pitching heroics, Ferriss was pretty adept at hitting, too. He got three hits in his first game, setting the stage for Red Sox manager Joe Cronin to frequently use him as a pinch-hitter when he wasn’t pitching. Including his eight pinch-hit appearances, Ferriss sported a .419 batting average after he won that eighth game. The Boston newspapers started comparing him to another former Red Sox pitcher who also hit pretty well—Babe Ruth.
Ferriss pitched right-handed, but batted left-handed. However, he was also ambidextrous, having actually played semi-pro baseball games throwing with both hands. He would often be seen working out at first base before Red Sox games as a left-hander, but he never did pitch in the majors as a left-hander. When the major league all-star teams were being formed in 1945, one sportswriter suggested Ferriss be selected so that he could pitch three innings as a right-hander, play first base left-handed for three innings, and then play three innings in the outfield, a position he played while in the service.
Because of Ferriss’s popularity, the Boston newspapers frequently recorded much of his activities on and off the field. One of the articles about him featured “a day in the life” of Ferriss that even included a photo of him arising from sleep at his boarding house room. He was often the subject of baseball cartoons and caricatures that were used by the newspapers to depict Red Sox game results.
Although it’s not likely he had an agent then, Ferriss did his share of endorsements. He could be seen in printed advertisements for Wheaties cereal, Gillette razor blades, Hood’s ice cream, Tip-Top bread, Chesterfield cigarettes, and Raytheon air humidifiers. I’m not sure that current Red Sox superstar, David “Big Papi” Ortiz, could even match that wide array of product endorsements in today’s marketing world.
Some baseball pundits thought Ferriss’s improbable start of his career was a fluke, surmising that he was beating second-rate teams filled with replacement players, since most of the regular baseball players were still serving in World War II in 1945. Ferriss proved the critics wrong when he won 25 games in 1946, when all the major league teams’ rosters were restored.
Those people fortunate enough to be able to talk to Ferriss about his playing career know he never considered himself as one of the stars of the Red Sox. He usually refers to his Red Sox teammates that had more substantial careers--players like Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr-- as the “big guys,” but he never includes himself in that distinguished group. That reflects the humbleness that is just one of the trademarks of his high personal character for which he became so well-known over the years.
But you can bet, for his first couple of seasons with the Red Sox, in the eyes of baseball fans back then, Ferriss was indeed one of the “big guys.”