“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”


 
1945-1950
#23   "BOO" FERRISS

You won’t find David Ferriss in the Cleveland, Mississippi, telephone directory -- but if you were to look up Boo Ferriss, you’d find him. ”A lot of people down here hardly know my real name,” he says. The nickname came when he was a baby and tried to say the word ”brother” and it came out “boo.” He was born David Meadow Ferriss, though, on December 5, 1921, at Shaw, Mississippi. He batted lefthanded, but threw righthanded; he probably could have thrown ambidextrously, but never had the chance. He broke into baseball with one of the best starts any pitcher ever had and played on the great Red Sox teams of the late 1940s before suffering arm problems that cut his career short.  Boo grew up in with a love of baseball he inherited from his father, William Douglas Ferriss, who had played semipro ball and then managed several semipro teams and also worked as an umpire. He was a farmer, raising cotton, and worked as a cotton buyer as well. Boo’s mother also worked as postmaster in the town of Shaw for some 30 years. Shaw is about 10 miles south of Ferriss’s home today.

There was no junior high school in town; Shaw High School started in the seventh grade, so Boo was playing high school baseball in the seventh grade -- against some kids who were quite a few years older. At coach Jim Flack’s suggestion, he began pitching a couple of years later and worked from the mound the last 2 1/2 years of high school, playing second base when not pitching. Shaw played round robin style in a county baseball league of around 10 schools. Football and basketball were more popular school sports in Mississippi at the time, but Ferriss fortunately came from an area that preferred baseball. Shaw won the county championship his last couple of years, in his junior year winning the Delta championship in an area that covered about a dozen counties. There were no state playoffs at the time.

By his senior year, he’d begun to attract attention of both college scouts and some major league scouts, in particular from the Indians, the Giants, and the Yankees. Mississippi State offered a full scholarship for baseball. Boo was the first one they had ever had for baseball. The coach there -- Dudy Noble -- was highly regarded in college baseball circles and had had several major leaguers to go out of there, namely Buddy Myer with Washington, Hugh Critz, Giants and Cincinnati, Willie Mitchell. Freshmen weren’t allowed to play varsity ball, but he played on the freshman team, then varsity ball in 1941 and 1942. For the most part, he played first base when he wasn’t pitching -- and he had to carry two gloves because of an idiosyncrasy that confused some of the other teams: he played first base lefthanded, then pitched righthanded.

It was after finishing his sophomore year that the Red Sox offered him a nice deal, sending him to Brattleboro, Vermont, to play Northern League baseball, what was called a “college league.” It was an eight-team league and he recalls playing against Sam Mele (Burlington) and Chuck Connors (Bennington). That was the summer of 1941. He hadn’t signed a professional contract, but the Red Sox were scouting him, knew he had some potential, and their support gave them a bit of a foot in the door. Scout Neil Mahoney made the arrangement.  Brattleboro’s manager was Bill Barrett, a former major league outfielder and by then a Red Sox scout. After the season was over in early September, the Red Sox wanted him to come down and pitch batting practice for them and stay with them. He stayed with them a week and pitched batting practice in Fenway, and Joe Cronin took him to Yankee Stadium. So Ferriss was with the Red Sox for a week as he saw Ted Williams in some of the last days of his .406 season, though he’d had to return to college before Ted’s dramatic final weekend in Philadelphia. Boo completed his junior year and then signed with the Red Sox in early June of 1942 for a bonus of $3,000 -- a good amount at the time. The Sox sent him to their Class B Piedmont League team in Greensboro, North Carolina. As a pitcher for manager Heinie Manush, he was 7-7 with a 2.22 ERA, striking out 98 while walking 53. Manush had him play outfield in several games, too.

Greensboro won the pennant and Ferriss won the MVP award in the playoffs. A couple of months after returning to college, he was drafted. He joined the Army Air Corps as a physical training instructor. Basic training was in Miami and then he was sent to Randolph Field, Texas, where he stayed for the duration, a little more than two years. There were a lot of Army air bases around San Antonio and there was an eight-team league so he got to play a lot of baseball in the area. One of his teammates was later Boston batterymate Matt Batts. The San Antonio Aviation Cadet team from Kelly Field was the big rival; that team featured Enos Slaughter, Howie Pollet, and Del Wilber.

He left the service earlier than expected because his asthma kicked up. It’s something he’d suffered most of his life. A couple of times in high school, he’d had to lay off from a game or two. In January of 1945, Corporal Ferriss developed a severe case at Randolph Field and it put him in the hospital for some six weeks before he was finally discharged in late February. Back in Shaw, under the care of his hometown doctor, he got better and the Red Sox asked him if he would be able to try spring training with Louisville. Joe Cronin had just broken his leg, and Del Baker was running the Red Sox, so Boo got called up.  Ferriss went to church and came to the park a little late, and found the warmup ball in his locker. Thinking there’d been a mistake, he took the ball over to Baker and was told, “Kid, you’re in today.” Facing Bobo Newsom. Bob Garbark was catching, and Ferriss couldn’t find the plate. He walked the first two men on eight pitches. After two more balls -- now 10 in a row -- Baker came out but Garbark spoke up: “Del, this kid is throwing good. That ball is moving, it’s live, and he’s just missing. Stay with him.” The next pitch was a ball, too, as Ferriss remembers it, but Bobby Estalella reached for it -- and popped it up. Next up was Frankie Hayes, and Ferriss walked him on four pitches. It had now been 15 pitches and he knew that not one of them had been a strike. The bases were loaded for Dick Siebert. Finally, he got one over, got the count up to 3-2 and then Hayes hit a ball right back toward the mound -- hard. “It bounced out in front of me but bounced over my head. I couldn’t catch it and it was headed right over the bag to center field. I thought it was a base hit and I figured I would be back on that train to Mississippi or somewhere. Anyhow, Skeeter Newsome…good-fielding shortstop, been around…he was shading Siebert a little over toward second. He went over and got the ball, the grounder, and stepped on second and threw to first for a great double play to end the inning.”

His second outing was just as impressive. Before a packed house at Fenway Park, he shut out the Yankees, 5-0, on seven hits. He’d pitched two complete games in the major leagues and still not surrendered a run. After four scoreless innings of his next game, making it 22 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings at the start of a career, he finally gave up a run, about halfway into a game in Detroit. He won it, though, 8-2, and he kept on winning -- eight straight, beating every team in the league the first time around. Four of them were shutouts.  He finished 1945 with a 21-10 record and a 2.96 earned run average, pitching for a seventh-place ball club. The difference between the ’45 team and the 1946 one was like night and day, and Ferriss improved to 25-6 (his .806 winning percentage led the league), with a 3.25 ERA. Both years, he threw 26 complete games. The Sox made the World Series and Ferriss got the start in Game Three. Another shutout, 4-0, a six-hitter. He couldn’t turn the trick in Game Seven, though. The Cardinals scored once in the second and twice in the fifth, and Joe Dobson came on in relief. The Red Sox tied it up, but lost it on Slaughter’s mad dash in the eighth.

In mid-season 1947, Ferriss suffered a serious shoulder injury. While he battled through a couple more seasons, he was never again the same pitcher. It happened July 14 during a night game in Cleveland. Neither team had scored and George Metkovich was up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh. Ferriss went all out, breaking off a curveball and something snapped in his shoulder. Bobby Doerr hit a solo home run in the top of the ninth to win the game, but Ferriss was damaged. He kept pitching. Ferriss never had a losing record, but it was all downhill from there. He only made nine starts in 1948. In 1949, he appeared in only four games, all in relief. His arm was “completely dead. He stayed with the ball club throughout the 1949 season, and through spring training in 1950. He threw the ninth inning of the 1950 opener; the Yankees were already ahead, 13-10. Ferriss gave up two runs on two hits -- and didn’t pitch again in major league ball. Joe Dobson had tried to get him to pitch left-handed, but he never did. He was sent to Birmingham. The team thought the warmer weather could help. It was the first time Ferriss had been back to the minors since Greensboro. Playing for manager Pinky Higgins, he still couldn’t throw hard and had to rely on finesse. He wasn’t a power pitcher any more. Southern Association batting wasn’t as strong as major league batting, and Ferriss won 10 and lost seven, with a 3.66 ERA.

The next year, Higgins was promoted to Double A Louisville and Ferriss went to Louisville and pitched there in 1951 and 1952, winning seven games both years but seeing his ERA climb to 5.25 and 4.71. His last year, 1953, he coached and worked with the pitchers, throwing just two innings (and giving up four earned runs.) In 1954 Ferriss again worked as a coach, which paid off when Higgins became manager of the Red Sox in 1955. Ferriss became his big league pitching coach, from 1955 through 1959, working with pitchers such as Frank Sullivan, Ike Delock, Willard Nixon, Tom Brewer, Mike Fornieles, Bill Monbouquette, and (the first year or two) Mel Parnell and Ellis Kinder. Boo was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2002.