Rick Cleveland today joins Mississippi Today as its full-time sports columnist.
CLEVELAND — At 94, Delta legend Boo Ferriss is back in Major League Baseball news.
That’s because Boston Red Sox right-hander Rick Porcello this week became only the fifth Major League pitcher since 1900 to win his first 13 home decisions of a season.
Ferriss, one of the other elite four, won all 13 of his decisions at Fenway Park in 1946.
“Man oh man, that was a long time ago; 70 years, my gosh,” Ferriss said Wednesday, sitting in his favorite recliner and turning the pages of a scrapbook of that ’46 season. “Funny, I don’t remember it being treated as such a big deal 70 years ago.”
It is a big deal. Only five pitchers in the 116 years of the so-called modern era of baseball can say they have done it.
And none of the others did what Ferriss did in 1946. That is, he followed up the 13-0 home record in the regular season with a shutout victory at Fenway Park in his only home start of the 1946 World Series.
For the record, here is the rare company Ferriss and Porcello share: Larry Benton (1928 Giants), Tex Hughson (1944 Red Sox), and Dallas Keuchel (2015 Astros).
Later this month, Porcello should get a chance to become the only pitcher in Major League history to win 14 consecutive home decisions.
Ferriss will pull for him.
“Oh yeah, I am a Red Sox man,” Ferriss said. “I hope he wins every game he pitches.”
Ferriss, whose memory remains computer-like, watches the Red Sox whenever they are on TV. He has watched Porcello, obtained from the Tigers before the 2015 season, and has been mightily impressed.
“He throws strikes,” Ferriss said. “That’s always what I look for first. He doesn’t walk many batters, he stays ahead in the count. He’s 18 and 3. You don’t get to be 18 and 3 if you don’t throw strikes.”
Back in 1946, Ferriss also threw strikes en route to a 25-6 record in his second season in the majors. He and Porcello share other traits. Like Porcello, Ferriss was not an overpowering pitcher. Porcello gives up eight hits per nine innings. Ferriss gave up nine hits per nine innings. In 1946, Ferriss’s earned run average was 3.25. In 2015, Porcello’s is 3.26.
The biggest difference? Ferriss finished what he started. He pitched a remarkable 26 complete games in ’46. Porcello has finished two games this season. The entire Red Sox pitching staff has thrown only eight complete games.
“That’s just the way baseball is now,” Ferriss said. “Starters mostly go five, six, seven innings these days. Six innings is a good start.”
Back in 1946, Ferriss was just getting in the groove at the six inning mark. In that one season, he threw six complete game shutouts. The 2016 Red Sox staff has combined for one shuout.
You should know that although Ferriss admires Porcello, the 27-year-old New Jersey native is not quite his favorite Red Sox pitcher. No, Ferriss’s favorite Boston pitcher is Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss left-hander who in 2010 won the C Spire Ferriss Trophy as Mississippi’s best college baseball player.
“Drew has really pitched well lately,” Ferriss said. “I’m so proud of him and happy he is with the Red Sox. They are going to need him down the stretch.”
The current Red Sox are in second place in the American League East and leading the wild card race.
There was no such thing as a wild card back in 1946, not that those Red Sox would have needed it. With Ferriss as the pitching ace and Ted Williams slugging, those Red Sox won 104 games and ran away with the American League pennant.
Ferriss was 24 years young, two years removed from his hometown of Shaw, and in only his second Major League season. He had won 21 games as a rookie in 1945, but many of the sport’s greatest players were still fighting World War II. Skeptics believed Ferriss was a “war-time pitcher” and would struggle once the real sluggers returned.
In one news clipping from that 1946 scrapbook Ferriss is quoted as saying, “I hope I can just make the team. In another, he is quoted: “Things should even out. Some of those sluggers are going to be on my side.”
Ferriss did struggle early in the season. But in his third start, he began a 10-game winning streak that included four shutouts. Later in the season, he won 12 straight. Over his first two seasons, Ferriss won 46 games. Only one pitcher in Major League history has won more, and Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander won only one more (47 in 1911-12).
And again, at Fenway, in 1946, Ferriss never lost.
Said Ferriss 70 years later, his eyes sparkling at the memory of that magical season, “No place in the world I would have rather pitched than Fenway Park.”
Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Read his previous columns.