Major League Baseball’s post-season begins tonight and could continue into the first week of November. Seventy years ago, before wild cards and designated hitters, we were already into the World Series in the first week of October.
This Sunday, Oct. 9, will mark the 70th anniversary of Game Three of the 1946 Series, matching the St. Louis Cardinals against the Boston Red Sox.
David “Boo” Ferriss was 24 years young and had just completed his second season in the Major Leagues, having won 21 games as a rookie and 25 more in his second season. Only one pitcher in Major League history — Grover Cleveland Alexander — has won more games in his first two seasons and Alexander won 47 in 1911 and 1912.
Ferriss, from Shaw, Miss., by way of Mississippi State, got the start in Game 3, and to say he was nervous would be to say Fenway’s Green Monster is tall.
“I had more butterflies than usual,” Ferriss told me when we worked on his biography. “The ballpark was packed and flags were flying all over the place. Sports writers were there from all over the country.”
Before the game, Ferriss ran into another future Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, Dizzy Dean, one of his boyhood heroes and the former Cardinals pitching star-turned-broadcaster.
“Diz was wearing that big ol’ 10-gallon hat of his and was cutting up with everybody,” Ferriss said. “He threw his arm around my shoulders and said, ‘Kid, you just go out there and throw the way you’ve been throwing all summer. After your first pitch, it’s just another game.’
“I said, ‘I don’t know Diz. I don’t think this is just another game. Look at all those flags flying and all those writers…
“But you know what? Diz was right.”
Seventy years ago…
In Game Three, Ferriss threw as he had been throwing all summer, if not better. He used his fastball, which tailed in on right-handed hitters, to break six of the Cardinals’ bats. He shut out the Cardinals 4-0 on just six hits for only the 50th shutout in World Series history. A sellout crowd of 34,500 paid between $1.20 (bleacher seats) and $7.20 (box seats) for tickets. A program cost 25 cents.
Compare: A World Series ticket this year would cost you $300 if you could get one. It would be standing room only.
Walter Stewart, the legendary and often witty sports writer of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, covered the ‘46 Series and quoted Ferriss as saying after his shutout, “I used mostly curves and fast balls and I had pretty good control.”
To which Stewart added, in his own words, “That is kind of like saying there are quite a few Hindus in India.”
That was the day Ferriss says he learned how to pitch to Hall of Famer Stan “The Man” Musial.
In the first inning, he walked Musial, who then stole second base.
And then … “I went into my stretch and noticed that Stan was way, way off second base. … I ran at him and threw to Pinky Higgins at third and Pinky tagged him out. I’ve always said that’s the best way to pitch to Stan Musial: Walk him and then pick him off.”
With two out in the ninth inning and Musial up, Ferriss forgot the best way to pitch Musial. He got one over the plate, and Musial laced it to right center field for a triple.
Said Ferriss, “I’ve never seen anyone run faster than Musial did from home plate to third base. People don’t realize how fast he was.”
With the shutout on the line and the great Enos “Country” Slaughter coming to the plate, Ferriss had to bear down.
With two strikes on Slaughter, Ferriss decided to throw his sharp-breaking curve ball. Slaughter swung mightily — and missed. The Red Sox had won. Catcher Hal Wagner tossed Ferriss the ball.
Ferriss trotted over to the box seats and presented the ball to his mother, who was sitting with his sister, Martha Anne. That same baseball now sits in your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Fame.