Obituaries

Boo Ferriss, 94; helped lead Sox to 1946 pennant

Mr. Ferriss began his career with 22⅓
 consecutive shutout innings.

Abe Fox/Associated Press/File 1945

Mr. Ferriss began his career with 22⅓ consecutive shutout innings.

Dave “Boo” Ferriss, the Red Sox righthander who as staff ace helped pitch the team to the American League pennant in 1946, then saw his career cut short by a shoulder injury, died Thursday at his home in Cleveland, Miss. He was 94.

Mr. Ferriss, who was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2002, was the classic pitching phenom. He was an All-Star his first two seasons in the majors, compiling a win-loss record of 46-16.

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In 1945, Mr. Ferriss began his career with 22 consecutive shutout innings, establishing an American League record that lasted for 63 years. He reached 20 wins in only 30 career appearances, a record held with three other pitchers. He was fourth in voting for AL most valuable player.

In 1946, Mr. Ferriss led the major leagues with an .806 win-loss percentage and pitched a complete-game shutout in the World Series. The Red Sox lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

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“I wasn’t a power pitcher,” Mr. Ferriss said to David Halberstam in a 2002 interview for his book “The Teammates.” “My best pitch was the sinker that bore in on right-handed hitters and away from lefties. For me to be successful, my control had to be very good. I wasn’t going to strike out a lot of hitters. If I got four or five strikeouts a game that was a good game.”

Mr. Ferriss’s 13-0 start at Fenway Park in 1946 was matched this year by Rick Porcello.

It was assumed Mr. Ferriss would be the cornerstone of a standout Red Sox pitching staff for many years. Mr. Ferriss, along with his fellow pitchers Tex Hughson and Mickey Harris, turned out to be one of the great might-have-beens in a Red Sox history full of them. In 1947, they all developed arm trouble. Mr. Ferriss’s would dog him the rest of his abbreviated career.

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“The first two years I pitched over 500 innings,” Mr. Ferriss noted in a 1999 Globe interview, speculating as to the cause of his arm trouble.

Pitching against the Cleveland Indians in 1947, he felt a burning sensation in his right shoulder. “I won that game, 1-0,” he recalled in a 2002 interview with MLB.com. “I was never the same after that.”

In all likelihood, Mr. Ferriss had suffered an injury to his rotator cuff. He had one more moment of pitching glory for the Red Sox. He came in from the bullpen in the last game of the 1948 season with the bases loaded against the Yankees. He retired Hank Bauer and Joe DiMaggio to preserve a Red Sox victory that put them in a tie with the Indians for first place in the AL. Cleveland beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff.

Mr. Ferriss posted a 12-11 won-lost record in 1947, and 7-3 the next year. He made just four appearances in 1949 and only one in 1950. He pitched for Louisville, the Red Sox’s Triple-A affiliate, until 1954. He became Red Sox pitching coach in 1955, a post he held for the next five seasons.

Mr. Ferriss compiled a career record of 65-30 and an earned run average of 3.74.

“I’m sorry my arm injury came along,” he said in that MLB.com interview, “but that’s baseball. There was nothing I could do about that.”

Globe staff/File 2002

Mr. Ferriss (right) was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame, where he met with previous inductee Earl Wilson.

David Meadow Ferriss was born on Dec. 5, 1921, in Shaw, Miss. His father, William D. Ferriss, was a cotton farmer, and his mother, Lellie (Meadow) Ferriss, a postal worker. Mr. Ferriss received his nickname because as a toddler that’s how he pronounced “brother.” So universal was the use of the name that Mr. Ferriss later had himself listed as “Boo” in the Cleveland, Miss., telephone directory.

“I was always crazy about baseball,” Mr. Ferriss said in a 1945 Globe interview. “I can remember being bawled out for wearing my baseball cap to Sunday school.”

At 15, his high school coach switched him from middle infielder to pitcher. He never lost his ability at the plate, though. The Red Sox used Mr. Ferriss as a pinch hitter 41 times, and he had a very respectable career batting average of .250.

Mr. Ferriss was the first baseball player to receive a full athletic scholarship at Mississippi State University. He was later inducted into the school’s hall of fame and had his number there retired.

Mr. Ferriss enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1942, rising to the rank of corporal. He received a medical discharge in 1945 because of severe asthma. After joining the Red Sox, his asthma would occasionally affect his pitching.

His wife, Miriam, fondly remembered the Boston area — and particularly their neighborhood in Needham — in a phone interview Thursday.

“The friends we made in Boston was one of the things we loved the most,” she said. “We just loved Boston. Our children did, too.’’

A country boy whose strongest expletive was “Shuck-uns,” Mr. Ferriss returned to Mississippi after his five seasons as Red Sox pitching coach. He became athletic director and baseball coach at Delta State University. He also spent 1½ years as assistant athletic director at Mississippi State. During his 26 seasons coaching at Delta State, Mr. Ferriss’s teams compiled a record of 639-387 and went to the NCAA Division II College World Series three times. Mr. Ferriss retired in 1988. That year, Delta State named its baseball field in his honor.

“Everyone claims him,’’ said Joe Dier, a former official with Mississippi State, according to the Clarion-Ledger. “Delta State claims him. Mississippi State claims him. Mississippi claims him. The Boston Red Sox claims him. And everybody has their idea of what the best is. And he kind of fits it for everybody.’’

Mr. Ferriss coached several players who went on to the big leagues. But his most auspicious bit of coaching contributed to the best-seller list rather than baseball. A junior college transfer named John Grisham had trouble hitting curveballs. As Grisham later recalled it, Mr. Ferriss “told me I should apply myself to books.”

In addition to his wife, Miriam, of Cleveland, Miss., Mr. Ferriss leaves a son, David Jr. of Brentwood, Tenn.; a daughter, Margaret, of Madison, Miss.; two grandchildren; and three great grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Cleveland at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Globe correspondent Samantha Gross contributed to this obituary. Mark Feeney can be reached at mfeeney@globe.com.
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