Indians Had Their Share of Hitting Pitchers
Vince Guerrieri | On 05, Apr 2017
With one game under his belt, San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner is nearly a quarter of the way to a record.
Bumgarner hit two home runs Sunday in a loss to the Diamondbacks (he took a perfect game into the sixth inning, but even with new personnel, the Giants’ bullpen continues to blow leads, dropping not one, but two save opportunities), each a solo shot and a towering blast. It was the first time that a pitcher had hit two home runs on Opening Day.
The record for home runs in a season by a pitcher is nine, set in 1931 by Indians hurler Wes Ferrell. Both Wes and his brother Rick found their way into the big leagues. Rick went on to a Hall of Fame career as a catcher. Wes’ career was good but not hall-worthy, at least, not yet; he was on the cringe-inducingly named pre-integration era ballot in 2016.
Ferrell was one of the last of a breed more common in the early days of baseball than in the past, oh, 70 years or so. Today, we lose our minds for those who make the switch from pitcher to an everyday player (hello, Rick Ankiel!), and it’s a regular curiosity for a player to make a mound appearance. But there was a time when the difference between pitching and playing the field was not quite as pronounced.
In fact, it’s been argued that Ferrell’s hall candidacy is predicated on his value as both a hitter and a pitcher. David Schoenfield noted that his WAR as a batter was 12.8, which, combined with his WAR as a pitcher, is 61.6 – definitely enough to get him in the discussion for Cooperstown.
In 1931, the Indians’ last full season in League Park (the team moved to Cleveland Stadium the following year, and alternated between the two until 1946, when the lakefront became the Tribe’s permanent home), Ferrell went 22-12, leading the league with 27 complete games, and threw a no-hitter against his brother Rick and the St. Louis Browns. He also set a record for home runs in a season by a pitcher, with nine (good for third on the team that year), knocking in 30 runs with a .319 batting average in 128 plate appearances.
After a holdout to begin the 1934 season, he was traded to Boston. The Red Sox, recently acquired by Tom Yawkey just days after his 30th birthday (when he inherited a fortune placed in trust by his wealthy uncle), were on a spending spree. In addition, they purchased the contract of Rick Ferrell as well as pitcher Lefty Grove.
In his first full season in Boston in 1935, Ferrell led the American League with 25 wins while hitting .346 in 179 plate appearances, including seven home runs (second on the list for home runs by a pitcher in a single season).
Ferrell’s last year in the majors, 1941, coincided with the arrival of another Indians player. Robert Granville Lemon started out as an outfielder but was better as a pitcher. He went on to a Hall of Fame career, but was still pretty good with the bat. His 37 home runs are second all-time by a pitcher.
Photo: Conlon Collection