Indians’ Ferrell Has Chance to Become Part of Second Set of Brothers in Cooperstown
Vince Guerrieri | On 06, Dec 2015
The list of familial connections in the Hall of Fame is a short one.
The only father-and-son pairing are Lee and Larry MacPhail, both executives, and the only brothers are Paul and Lloyd Waner, both 1920s era players. All four were inducted by the veterans committee in its first incarnation.
This list could get a little longer tomorrow, as the inartfully-named Pre-Integration Committee votes on a list of ten candidates for induction. Among them is former Indians pitcher Wes Ferrell, whose brother Rick was inducted by the veterans committee in 1984.
It’s the second time the Pre-Integration Committee (seriously, they couldn’t come up with a better name? Couldn’t they say pre-war? Pre-television?) has met. In 2013, they elected umpire Hank O’Day, former Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, and Deacon White, who played for one of the first professional teams in Cleveland, the Forest Citys.
The list of players, along with Ferrell, are Bill Dahlen, Marty Marion (another player-manager who was rumored at one point for the Indians job in the 1950s), Frank McCormick, Harry Stovey and Bucky Walters. Candidates selected for off-field actions include Doc Adams, who helped establish the Knickerbocker rules and standardized the game’s tools; former Cardinals owner Sam Breadon; former Reds owner and national commission chairman Garry Herrmann, and Chris Von Der Ahe, owner of the St. Louis Browns.
The Veterans Committee dates back to the opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, originally tasked with electing 19th century players to the hall. Their duties expanded to consider players who were no longer eligible for induction by the Baseball Writers Association of America (who currently vote for players who have been retired for five years but no longer than 15 years).
In the 1970s, the chairman of the committee was Frankie Frisch, who along with some of his former teammates with the New York Giants and some sportswriters who covered them, was responsible for the induction of some players who probably weren’t worthwhile candidates.
In 2010, the Veterans Committee reorganized again. Now, players, managers, umpires and executives would all be considered on the same ballot, and there would be three different time periods: Pre-Integration (ugh), before 1947 as the name entails; Golden Era, from 1947 to 1972, and the Expansion Era, 1973 or later (Note: There was no expansion in Major League Baseball in 1973).
Ferrell was a rare breed – one that’s become even rarer today: a pitcher who could hit. In the era of the designated hitter, it’s easy to forget that in the early 20th century, there were pitchers who could continue as position players after their arm had left them (Smoky Joe Wood comes immediately to mind).
Ferrell was a .280 lifetime hitter and hit 38 home runs in a career, including nine in one season (both marks are still records for pitchers – and probably will stay that way for decades to come). He had a .446 slugging percentage and a .351 career on-base percentage. He wasn’t the easy out at the bottom of the lineup.
But he was more than just a novelty as a hitting pitcher. He was a good pitcher who had the misfortune of playing on some mediocre teams (including the Indians) in an era where high batting averages made everyone’s earned run average look bad.
Ferrell was a native of Greensboro, N.C., one of seven boys born to Lonnie and Clora Alice Ferrell. Four of them played professionally, but Wes and Rick were the only ones to make it to the big leagues. Wes was scouted by the Indians as a teen and signed with them in 1927. He was a September callup in Cleveland the following year, and made the team for good in 1929.
Of Ferrell’s six 20-win seasons, four came in Cleveland, including when he went 25-13 in 1930. The following year, he went 22-12 but led the league with 27 complete games. By 1933, though, it appeared his arm was going (it turned out to be bone chips, which curtailed his career). After an 11-12 record and an experiment playing him in the outfield, the Indians tried to deal him in the off-season. In 1934, Ferrell refused to report to spring training, and he was finally traded to Boston in May 1934, where he would be playing with his brother, who had come from the Browns a year earlier.
With his brother as his catcher, Ferrell had a couple good years, going 25-14 in 1935 and finishing as runner-up to Hank Greenberg in MVP voting, and went 20-15 in 1936. But in 1937, he and his brother were dealt to the Senators. Wes clashed with owner Clark Griffith and was released. He bounced around between the Yankees, Dodgers, and Braves before his major league career ended in 1941.
But he played for another eight years in the minors, mostly as an outfielder, and did a couple stints as a minor league manager in his native North Carolina in the 1960s. But he did that because he wanted to. A rarity for ballplayers of his era, he invested wisely in real estate in North Carolina and Florida.
He died in 1976 – eight years before his brother’s induction into Cooperstown.
Photo: The Conlon Collection