One of the forgotten gems in Indians’ history was thrown 81 years ago this week as Wes Ferrell blanked the St. Louis Browns and his brother, 9-0. Did The Tribe Win Last Night shares its account of that game through the eyes of Vince Guerrieri in a story originally published on April 27, 2016. – BT
When a crowd of around 4,000 settled into their seats at League Park on April 29, 1931, they couldn’t have expected to see a little bit of history in that day’s game between the Indians and the St. Louis Browns. But they did see it – and not without controversy either.
Cleveland News sportswriter Ed Bang knew history was at hand. Syndicated sportswriter William Braucher told a tale from the press box that Bang – also the official scorer for the Indians – told a St. Louis sportswriter that he was going to see a no-hitter that day.
Given the opponent, it was probably an educated guess. The Browns were regarded for much of their existence as the dregs of the league (the unofficial slogan for St. Louis was “First in booze, first in shoes and last in the American League”), and were already tied for last place less than two weeks into the season.
The Indians, on the other hand, were tantalizing, with a rotation headed by Wes Ferrell, coming off a 25-13 season. He’d set his sights on 30 wins for the season, and already had three (albeit with one loss). Also in the rotation was Willis Hudlin, a dependable if not spectacular pitcher for the Indians, and Mel Harder, who had gone 11-10 in 1930, his first year as a starter.
When Ferrell took the hill that day, it had been two years since a no-hitter had been thrown in the major leagues. It had been far longer – almost 21 years to the day – since a no-hitter had been thrown at League Park, by Addie Joss, his second no-no. In fact, it had been more than eleven years since any Indians pitcher had thrown a no-hitter, when Slim Caldwell no-hit the Yankees at the Polo Grounds in September 1919.
That April day, Ferrell wasn’t throwing his best stuff. In fact, Jim Levey led off the game with a grounder to shortstop Bill Hunnefield, who booted the ball, putting Levey safely at first. Goose Goslin grounded into a double play to erase the runner, and Ferrell kept the Browns hitless. Ferrell issued three walks, and two more runners reached base on errors by Hunnefield – including an odd and controversial play in the top of the eighth inning.
With two outs in the top of the eighth, Wes faced off against his brother Rick, who had made his major league debut two years earlier with the Browns (there were seven Ferrell boys; four played professional baseball, but Wes and Rick were the only ones to make it to the major leagues). And now he had a chance to break up his brother’s no-hitter.
“I didn’t want a base hit,” Rick said a few days later, “But I had to get up there.”
He saw a shoulder-high fastball on a two-and-two count and hit a screamer down the third-base line. Third baseman Johnny Burnett laid out for the ball but couldn’t get it, but Hunnefield was right behind him, picked up the ball and threw to first. Rick Ferrell was called safe by umpire George Moriarty on a bang-bang play. And then there was another Bang.
Ed Bang ruled the play an error, saying Hunnefield’s throw pulled first baseman Lew Fonseca off the bag. The no-hitter remained intact. “Hunnefield was martyred to make a holiday for Ferrell.” (But with Hunnefield, what’s one more error among friends? That year, he committed a total of 28 errors, including 15 at shortstop; all told, he had 122 errors in a six-year major league career).
Ferrell, regarded as one of the best-hitting pitchers of his day (and used as a pinch-hitter and outfielder after his arm started to go) helped his own cause at the plate, blasting a two-run home run into center field in the fourth inning – one of nine he had that season, still a single-season record for pitchers – and stroking a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth. Earl Averill added a two-run home run of his own in the seventh frame.
The Indians coasted to the win, and Wes Ferrell wrote his name in baseball’s hall of fame (then a theoretical pantheon, and not an actual location), said the front page of the next day’s Plain Dealer. Ironically, Rick Ferrell is the brother in the Baseball Hall of Fame, elected by the Veterans Committee in 1984. Wes is still awaiting his call, having been turned down for induction by the pre-integration committee last year.
Photo: The Conlon Collection