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Thursday, August 21, 2014

A time for reflection at All-Star Game break

COLUMN: We baseball followers are at All-Star break 2013. It’s time to reflect on what we’ve seen thus far, time to anticipate the pennant races that will follow.

Or, in the case of today’s offering, it is time to reflect on a time 68 years ago this week when baseball decided to forgo it’s All-Star Game. This was 1945. World War II still raged. Many of the game’s greatest stars were at war. Travel restrictions made it impractical to bring the standouts who remained to one city for one game.

Had there been an all-star game, rookie sensation Boo Ferriss, fresh out of the Mississippi Delta town of Shaw, would surely have been the star of the stars. He had turned the American League upside down, winning 14 of his first 16 decisions halfway through the season. He had pitched 22.1 consecutive scoreless innings to begin his career. He had beaten all other seven American League teams the first seven times he faced them. He would win his first 13 starts at Fenway Park.

There was talk that he might even win 30 games as a rookie.

In Boston, it seemed a shame that such a rookie phenom would not be featured in midsummer classic. And it seemed doubly a shame since the National League Boston Braves also featured a slugger named Tommy Holmes, who was hitting .401 and had already driven home 70 runs.

So Boston decided to have its own version of baseball’s midsummer classic. Fenway Park would feature the Braves vs. the Red Sox — Ferriss vs. Holmes — in lieu of the usual all-star game.

Years later, Ferriss would describe the scene: “It was a carnival atmosphere that day. All the newspapers ran photos of Holmes and me. Happy Chandler, the commissioner of baseball was there, and the governor of Massachusetts threw out the first ball.

“Army bands played, and Al Schact, who was the first clown prince of baseball, performed. We had a huge crowd, including servicemen who were let in for no charge. The event raised more than 70 thousand dollars for the war effort, which was a lot in those days.”

Ferriss pitched the first three innings, held the Braves scoreless and got Holmes to fly out to center field in their only confrontation. The Red Sox won, and Ferriss picked up the victory, although it didn’t count in his rookie statistics.

You should know that Ferriss, despite a late-season bout with asthma, finished with a 21-12 record, pitching 26 complete games, on a team that finished in seventh place.

But still there were doubters. Critics wondered how Ferriss would fare in 1946 when all the stars returned from the war. They found out soon enough.

At one point, Ferriss won 10 straight victories, four shutouts. That year, there was a real All-Star game and Ferriss was picked for the American League squad. He warmed up but never got in the game, which the American League won 12-0. Still, at 91, Ferriss counts it as one of the highlights of all his years in baseball.

He would finish that season 25-6 and then pitch a shutout at the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Three of the World Series.

Most Mississippi baseball fans will know what happened next. Ferriss suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder in July, 1947. That was the beginning of the end of most of he most promising careers in baseball history. If not for a torn labrum, an easily repaired injury these days, no telling how many all-star games Boo Ferriss would have pitched.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Reach Rick Cleveland, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, at rcleveland@msfame.com and follow him on twitter @rick_cleveland) (July 15, 2013, Page 6)

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