Monday, July 14, 2014

The Best Hitting Pitcher of All-Time?

One of the vintage team sets that I began working on earlier this year is the 1934-36 Diamond Stars set.  There are a few different Red Sox cards to be found on the checklist, and what makes these even more unique as a Sox fan is that they were printed in Cambridge, MA, just down the road from Fenway park!

Here's the second card I've been able to land towards my team set.  It's in nowhere near as good a condition as my first one from the set, but the creases, rounded corners and fact that the card is off-center don't detract too much from the overall look in my opinion.

Although Wes' brother Rick (who is a HOFer) is probably more well-known among baseball fans, Wes himself was a very reliable player for a good number of years.  He began his career with the Cleveland Indians, where he was an effective pitcher.  During those first few years of his career with Cleveland you could pretty much count on him to give you 20+ wins, and being near the top of the leader board in that category.  He even tossed a no-hitter in 1931 against the St. Louis Browns!  Ferrell could really swing the bat too, something he would continue to improve upon throughout his career.  As his career went on, he proved so adept at swinging the bat that he was used in a pinch hitting role on more than one occasion.

A perceived decline in his pitching arm, along with some behavioral issues, resulted in him being dealt to the Red Sox in the early part of the 1934 season (just in time to be depicted with the Sox for this Diamond Stars set).  Wes' brother Rick was already playing with Boston at that time, kind of cool to see two brothers on the same club, and as battery mates nonetheless!  He had his career year with Boston in 1935, as the back of the card indicates:

As you can see from the write-up on the card back, Wes paced the AL in '35 with 25 wins.  He led the league that year not just in wins, but in innings pitched, games started and games completed as well.  He was right up near the top in terms of shutouts, walks per 9 innings, and strikeouts.  Add to that a .347 year at the plate and 7 home runs (more than one of them of the walk-off variety) and you've got a mammoth season!  Enough so that he placed second in AL MVP voting behind some guy named Hank Greenberg.

After leaving Boston he dealt with some health issues, and retired after making very few appearances for the Yankees, Dodgers and Braves.  In researching for this post I learned that he's definitely got his backers in terms of the Hall of Fame.  The infamous Bill James, and numerous other well-respected baseball minds, feel that he deserves some consideration when you factor in the era (and hitter's parks) he played in, the bad teams he played for, and his offensive prowess.  He finished in the top 20 in MVP voting on four occasions, and is still the only pitcher since the start of the 20th century to win 20 or more games in each of his first four full seasons.

As it stands, he's probably the best hitting pitcher in baseball history (Ruth was long done with pitching by the time he did most of his damage at the plate).  For now though, his brother Rick is the only member of the Ferrell family to be enshrined in Cooperstown...

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