- October 12, 1905
- 5' 10"
- 160 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 4-19-1929 with SLA
- Hall of Fame:
Richard Benjamin Ferrell (October 12, 1905 – July 27, 1995) was professional baseball player, coach, scout and General Manager. He played as a catcher in Major League Baseball from to for the St. Louis Browns, Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators. Ferrell was regarded as one of the best catchers in baseball during the 1930s and early 1940s. His 1,806 games played as a catcher set an American League longevity record which stood for more than 40 years. An eight-time All-Star, Ferrell was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.
Baseball playing career
Born in Durham, North Carolina, Ferrell was the fourth of seven brothers. His brother, Wes Ferrell, reached the major leagues as a pitcher while another brother, George Ferrell, played as an outfielder in minor league baseball. Ferrell attended Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina where he played both baseball and basketball. He was signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1926 and was assigned to play for the Kinston Eagles of the Virginia League. While playing for the Columbus Senators of the American Association in 1928, he posted a .333 batting average but, failed to get called to the major league club. Ferrell suspected that he was being unfairly held in the minor leagues, a common practice at the time and, at the end of the season, he requested free agency from the Commissioner of Baseball Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Landis agreed that Ferrell was being illegally held back and granted him free agency, allowing him to sign a contract with the St. Louis Browns.
Ferrell made his major league debut with the Browns on April 19, 1929. He spent the 1929 season as a reserve catcher backing up veteran Wally Schang, hitting for a .229 batting average in 64 games. New Browns Manager and former catcher, Bill Killefer, made Ferrell his starting catcher for the 1930 season and, for the next three seasons he would catch in more than 100 games. His batting average rose to a .306 in 1931 making him one of the best hitting catchers in the American League and, although he led the league's catchers in errors and passed balls, he also led the league in assists. In 1932, Ferrell hit .315, the best among American League catchers, with 30 doubles and 65 runs batted in. He ended the season ranked thirteenth in voting for the American League Major League Baseball Most Valuable Player Award.
On May 10, 1933, the Boston Red Sox purchased Ferrell from the financially-strapped Browns. Two months later, Ferrell was selected along with his brother to play for the American League team in the inaugural Major League Baseball All-Star Game held on July 6, 1933. American League manager Connie Mack used Ferrell to catch the entire game in a 4-2 American League victory, even though future Hall of Fame members Mickey Cochrane and Bill Dickey were also on the team. When the Red Sox played the Cleveland Indians two weeks later on July 19,1933 , Ferrell hit a home run against his brother Wes, who later hit a home run off Boston pitcher Hank Johnson, marking the first time in major league history that brothers on opposing teams had hit home runs in the same game. Ferrel ended the year with a .290 batting average along with a career-high 77 runs batted in. Although Ferrell once again led American League catchers in errors, he also led in assists and in baserunners caught stealing. Despite the Red Sox' seventh place finish, Ferrell ranked twelfth in voting for the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
In 1934, the Red Sox signed Ferrell's brother Wes, creating one of the few brother-batteries in Major League history. He ended the year with a .297 batting average and led the league's catchers in fielding percentage and in putouts and, finished second in assists. With Ferrell calling the pitches in 1935, his brother pitched to an impressive 25-14 won-loss record to finish as runner-up to Hank Greenberg in voting for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Ferrell posted a .301 batting average for the year and led the league in baserunners caught stealing.
Ferrel had another good year in 1936, leading the league with a .439 batting average at the beginning of May to earn the starting catcher's berth for the American League team in the 1936 All-Star Game. He ended the season with a .312 batting average along with career-highs in home runs (8) and in on base percentage (.406). He also led the league's catchers in putouts and finished second in fielding percentage In June 1937, Ferrell was hitting for a .308 average when he was traded to the Washington Senators along with his brother and Mel Almada for pitcher Bobo Newsom and outfielder Ben Chapman. Between and , Ferrell broke Red Sox catchers' records in batting, doubles, home runs and runs batted in. His .302 batting average with Boston is 12th on the club's all-time list.
Playing with a partially broken right hand, he ended the year with the Senators batting .244. Ferrell rebounded in 1938 with a .298 batting average and led the league in baserunners caught stealing. The Senators would release his brother Wes in August . In May 1941, Ferrell was traded back to the St. Louis Browns where he caught 100 games for the sixth-place Browns. In 1942, the 36 year old Ferrell shared catching duties with Frankie Hayes as the Browns improved to a 82-69 won-loss record to finish the year in third place.
Ferrell was once again traded back to the Senators in March 1944. He earned a reputation as one of the best knuckleball catchers in baseball when, he had the arduous task of catching for a Senators' starting pitching staff made up entirely of knuckleball pitchers. Dutch Leonard, Johnny Niggeling, Roger Wolff, and Mickey Haefner all threw the notoriously difficult to catch knuckleball, making Ferrell the only catcher in major league history to accomplish the feat. Although Ferrell led the league in passed balls due to the unpredictability of the knuckleball, he was still named to his seventh 1944 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The Senators ended the season in last place while, Ferrell's former team, the 1944 St. Louis Browns won the American League pennant. Ferrell missed his only opportunity to play in the World Series by one year.
Ferrell shared catching duties with Al Evans in 1945 as the Senators started to win regularly. In July 1945, Ferrell broke Ray Schalk’s American League record for most games caught (1,721). He was selected to be a reserve catcher for the American League in the 1945 All-Star Game however, the game was cancelled due to wartime travel restrictions. In the final week of the 1945 season, the Senators come within one and a half games of winning the American League pennant, ultimately clinched by the Detroit Tigers. Ferrell retired as a player to become a Senators coach for the 1946 season however, he returned to play as a catcher for 37 games in 1947, hitting for a .303 batting average. He played his final major league game on September 14, at the age of 41.
In an 18 year career, Ferrell played in 1,884 games, accumulating 1,692 hits in 6,028 at bats for a .281 career batting average along with 28 home runs, 734 runs batted in and an impressive on base percentage of .378. He hit over .300 four times during his career and, his .378 career on base percentage is eighth, all-time, among 50 catchers with 3000 at bats. A patient hitter, Ferrell logged just 277 strikeouts in his 6,028 at-bats, along with 931 career base on balls. He ended his career with a .984 fielding percentage. An eight-time All-Star with a strong throwing arm, he led American League catchers four times in baserunners caught stealing, and twice in assists and putouts.
Ferrell retired having caught 1,806 games, an American League record that stood until Carlton Fisk surpassed it in . He currently ranks 12th all-time in games played as a catcher. In his book, The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, baseball historian Bill James ranked Ferrell as the third best catcher in the American League during his career, behind only Mickey Cochrane and Bill Dickey.
Coaching and executive career
Ferrell continued as a coach for the Senators in 1948 and 1949, returning to his original team, the Detroit Tigers, to coach from 1950 to 1954 4 before retiring from the field altogether. Afterwards, he served as a scout then as the scouting director for the Tigers before becoming the general manager and vice president in 1959. During his tenure as a Tigers executive, the team won two World Series in 1968 and in 1984 and won two American League Eastern Division titles in 1972 and in 1987.
In 1984, Ferrell was elected along with Pee Wee Reese to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. He retired in at the age of 87 after 42 years with the Tigers organisation.
Ferrell died in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 1995.
- Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame
- Baseball Library
- Rick Ferrell, Knuckleball Catcher - Biography
- Rick Ferrell at The Baseball Biography Project
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