If Red Sox ace Boo Ferriss would have started Game 6 of the 1946 World Series against the Cardinals, would Boston have won the championship? In retrospect, probably not, but at the time the decision by Red Sox manager Joe Cronin to hold Ferriss for a possible Game 7 created controversy and second guessing.
After the Red Sox won Game 5, giving them three wins in the best-of-seven Series, they needed one more victory to clinch the title. Cronin indicated he’d start Ferriss in Game 6. Ferriss had shut out the Cardinals in Game 3 and he had led the Red Sox in wins during the regular season, with 25.
At the last minute, however, Cronin changed his mind and started Mickey Harris in Game 6. The Cardinals beat Harris, evening the Series. Ferriss started the decisive Game 7, but the Cardinals won that, too, earning their third World Series crown in five years.
Cronin was criticized for not starting his best pitcher when the Red Sox had the opportunity to claim the championship with a Game 6 triumph. Few pitchers in 1946 had better credentials than Dave “Boo” Ferriss, who, 70 years later, died on Nov. 24, 2016, at 94.
Ferriss _ he got his nickname when, as a child, he tried to say the word “brother” and it came out “boo,” according to a biography by the Society for American Baseball Research _ debuted with the Red Sox in 1945 and posted a 21-10 record.
In 1946, Ferriss, a right-hander, was even better. He won his first 10 decisions and finished the regular season at 25-6, including a 13-0 mark at home.
After the Red Sox and Cardinals split the first two games of the 1946 World Series at St. Louis, Ferriss got the start in Game 3 on Oct. 9 at Boston. Throwing a sinker from a three-quarters sidearm delivery, Ferriss held the Cardinals scoreless for nine innings, limiting them to six hits and a walk in a 4-0 Red Sox triumph.
Stan Musial tried to spark the Cardinals in the first inning when he walked with two outs and stole second base. Noticing Musial taking a big lead off second, Ferriss turned and caught him flat-footed. Holding the ball, Ferriss moved toward Musial, who broke for third. Ferriss threw to third baseman Pinky Higgins, who applied the tag.
In the ninth, Musial tripled with two outs, but Ferriss preserved the shutout by striking out Enos Slaughter. Boxscore
Chance to clinch
The Cardinals evened the Series with a win in Game 4 and Boston went ahead with a win in Game 5. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis Star-Times reported Ferriss would start Game 6 on Oct. 13 at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.
According to the Post-Dispatch, Cronin told reporters, “Don’t worry about any seventh game. There won’t be any.”
Post-Dispatch columnist John Wray wrote that Cronin “thinks Ferriss will turn back the Redbirds and clinch the world title in the sixth game. Ferriss is a real hurdle for the Birds.”
Dizzy Dean, retired Cardinals ace, told the Post-Dispatch on the eve of Game 6, “I reckon it’ll be Ferriss for the Sox tomorrow.”
Change of plans
Ferriss, though, would have been pitching on three days’ rest, instead of the usual four, if he had started Game 6. He also would have been matched against Harry Brecheen, who had shut out the Red Sox in Game 2 and was chosen the Cardinals’ Game 6 starter by manager Eddie Dyer.
“Ferriss was set to start,” reported the Detroit Free Press, “but at the last hour” Cronin reconsidered and opted to start Harris.
A left-hander, Harris had started and lost Game 2, though he yielded one earned run in seven innings. During the regular season, Harris had a 17-9 record.
“Cronin gambled on (Harris) because Sportsman’s Park usually has been a paradise for southpaws,” United Press reported.
This time, Harris gave up three runs in 2.2 innings and the Cardinals won Game 6, 4-1. Boxscore
After a scheduled off day on Oct. 14, Game 7 was played on Oct. 15 at St. Louis. Described by the Post-Dispatch as “a master of variable speed and control,” Ferriss, starting on five days’ rest, was opposed by Murry Dickson.
In the fifth inning, with the score tied at 1-1, Dickson doubled, scoring Harry Walker from second. Red Schoendienst followed with a single, scoring Dickson and giving the Cardinals a 3-1 lead. After Terry Moore singled, Cronin replaced Ferriss with Joe Dobson.
Ferriss’ line: 4.1 innings, 7 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts.
The Red Sox tied the score with two runs in the eighth, but the Cardinals went ahead in the bottom half when Slaughter made a mad dash from first and scored on a Walker hit off Bob Klinger. Brecheen, who had relieved Dickson, shut down the Red Sox in the ninth, giving the Cardinals a 4-3 triumph and the championship. Boxscore
Based on Brecheen’s performance in Game 6, Ferriss, if he had started that game, would have had to shut out the Cardinals in order to ensure the Red Sox of clinching then.
Still, Cronin caught heat for his decision-making:
_ Sid Kenner, St. Louis Star-Times: “Why didn’t Cronin pitch Ferriss in the sixth game and then, if the Red Sox lost that number, Joe Dobson was the top ace up the sleeve?”
_ Herbert Goren, New York Sun: “Cronin’s pitching strategy was questioned in the last two games. How judicious was it to save Ferriss for the seventh game when he was ready for the sixth?”
_ The Sporting News: “Some surprise was expressed over Cronin’s decision to start Harris. Many thought he would lead with Ferriss in the hope of winding up the Series.”
Keener reported Cronin “originally had Ferriss primed and ready” for Game 6, but had “a change of heart” after learning Brecheen was starting.
In defense of Cronin, Ed McAuley of the Cleveland News wrote, “Ferriss’ performance in the (seventh) game confirmed the manager’s suspicion that (Ferriss) needed more than three days’ rest.”
The 1946 season was the pinnacle of Ferriss’ pitching career. He pitched six seasons, all with the Red Sox, and had a 65-30 record.