There was a time when the Red Sox pitchers were allowed to hit and not just in selected contests with the National League.
The advent of the designated hitter removed from baseball both the notoriously pathetic hitting pitchers and those with a skill level that rivaled that of a regular in the batting order, on occasion surpassing some who staked a living by hitting.
Being brought up as a traditionalist accepting the DH has been no easy task. The convincing epiphany for me was Clay Buchholz tweaking a muscle attempting to run the bases in a game in San Francisco in 2010 and the ruination of Chien-Ming Wang. When you have players attempting to do something that has long passed their skill set, you place them in harm’s way.
So who were the good hitting pitchers in Boston Red Sox history?
A chap called Babe Ruth certainly pops to the top of the list. Ruth was an exceptional talent as a pitcher and that was even surpassed with his skill as a batsman. In 1918 and 1919 Ruth made 34 starts (22-12) as a pitcher and on occasion played the outfield. Ruth led the AL in home runs in both 1918 and 1919.
Carl Mays was on the same staff as Ruth and eventually was shuffled off to the Yankees to become a key member of their staff. Mays, known as “sub” for his unusual delivery, lives in baseball history for being one of the most irascible performers and the beaning of Ray Chapman that resulted in Chapman’s death. But Mays could hit.
In his Boston career Mays slashed at .243/.317/.306, but when he joined New York, Mays had a season to remember in 1921 slashing .343/.365/.434. In his Boston days, Mays was known as a contact hitter who would not give away an out or an inch on the mound.
Wes Ferrell had a brief four-year stay with the Red Sox in the 1930s, but Wes could hit. His career slash is .280/.351/.446 with 38 home runs and 208 RBI. In Boston, Ferrell was .308/.384/.490 with 17/82 in the HR and RBI ledger. Ferrell was also impressive on the mound going over 20 wins five times and twice with Boston.
Cy Young pitched for Boston for eight seasons and won 191 games. Young also could hit. His slash line for his Boston stay was.219/.237/.288 which is nothing in the range of what could be considered exceptional hitting pitchers until you dig deeper.
Young had eighteen career home runs and six while in Boston. This was the dead ball era and I can’t imagine the portly Young getting too many inside the park homers. To me that eighteen is impressive even if the slash is not.
Now for those with the bat I actually remember seeing. Number one on my list is Earl Wilson.
Wilson became the second black player with the Red Sox and was a physical presence. Wilson, originally signed as a catcher, finished his career under the Mendoza Line at .195, but had thirty-five career home runs and in a game I was fortunate enough to attend, Wilson pitched a no-hitter and had the game winning RBI with a blast off Bo Belinsky.
Ken Brett appeared in a World Series game in 1967 at the ripe age of eighteen. Brett, bothered by arm issues his entire career, could hit. Not as well as his brother, George Brett, but enough to make you wonder if he should have played another position. Brett slashed .295/.338/.508 in his four Boston years with three home runs. Brett’s career slashed out at.262/.291/.406.
Jerry Casale was a personal favorite of mine. Casale would put on an amazing show in batting practice with an unusual swing and prodigious blasts. Casale only hit .216 for his short career with a meager five home runs, but each one seemed destined for a distance record.
Casale also owned a restaurant called Pino’s in Manhattan that was on 34th street. Nice place to visit since it was a relatively short walk from Broadway. Long closed, but the memories of a little Fenway oasis in midtown are pleasant.
Sonny Siebert, like Jerry Casale, did not hit for much of an average with a career figure of .173, but for one season in Boston, Siebert put it all together.
In 1971 Siebert won a career high sixteen games while losing only ten. With the bat, Siebert slashed.266/.289/.532 with six home runs and fifteen RBI in eighty plate appearances. That home run total represented half of his career total. For one season, Sonny was outstanding on the mound and with the bat.
Gary Peters spent the last three seasons of his career in Boston, finishing up in 1972, the last year before the DH.
Peters, a left-handed batter and pitcher, slashed.250/.290/.361 in his Boston years. Peters also chipped in with four home runs and fifteen RBI. What I remember most about Peters is the way the ball jumped off his bat – very similar to Brett.
With the DH, that part of the game is missing in the AL – the pitcher who can actually hit. Fans would stay around instead of grabbing a beer since there was always the possibility the pitcher would contribute with a line shot somewhere. With an inter-league schedule, the occasional hit does take place that will bring back the memories of when the pitchers could hit – or at least some of them could.