Frank Sullivan was a noted right-handed pitcher for the Red Sox in the 1950s and a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
The Boston Red Sox of my youth is fading away as all fall victim to the eventual and the latest is an underrated and underappreciated Frank Sullivan who passed away in Hawaii at the age of 85.
Sullivan signed with the Red Sox in 1948 after taking flight from California to Fenway Park for a tryout. Sullivan slowly worked his way through the Boston farm system before a late-season taste of MLB in 1953. Sullivan never to return to the minors.
Sullivan was a gifted but not spectacular pitcher who was the pitching lynchpin for some less than stellar Red Sox teams of the 1950s. Sullivan, a 6’ 7” right-hander, was a two-time All-Star with Boston and once led the American League in wins with 18. That year was 1955 and the Red Sox waddled to a fourth place finish.
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A five-year span from 1954-1958 saw Sullivan lead the team in ERA and consistently take the mound with his usual starts that hovered around 35 a season. Durable and reliable comes to my mind with the mentioning of his name as he finished his eight Boston seasons with a 90-80 record and 3.47 ERA.
"“The Red Sox by an inch” – Frank Lane"
Sullivan’s career started to dip in 1959 as a back injury and illness contributed a 9-11 record and performance deteriorated in 1960 even further resulting in an off-season deal to Philadelphia for the tallest pitcher in baseball – Gene Conley (6’8”) – who also saw duty as a backup center for the Celtics.
The deal resulted in one of the great baseball quotes when Frank Lane – a noted baseball GM was asked who “won” the trade? Lane responded: “The Red Sox by an inch.”
The Phillies of 1961 were beyond awful winning only 47 games with Sullivan going 3-16 working as a starter and out of the bullpen. In 1962, Sullivan was shipped to the Twins during the season and finished his career with Minnesota and retiring in 1963 with a 97-100 record.
Sullivan was a noted off-season speaker with a wonderful sense of humor and a witty self-deprecating style. In the media conscious sports world of today, Sullivan would have been a mega star. But there is some other fame to Sullivan and it has a linkage to Norman Rockwell.
Rockwell was a noted American artist who painted the famous baseball painting“The Rookie” in which Sullivan was one of the players observing a hayseed rookie enter the Boston Clubhouse. The paintings were a staple of magazine covers and have long been a thread in Americana.
A pitcher and a catcher have a bond and Sullivan did with his Boston catcher the affable Sammy White. Both moved to Hawaii upon retirement where Sullivan met his future wife and became certified by the PGA and heavily involved in golf.
Sullivan also wrote a book titled “Life is More than Nine Innings” and it is a great read for Red Sox fans young and old. A must to any Red Sox library.
Sullivan is also a well-deserved member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
Sources: Red Sox Magazine/Baseball-Reference/Life is More than Nine Innings