Boston Red Sox 1946 staff: What could have been?

October 6, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) throws in the third inning against the Cleveland Indians during game one of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball game at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
October 6, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) throws in the third inning against the Cleveland Indians during game one of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball game at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Boston Red Sox of 1946 were on the cusp of a series of championships only to see it fail when two superb pitchers quickly faded with injuries. Always be aware of history repeating.

My memories of the Boston Red Sox from the 1950’s are certainly fading and I also have to place into context what I remember from that age and quite possibly up to the present. Sometimes your views get tainted over time. Age does give the advantage of a more extensive range of experience and observation with all things baseball and particularly with the Red Sox, but the linkage of before that also exists.

In the 1950’s and later well into the 1960’s, I was fortunate to have Boston fans whose observation and love of baseball and the Red Sox traced back to the basic beginnings. In a historical sense a wealth of primary sources from those that lived in the moment. An oral and a written history and part of that history surfaced with the death of Dave Ferriss.

Everything in baseball revolves around that little bump that sits in the middle of the infield. The pitcher controls the game or at least pretends to do so. Baseball is quite unique in that the defense controls the ball and the major component of defense is pitching. So I wander back to “Boo” Ferriss and the Red Sox staff of 1946.

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The Red Sox won it all in that first postwar year and later lost in seven games to the Cardinals in the World Series. That staff had two pitchers whose careers were dramatically cut short – Ferriss and Tex Hughson – both right-handers who topped 20 wins in 1946.

In 1945 Ferriss notched 21 wins as a 23-year-old and in 1946 his record was 25-6 and easily ranked among the best in the league. The next season his record went to 12-11 and by 1948 Ferriss was done as asthma and arm injuries ended his career. Ferriss is also a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame. Then there was Hughson.

In 1942 Hughson led the American League in wins with 22, complete games (22) and innings pitched (281). In 1944 Hughson won 18 games and led the league in winning percentage (.783) and WHIP (1.05) before entering the military and missing the 1945 season.

In 1946 Houghson bagged 20 wins for his last productive season. In the World Series against the Cardinals Hughson appeared in three games going 0-1. The next three seasons started the slide to an early retirement after elbow and shoulder surgery. Hughson spent his entire career with Boston finishing with a 96-54 record.

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The last member of that staff was a lefty named Mickey Harris, who had missed 1941-45 for military service. Harris returned in 1946 and delivered a 17-9 season that represented his only double-digit season in wins. In the World, Series Harris took the losses in game two and game six.

Unlike Ferriss and Hughson, Harris did not finish his career in Boston and did have a minor baseball resurrection as a relief pitcher. Harris was traded to the Washington Senators and arm issues put an end to regular duties as a starter. In 1950 Harris led the American League in games (53) and saves (15), but never approached those totals in the next few seasons.

The demise of Ferriss and Hughson show the vulnerability of pitching to injury and to the Red Sox fans that from that era who focused on what could have been. In 1947 a young Mel Parnell came to Boston and became of the best lefties in team history before arm miseries cut short his career. What a “Big Three” that would have been. Or if Chuck Stobbs had panned out a “Big Four.”

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With Rick Porcello coming off a remarkable season and David Price almost a lock for 18 wins I think back to what I was told about the 1946 staff and hope that history does not repeat itself.

Sources: Baseball-Reference/SABR