Mel Parnell, the greatest left-handed pitcher to toe the rubber for the Boston Red Sox, died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. He was 89.
Parnell spent his entire 10-year big league career with the Red Sox with a remarkable won loss record of 123-75. His best season came in 1949 when the Sox came so precariously close to winning the American League pennant. That year Parnell went 25-7 with a 2.77 ERA leading the league in wins, complete games (27) and innings pitched (295 and one third innings to be exact.) Parnell would also win 21 games during the 1953 season but an arm injury curtailed his effectiveness and won only 12 more big league games. However, Parnell would end his career on a positive note throwing a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox during his final season in 1956 becoming the first Red Sox pitcher to toss a no-no since the 1920s.
Parnell’s 123 wins are the most for a Sox lefthander. That might not seem earth shattering but there’s pretty darn good company that comes after him. Lefty Grove has the second most wins by the Sox lefty with 105 followed by Bill Lee with 94. Behind ths Spaceman is none other than George Herman “Babe” Ruth who won 89 games with the Sox. Yes, the Bambino started his career as a pitcher. Red Sox fans from the 1980s will remember Bruce Hurst who won 88 games in a Red Sox uniform while Opening Day 2012 starter Jon Lester has 76 wins and counting.
Seventy-one of Parnell’s 123 wins came at Fenway Park. The Green Monster has gotten the better of many a lefty. But Parnell pitched inside to righthanded hitters with a slider. And that probably explains why he finished his career with more walks than strikeouts (758 to 732). Thrice in his career, Parnell walked more than 100 batters in a season including his 25-win campaign in 1949 when he walked 134 batters against 122 strikeouts. Usually this is not a formula for success but it’s better to walk a batter with your best pitch than to have him take you deep with your worst pitch.
After his playing career, Parnell returned to his native New Orleans where he was the baseball coach at Tulane University before becoming the general manager of the New Orleans Pelicans. Parnell rejoined the Red Sox in the 1960s serving as a scout, a minor league manager and even as a broadcaster. While Parnell never pitched in a World Series, he was a member of the Red Sox broadcast booth when they won the AL pennant in 1967. Parnell also coined the phrase the “Pesky Pole”, the right field foul pole which is only 302 feet away from home plate and was named after Johnny Pesky, a Red Sox legend who was not known for his power.
Let me leave you with Parnell calling the final out on the last day of the 1967 season as the Sox clinch the AL pennant against the Minnesota Twins on a Rich Rollins pop up to Rico Petrocelli at short.