Tom Knight’s Diamond Reflections: Farewell to Two of Game’s Greats

April 12, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Tom Knight

Brooklyn Baseball Historian

Bang the drum slowly for Mel Parnell and Dave Philley.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Mel Parnell, great left-handed pitcher of the Boston Red Sox who was known for two things — winning in Fenway Park and beating the Yankees — died on Tuesday, March 20, in his hometown of New Orleans. He was 89.

Parnell was born on June 13, 1922. His father Patrick was a mechanic on the Illinois Central Limited, a passenger train that ran between New Orleans and Chicago. Mel played first base for his high school team, but his coach had him pitch batting practice whenever the team was going to face a left-hander. A scout for the Red Sox was in the stands on the day young Mel was asked, to his surprise, to pitch a crucial game. He threw a shutout, striking out 17, and the scout signed him to a contract.

He pitched for two years in the minor leagues before serving stateside in the Army Air Force during World War II, with a third season in the minors after his discharge. He pitched his first game for Boston on April 20, 1947.

Parnell won more games for the Red Sox than any other left-hander. His entire career of 10 years was with the Sox. He had a hard-breaking slider that kept the ball in on the hands of right-handed hitters. At Fenway, despite the “Green Monster” in left, he won 71 games, while losing 30. In his final season, he no-hit the White Sox in Boston.

Overall, his record was 123 wins and 75 losses, with an earned run average of 3.50. Only Cy Young (192), Roger Clemens (192) and Tim Wakefield (186) — all right-handers — won more games in a Red Sox uniform.

Parnell had several outstanding seasons. The 6-foot, 180-pound southpaw won at least 15 games five times and more than 20 twice. His best season was 1949 when he won 25 and lost only seven with an ERA of 2.77. The starter for the American League in the All-Star game that year, he ended up leading the league in wins, complete games (27) and innings pitched (295 1/3).

The Yankees won five straight World Series from 1949-1953. During that time, Parnell beat them 15 times over those years! In 1953, he was 5-0 against the Yankees, giving up three earned runs in 42 innings. And four of those wins were shutouts!

I had the pleasure of being in Mel’s company down in New Orleans about 30 years ago. He was one of baseball’s good guys.

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Dave Philley was found dead on his Texas ranch on March 15. He was 91.

Philley hit .270 over 18 years in the majors with the White Sox, A’s, Orioles, Tigers, Indians and Phillies from 1946 through 1960. He still holds the record for consecutive pinch-hits (9 in 1958-1959), as well as the American League record for pinch-hits in a season (24 in 1961).

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In my recent column on “Lefty” O’Doul, there was a typo. When he won the National League batting title in 1932, while with the Dodgers, he hit .368, not .318. In his six seasons as a hitter, his lifetime average was .349. He hit 113 home runs.

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