“Dusty” was the ace left-hander of the Red Sox pitching staff from 1948 to 1953 when a sore elbow began slowing him down. He used his great fastball and a self-taught slider to go 109-56 during those six seasons, winning 20 games twice and throwing 20 shutouts. While Fenway’s Green Monster destroyed the careers of many Boston lefties, Parnell thrived in Boston’s home park. Only Roger Clemens and Cy Young won more games in a Red Sox uniform. He retired after the 1956 season. Longtime Red Sox fans can remember “Marvelous Mel” broadcasting Boston games during the team’s miraculous drive to the 1967 World Series. Parnell was born in New Orleans on this date in 1922.
At first glance, I thought the only member of the all-time Red Sox roster to celebrate a birthday on June 9 might have had an identity problem. His real name was Dominic Joseph Ryba, but everyone knew him as Mike. He won a minor league batting title as an all star catcher in 1933 and two seasons later, he was a 20-game-winning pitcher. That’s when the Cardinals brought him up for his big league debut at the end of the ’35 season. Ryba was already 32-years-old by then and he spent the next five years bouncing up and down between St Louis and the clubs top farm teams. In 1940, he went 24-8 for the Cardinals double A affiliate in Rochester, NY. Even though he was 37 years-old by then, the Red Sox traded for him that September and he spent the next six seasons, including all of the WWII years pitching mostly in relief for Boston. He did pretty well.
Overall, Ryba went 36-25 in Beantown, including an impressive 12-7 1944 season. In 1945 he compiled a career low 2.49 ERA. The right-handed native of DeLancey, PA also got all of his 16 career saves while wearing a Red Sox uniform. By the time all of the big league players returned from service in the War, Ryba was 43-years-old and ready for his next career as a minor league coach and big league scout. He died in 1971 at the age of 68.
Only three members of the Red Sox all-time roster were born on July 8th and none of them appeared in any more than a handful of games for Boston. One of them was a pitcher named Pete Magrini, a Santa Rosa, California-born right-hander, who made his big league debut as a Red Sox with two relief appearances and a start during the 1966 season. It was not an impressive one. He lost his only decision and his ERA was just a shade south of eight when he was sent back to Boston’s International League affiliate in Toronto that May. Magrini would never again appear in a big league ball game but he did make a contribution to the 1967 Red Sox Impossible Dream pennant-winning team. The manager of that club, the late Dick Williams, always pointed to Boston’s late-season acquisition of veteran Yankee catcher Elston Howard as a key to the team’s successful stretch run. Magrini was one of two Boston pitchers sent to New York for Howard. The other was Ron Klimkowski.
Several members of the Red Sox all-time roster were born on today’s date, however none of them became household names. Of all the former Boston players born on today’s date, a former left-handed starting pitcher by the name of Pete Schourek, saw the most action for the Red Sox.
Born in Austin, Texas, he ended up going to high school in Virginia and impressed scouts at the time with his amazingly sharp curveball. It was a good enough pitch to get Schourek selected by the Mets in the second round of the 1987 draft but the fact that he was throwing it so much at a young age was probably the reason he blew out his elbow in the minors and required Tommy John surgery. He still was able to make his big league debut with New York by 1999 to quite a bit of media fanfare but he never made it big in Queens. When he went 5-12 in 1993, the Mets put him on waivers and he was claimed by the Reds,
Cincinnati proved much more to his liking. He had his career year there in 1995, going 18-7 with a 3.22 ERA and finishing second to Greg Maddux in that year’s Cy Young Award voting. He never got close to those numbers again, probably because he continued to suffer arm ailments, which required three more surgeries.
The Red Sox got him a first time during the 1998 season, when they purchased his contract from the Astros. Schourek went just 1-3 in eight starts down the stretch for manager, Jimy Williams ball club and was granted free agency at seasons’ end. He then pitched for the Pirates in 1999 before returning to Boston in 2000 and going 3-10 with a 5.11 ERA in 21 more starts under Williams. You’d think with those stats, his career as a Red Sox was over but Williams brought him back the following spring and he spent his last half season as a big leaguer pitching out of Boston’s bullpen in 2001. His career record in the Majors was 66-77.
Long before Rocky Marciano left the streets of Brockton, Massachusetts to win the heavyweight boxing championship of the world, another native of that town showed such promising pugilistic talent that folks thought he too might become a world champion in the ring. But Buck O’Brien could do more than just knock out people with his fists. He was also a gifted tenor who made a good living as a professional singer in and around his home town. O’Brien could also throw a heck of a spitball.
The right-hander didn’t play professionally at first. He learned to throw the wet one while pitching for local factory-sponsored teams. In fact, he didn’t sign his first pro contract until 1909, when he was already 27-years-old.
After he won 64 games during his first three seasons of minor league ball, the Red Sox signed him in September of 1911. O’Brien then wowed everyone in Beantown by going 5-1 with a 0.38 ERA for Boston during the final month of that season. That great final month proved to be a harbinger of good things to come in 1912. All O’Brien did was go 20-13 to help lead one of the great Red Sox teams of all time to a 105-47 first place finish in the American League.
That team’s best pitcher was a young right-hander named Joe Wood, who was nicknamed Smokey. It was said at the time that Wood threw a baseball faster than any man alive. The great Ty Cobb told sportswriters that Wood’s fastball and O’Brien’s spitter were two of the toughest pitches for him to hit. Unfortunately the two Red sox pitchers pretty much hated each other. Their mutual animosity came to a head during Game 5 of that year’s World Series against the Giants. Boston manager Jake Stahl surprised everyone by starting O’Brien, who had lost a close contest in Game 2 instead of Wood, who had won the Series opener with a gem of a game. O’Brien himself may have been most shocked to get the ball. Fully expecting to have the day off, the pitcher had partied hard the night before and showed up for Game 5 with a terrific hangover.
The Giants loaded the bases against O’Brien in the first inning and then he balked in a run. Before the inning was over, he had allowed five runs. On the train ride back to Boston for Game 6, Wood told O’Brien he had given Game 5 away and the two went at it, not just on the train right there and then but again the next day as well.
Whatever the reason, after that balk and his fisticuffs with Wood, O’Brien was never again an effective big league pitcher. When he struggled to a 4-9 start the following season, Boston sold him to the White Sox for $5,000. He went 0-2 for Chicago and then never again pitched in another big league game. He died in 1959, at the age of 77.
Those few New York Giants’ fans still around who actually saw the World Champion 1954 team play will tell you that Leo Durocher’s ball club might not have won the pennant without their ace closer, Marv Grissom. The California-born right-hander went 10-7 that year with 19 saves, made the NL All Star team and was also the winning pitcher in the first game of the Giants’ four-game sweep versus the Indians in the ’54 World Series. Not bad for a guy who was put on waivers by the Red Sox a year earlier.
Grissom was one of the thousands of young ballplayers who had promising careers derailed by service in WWII. His much-older brother Lee had been a big league pitcher during the thirties and it looked as if Marv was about to join him, when the attack at Pearl Harbor happened. He ended up spending the next four years assisting in a military operating room and by the time he got back to baseball in 1946, he was already 28-years-old.
He made a brief big league debut as a Giant in 1946 and then spent the next six seasons bouncing up and down between the Majors and Minors. He finally stuck with the White Sox as a member of their 1952 starting rotation and went 12-10 that year. That’s when the Red Sox got him along with pitchers Hector Skinny Brown and Bill Kennedy for their then-over-the-hill shortstop, Vern Stephens.
Grissom was inserted into Boston’s rotation during the second month of the ’53 season and in 11 starts he went 2-6 with a 4.60 ERA. That’s what got him put on the waiver wire at the all-star break and led to his signing by the Giants. Though had turned 36-years-old just before his outstanding ’54 season started, Grissom continued pitching well out of the Giants’ bullpen for the next four seasons and was on hand when the team relocated to Grissom’s native California, after the 1957 season. He retired after the 1959 season and died in 2005 at the age of 87.
Whatever happened to the bullpen vehicles that Major League clubs once used to transport relief pitchers from the home team’s bullpen to the pitching mound? Back in the seventies, Boston had a golf cart topped with a giant replica of a Red Sox baseball cap making this trip for quite a while. I remember thinking how unneighborly it was to force the opposing team’s relievers to walk from their pen to the mound while providing the homie’s with a comfortable ride to work. I also wondered what if any conversation between driver and pitcher took place? You’d think teams would have been smart enough to have their bullpen coaches drive these vehicles so they could spend those last precious few moments discussing the best pitching strategies for the passenger to use with the hitters he was about to face. In any event, after becoming popular targets for inebriated beer tossing fans in one stadium after another, bullpen vehicles went the way of the passenger pigeon and now no longer exist in big league ballparks.
Today’s Birthday celebrant causes me to ponder an even more important historical question about the use of bullpen vehicles. Bill Zuber made his big league debut as a relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians in 1936. He got traded to the Senators in 1941 and then to the Yankees in 1943, just as the exodus of Major League players to wartime service was peaking. He pitched for New York until early on in the 1946 season until all of the Yankee war-time pitchers had returned from service. The Yanks then sold Zuber to Boston and Red Sox skipper Joe Cronin immediately made effective use of him as both a reliever and spot starter. He pitched a three-hit shutout in his first start for Boston and finished his first year on the team with a 5-1 record and a career-low 2.56 ERA, helping the team capture the AL Pennant
Zuber had avoided military service during the War because he was a member of a religious group known as The Amana Church Society. Members of this group were against all wars and were granted conscientious objector status by the US Government. This Society also believed that it was a sin to make use of modern machinery, including motorized vehicles of any kind. So what would have happened if back in 1946, Cronin summoned this big peace-loving right hander from the bullpen to pitch in a game and the Red Sox were making use of a bullpen vehicle? Would Zuber have put himself in the passenger seat or would he instead have refused the ride and proceeded to walk to the Fenway pitching mound, perhaps even pointing to the sky along the way, like many God-loving ballplayers do today whenever they get a base hit?
In any event, Zuber pitched must less effectively during his second season in Boston and after spending one more year on a Red Sox farm team, he hung up his glove for good. Zuber eventually got into the restaurant business after his baseball career ended. He found a way to meld both his ball-playing past and his religiosity into his new career by adorning the back page of his restaurant’s menu with his former skipper, Joe McCarthy’s “Ten Commandments of Baseball.”
Long before the Red Sox had signed Dice K, they thought they had captured Japanese lightning in a bottle when they purchased this slender right-hander from the Yokahoma Bay Stars in 1999. He got off to an amazing start in Boston’s farm system, going a combined 15-0 with Double A Trenton and Triple A Pawtucket, which earned him three call-ups to Fenway during that 1999 season. He got his first big league win with a three-inning relief stint against the Orioles on October 1st of that year.
Still just 24-years-old, Ohka opened the 2000 season back in Pawtucket and stunk up the joint at first, losing his first four decisions. He heated up after that and also threw a perfect game, one of just three that have been pitched in the history of the International League. He also returned to the parent club for a lengthy stay and went 3-6 for Boston that year with a decent 3.12 ERA.
As the 2001 season opened, it was time for Ohka to prove he had the stuff to stick with the big boys. He was a member of Jimy Williams’s Red Sox rotation on Opening Day. Joining him in that rotation was his fellow countryman, Hideki Nomo, who had been signed as a free agent by Boston the previous December. The team was hoping Nomo could help Ohka make the jump. He could not. After 11 starts he was 2-5 with an ERA of 6.19 and at that year’s trading deadline he and left-hander Rich Rundles were shipped to the Expos for Closer Oogie Urbina.
Ohka would put together some decent seasons north of the border. His career year was 2002 when he went 13-8 and posted a 3.18 ERA. He kept pitching in the big leagues until 2009, finishing his career with a 51-68 lifetime record.