The hitter Boo feared was named King Kong
We had a Q. and A. with the legendary Boo Ferriss Monday at the C Spire Ferriss Trophy awards luncheon. It was my idea, which proves only this: Every human being has one good one at some point in life.
With apologies to the finalists and winner Austin Bousfield, the Ferriss Q. and A. was the highlight of the day. The packed house would have stayed on into the evening to hear more from Ferriss, a walking, talking, incredibly sharp 92-year-old encyclopedia of baseball knowledge.
Several folks called or emailed today wanting to ask him one more question, including this one: Who was the toughest hitter you ever faced?
His answer: “There were so many great hitters in my era of baseball. But the guy who was toughest for me was the New York Yankees left-fielder Charlie Keller. His nickname was King Kong Keller and he earned it.
“A lot of people assume that Joe DiMaggio would have been the toughest out on those great Yankee teams, but I had pretty good success with Joe. Keller and Tommy Heinrich, two great left-handed hitters, gave me the most trouble.
“Keller was a fine hitter (lifetime average of .286), but he especially gave me trouble. I had to make perfect pitches to get him out. Same with Heinrich, really.”
I asked Ferriss about Stan Musial, whom he faced in the 1946 World Series and in exhibition games.
“Musial was a great, great hitter, but I just didn’t face him that much,” Ferriss said. “In Game Three of the 1946 World Series, I learned the best way to get Stan out. I walked him in the first inning, and then he stole second, and then I picked him off. That was the best way to pitch Musial. Walk him and then pick him off.”
Ferriss shut out the Cardinals in that Game Three at Fenway, but not before Musial threatened the shutout with a triple in the ninth inning.
“Stan hit it to the gap in right center field and I’ve never seen a guy go from home plate to third base faster than he did,” Ferriss said. “People forget how fast Musial was. He was just a great, all-around player, and a great guy as well.”
With Musial at third, Ferriss struck out Enos “Country” Slaughter, another splendid hitter, for the final out of the game. That game ball — and Ferriss’s glove from that game — are on display in your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
And here was another question folks wanted to ask: Did Ferriss, great friends with teammate Ted Williams, ever pitch against Williams in a “live” situation, such as an intrasquad scrimmage.
“No, never,” Ferriss answered. “I threw him batting practice all the time but never pitched against him really trying to get him out.”
And how would he have pitched Williams?
“I would have mixed it up, changed speeds, in and out, up and down, and then just prayed for the best. He was the greatest hitter I ever saw, bar none. He had great God-given ability, but nobody worked harder at it. He was the ultimate perfectionist, the best there ever was.”
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