A North Carolina farmboy and one of seven brothers, Rick Ferrell saved pennies to buy his first catcher’s mitt for $1.50. Over 60 years later, the Veterans Committee elected him to the Hall of Fame. Although he played chiefly with second-division teams, Ferrell is always included among the greatest catchers of his age.
Blessed with a strong, durable physique and a placid yet determined personality, for 18 seasons Ferrell was a fine all-around receiver. In two stints each with the Browns and Senators, with three-plus years in Boston sandwiched between, he ultimately established the AL record with 1,805 games behind the plate.
At the plate, Ferrell had a fine eye and was remarkably selective. He coaxed 931 walks while fanning only 277 times, and achieved an impressive .433 career on-base percentage. Nineteen precent of his hits were doubles.
With St. Louis, he batted .290 over the years 1929-32, and caught the eye of Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, who was trying to rebuild. Boston had had a .300-hitting catcher in only 1901 and 1919. In the years 1933-36, Ferrell broke Red Sox catchers’ records in batting, doubles, HR, and RBI. His .302 average with the Red Sox is 12th on the club’s all-time list. Rick’s brother Wes joined him in Boston in 1934. Though a pitcher, Wes hit more career HR (38) than Rick (28). In June 1937, the brothers were packaged in a trade to Washington for Ben Chapman and Bobo Newsom.
Ferrell was back with the Browns in 1941-43. Then, during his second tour with Washington, he met the unprecedented challenge of handling four knuckleball pitchers in the starting rotation. In 1945 the Senators just missed the pennant, and their knuckle quartet amassed 60 wins.
After his playing days, Ferrell served as a Senators coach for four seasons. He followed with many years in the Tiger organization, as a coach, scout, GM, and, at over 80, executive consultant. In 1987 manager Sparky Anderson commented, “I hope I’m like Rick when I am his age!”