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The story of 'Boo' for a new generation
11/19/2008 2:12 PM ET
Just like always, Dave "Boo" Ferriss is humble, even when talking about a book that's been written about him and his extraordinary life.

"Throughout the years, I've had some offers, but I didn't think I merit a book and I still don't," says Ferriss, the 86-year-old former Boston Red Sox phenom and pitching coach, longtime Delta State University baseball coach, and subject of Rick Cleveland's loving new biography, "Boo: A Life in Baseball, Well-Lived" (Pediment Publishing, www.booferrissbook.com), which comes out later this month.

"After some arm-twisting and so forth, Rick got me to agree to it. He's one fine guy and an outstanding writer, and I guess he's pretty persuasive. No doubt about it."

Cleveland, a sports columnist at The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss., where Ferriss is a sports icon, isn't the only one who contributed to the book. It also includes an emotional, personal foreword from another Mississippi native, best-selling author John Grisham. Grisham not only knew Ferriss but briefly played for him as well.

"I've known Coach Ferriss -- I call him Coach Ferriss -- since I was a kid," Cleveland says. "My dad introduced him to me in about 1961 or 1962 as the best baseball player in Mississippi history, and that got my attention right there.

"I've come to know him really well over the years, and he also happens to be the best human being I've ever been around. He's the most intrinsically good person I've ever known. And to be that way after all he's gone through, to me, is remarkable."

Detailed nimbly and richly in the pages of "Boo" is one of the great under-publicized stories in the annals of the game.

After being called up to military service during World War II and then discharged from the Army because of asthma, Ferriss began his Major League career in style, firing 22 scoreless innings, a record until it was broken by Oakland's Brad Ziegler last year.

He went 21-10 in 1945, followed it up with a 25-6 season for the American League champion Red Sox in 1946, pitched a shutout in the World Series that year, and then ruined his arm on one pitch in 1947. He pitched again sparingly and mostly in relief until ending his playing career in 1950.

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"To the older people in Boston, he's very, very well known," Cleveland says. "To younger fans, maybe not so much, which is one reason why it needs to be out there. His 46 wins over his first two seasons are the second best in Major League history behind Grover Cleveland Alexander.

"He was certainly a phenom in baseball. He was Nolan Ryan back then, as good as it gets. To a man, older Red Sox fans who know about Boo will tell you that the history of that team would have been different if had he remained healthy. They were always coming up a little bit short, and they think he would have been the difference."

But a bum shoulder wasn't close to the end of Boo.

He became the pitching coach for the Red Sox between 1955 and 1959 and then started his legendary career at the helm of Delta State, compiling a 639-387 record until his retirement in 1988 and taking the Statesmen to three NCAA Division II College World Series.

"It was certainly an unfortunate situation of hurting my arm and never being the same after a wonderful beginning to my career," Ferriss says. "But to get to be pitching coach for five years with so many fine teammates, including Ted Williams, and everything that followed ... I have to say it all worked out.

"And I wouldn't take anything away from coaching 26 years of college baseball. I was blessed to have so many fine young men play for me. And seeing college baseball make the great strides it has over the decades ... it got bigger and better, so I've had a great run here and I look back and think I've been mighty blessed, I sure have."

One of the most charming parts of the book is found in Cleveland's introduction, in which Ferriss and Cleveland visit an orthopedist named Buddy Savoie to see if they can locate the problem in Ferriss' shoulder.

Savoie diagnoses it as a torn labrum, an injury that ended careers before Orel Hershiser had a successful shoulder reconstruction in the early 1990s.

"He'd have a 95 percent chance of complete recovery," Savoie tells Cleveland. "He'd be as good as new in six to nine months."

To which Boo chuckles and says, "Now my wife Miriam says we ought to get Buddy to fix me up. She says she'd roll me out to the mound. With the millions they're paying these days, she thinks I could still go five innings."

On a more poignant note, "Boo" includes actual letters Ferriss wrote home to his mother in 1945 and 1946 while he was taking the big leagues by storm.

"That's the best part of the book, including Grisham's foreword and any writing I did," Cleveland says. "They're just amazing. Here's a kid out of the Mississippi Delta, he's never been anywhere like this, he wins his first eight games, and all the while he's writing letters home to his mother."

And through all the stories, anecdotes and heartfelt remembrances of the man, who was inducted to the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2002 and still receives fan mail from Red Sox fans all over the world almost every day, Ferriss never expresses any regrets.

"I can't complain, but it would have been nice to not hurt my arm when I did," Ferriss says.

"Maybe we would have beaten those old Yankees."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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