S.J. Peters H.S./Major League Baseball, 1940-56
New Orleanian and Boston Red Sox left-hander Mel Parnell, 89, died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. A member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame, Parnell is best known for his 1956 no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox at Fenway Park, the first since 1923.
“(Cleveland Indian Hall of Fame pitcher) Bob Feller once told me that Mel should be in Cooperstown for winning 100 games while playing (home games) at Fenway Park,” former Times-Picayune reporter and longtime friend Peter Barrouqueres said. “He thought that if he played in any other park he would have been in the Hall of Fame.”
Parnell, born June 13, 1922 in New Orleans, graduated from S.J. Peters High School where he starred with future major leaguers George Strickland, Howie Pollett, Raymond Campo, Ray Yochim and Lou Klein.
Although many of his boyhood friends and high school teammates signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, Parnell chose to sign as an amateur free agent with Boston, where he pitched his entire 10-year major league career.
“The Cardnials were big here in New Orleans because they were affiliated with the (New Orleans) Pelicans from 1940-42,” said Lenny Yochim, a left-handed pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1951-54) and one of Parnell’s close friends. “Herb Pennock (Boston farm system director) came along and got Mel to sign with the Red Sox instead.”
From 1943 to 1945, during World War II, Parnell served in the Air Force as a flight surgeon. He flew on B-29s while stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, but never saw oversees combat.
At the conclusion of the war, Parnell returned to professional baseball where he played one full season of minor league ball in 1946 with Class-A Scranton. After appearing in four games in 1947, Parnell made his big league debut on April 20 at Washington, a 4-1 loss in front of 28,433 people.
During a one-game playoff in Cleveland to decide the 1948 pennant, Boston manager Joe McCarthy passed over Parnell, on a hunch, in favor of journeyman reliever Denny Galehouse, who wasn’t prepared to pitch.
“That was the biggest disappointment of (Parnell’s) career,” said Barrouqueres of the game Parnell expected to start. “In fact, Cleveland thought it was a hoax when they saw Galehouse warming up on the field. They thought that Mel was warming up under the stands, and they thought McCarthy was trying to pull a fast one.”
Boston fell 8-3, with Galehouse allowing two homers.
Parnell’s best season in the big leagues came in 1949 when he went 25-7, leading the league in wins, ERA (2.77), complete games (27) and innings (295.1). That season, he finished fourth to teammate Ted Williams in the AL MVP voting, and was selected to start in his first All-Star Game.
Parnell had consecutive 18-win seasons in 1950 and 1951, a season where he made his second all-star appearance.
He rebounded from a 12-12 record in 1952, by starting the following year with a 12-5 record before the all-star break. New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel left Parnell off of the All-Star roster. He followed the all-star-snub by going 5-0 with four shutouts against the Yankees in the second half to finish the season 21-8 with a 3.06 ERA and a career-high 136 strikeouts.
“He was known as the ‘Yankee killer,'” said Mel Parnell Jr., about his father’s domination of the Yankees. “(The snub) was a big controversy in Boston. Everyone knew that (Stengel) did it deliberately because he played for the Red Sox.”
From 1952 to 1954, Parnell made three straight opening-day starts for the Red Sox, and is still the only left-handed pitcher to do so.
“He was an outstanding control pitcher,” Yochim said. “He didn’t have overpowering speed, but he had a lot of movement. He had good location and could change speeds with great control. He kept the ball down. You have to keep the ball down in Boston because of the short porch.”
Parnell retired because of elbow issues following the 1956 season, finishing his career with 123 wins, 74 losses and a 3.50 ERA. Parnell was Boston’s workhorse, finishing with 113 complete games and 20 shutouts.
After his playing days, Parnell managed in the minor leagues from 1959-63, including the Pelicans in 1959 before moving into into broadcasting with the Red Sox. He retired to New Orleans.
“He was liked by everyone,” Barrouqueres said. “He loved to talk baseball and spend time with his friends…He will be missed.”
Parnell is survived by his wife, Velma and his four children: Mel Parnell, Jr., Barbara Parnell, Sheryl Boraski and Patti Parnell.
[Obituary from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, 3-21-12]