Mel Parnell – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame
S.J. Peters HS/Major League Baseball
Born and raised in New Orleans, Mel Parnell is one of the all-time greats in Boston Red Sox history. He pitched for the Red Sox from 1947 through 1956 and posted a career mark of 123-75. He is the winningest left-handed pitcher in team history and also owns the organization’s southpaw records for games started (232) and innings pitched (1,752 2/3). He capped his career by throwing a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox at Fenway Park – in his career at the park which was notoriously unfriendly to left-handers, he notched a 71-30 mark.
“(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 Barrouquere 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 in 1940.
After two successful years in the minor leagues with Centreville (Md.) and Canton (Ohio) in 1941 and 1942, Parnell opted to enlist in the Army Air Corps due to World War II. From 1943 to 1945, 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 with Louisville 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 Barrouquere 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.”
“The whole ball club thought it was my game,” he remembered. “My family kept telling me you’ve got your biggest game coming up tomorrow, better get in bed and get some sleep, so I was in bed the night before at 9 o’clock. I got to the ball park the next morning, and as pitchers do during batting practice, you take your time getting dressed because there’s no hurry to get out on the field You’re not going to shag flies or anything. So I’m taking my time getting dressed and all of a sudden, McCarthy comes up from behind and puts his hands on my shoulders. He says, ‘Kid, I’ve changed my mind. I’m going with the righthander instead of the lefthander today because of the elements.’ The wind was blowing out. Galehouse comes in, McCarthy tells him he’s the pitcher, and his facial expression changed completely. It was a shock to him.
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,” said Lenny Yochim, a left-handed pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1951-54) and one of Parnell’s close friends. “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.”
In 1954, he was hit by a pitch, breaking his ulna bone. That injury would never heal properly, leading to his retirement following the 1956 season. He only made 18 appearances in 1954 and 13 in 1955. In 1956, he made 21 appearances, with 20 starts, including the memorable performance against the White Sox on July 14 – it was the first Red Sox no-hitter since 1923.
“The no-hitter was naturally the thing you dream of, but never expect it to happen,” Parnell said. “From the seventh inning on, every out that was made, the fans are jumping up and yelling. My right fielder, Jackie Jensen, comes to me in the seventh inning, he says, ‘Look, fellow, you’re going on a no-hitter. Don’t let them hit the ball to me in right field. I don’t want to be the guy to mess it up for you.’ I said, ‘Jackie, forget it. All I’m looking for is a win.’ The final out was hit back to me. Walter Dropo was with Chicago, an ex-teammate. Dropo hit this ball to the first base side of the mound. I came down off the mound, caught the ball, ran to first base, and made the play unassisted. When I get to first base, Mickey Vernon, our first baseman, says to me, ‘What’s the matter, fellow? You don’t have confidence in me?’ I said, ‘I’ve got all the confidence in the world in you but I was afraid if I threw it I might throw it away.’”
Parnell finished 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 New Orleans Pelicans in 1959 before moving into into broadcasting with the Red Sox. He retired to New Orleans and was voted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1997.
“He was liked by everyone,” Barrouquere said. “He loved to talk baseball and spend time with his friends.”
He died on March 20, 2012 at the age of 89.