Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Rick Cleveland: Remembering Boo Ferris

The late, immeasurably great Boo Ferriss could have become a Major League manager had he chosen that path. With his people skills and his baseball acumen, he surely would have been a splendid one.


He definitely could have moved on from Delta State to the University of Texas and one of the elite college baseball programs in the country. In 1965, Darrell Royal offered him the Texas job, invited him to Austin, wined him and dined him for three days and thought for sure he had him. Even then, Texas was a national baseball powerhouse. Ferriss would have made more money for less work. At Delta State, he was also the athletic director and oversaw all the sports programs (and sometimes did the baseball laundry). At Texas, he would have been concerned with coaching baseball only.

I mean, how do you turn down the prestigious and sprawling University of Texas to remain at what was then tiny Delta State College? Nine years ago, when we were working on his biography, I asked Ferriss just that.

“The home ties were just too strong,” Ferriss said. “..We had built us a new baseball field. My mother was just a few miles down the road in Shaw. I was greatly honored to have the Texas opportunity. I'll never forget that when I came back home, I went out and walked around the field, and that's when I decided I wasn't going to leave. I've never had any regrets.

“Looking back, I think a lot of it was that I had already had a taste of the big-time, a lot bigger than Texas, in Boston. I didn't need it for my ego or anything. In the end, home won out. I guess I had too much of that Delta mud between my toes.”

But there were times, in the early 1960s, when Boo Ferriss wondered if he had done the right thing in leaving his beloved Boston Red Sox and Fenway Park, where he was the pitching coach, for Cleveland and Delta State. At DSC, he had to carve a baseball field out of a bean field. He had no assistants. He had no scholarships.

But he had made the move because he had two young children and traveling America every spring and summer and into fall was not his idea of the proper way to raise a family.

Nevertheless, at Fenway Park, there had been a clubhouse boy and an equipment manager to take care of the dirty work. At Delta State, Boo, with his wife Miriam's help, washed all the socks, jocks and dirty uniforms. At Fenway Park, the field was kept perfectly manicured by a grounds crew. At Delta State, Boo and his players were the grounds crew.

Then there was the talent difference. In Boston, he was pitching BP to Ted Williams. At Delta State, he was teaching volunteer players how to play the game.

The Red Sox offered him his old job back for more money. He declined. The Minnesota Twins and his old teammate Sam Mele offered him the pitching coach's job there for big money in 1962. These were the Twins of Harmon Killebrew and Jim Kaat. They were challenging the New York Yankees for American League supremacy. Mele offered him more responsibilities, a clear path to a Major League managerial job. Ferriss accepted the job and then immediately had second thoughts.

He slept on it, restlessly, for two nights, then went in and asked for his old job back at DSC. Of course, he got it. “I had to call Sam Mele back and tell him; that was hard,” Ferriss said. Mele hired Johnny Sain.

How many people would turn down the Boston Red Sox, the Minnesota Twins and the University of Texas to stay at Delta State College?

One: David Meadow “Boo” Ferriss, who today is buried in his hometown of Shaw, still with that beloved Delta mud between his toes.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist and author of “Boo: A life in baseball, well lived.” His email address is rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Boo Ferris had incredible people skills. He knew the names of his players' and managers' wives and kids. He knew anniversary dates and birth dates. And not just recent ones, but all of Delta State's players and managers going back to his first teams.

There is good reason the powers that are named the award for the best college baseball player in Mississippi after Boo Ferris, and not just because he was a good baseball player.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. Probably the best article ever.

-Fighting Okra

Anonymous said...

Coach Ferris showed up at a few of our high school practices 27 years ago - our coach played for him at DSU. A few years later, my college team played at DSU, and Coach Ferris made an effort to speak to me before the game - which left me impressed. And about 5 years ago, Coach Ferris showed up at our church (I had not seen him in ~20 years). I walked over to talk to him, and he remembered my name and where I played and talked with me for a while. He was a class act - and that was before I read his book and realized how great of a baseball player he was.

Burke said...

Right out of a Frank Capra movie, and it's true. You're a lucky man, Rick Cleveland. And a damn good sportswriter.

Anonymous said...

If you were ever properly introduced to, or met Boo Ferris, someohow he always remembered and never forgot a name. Very impressive. He was a great man and a great representative for the State of MS and Delta State University.

Anonymous said...

Boo Ferris was one of my father's dearest and most loyal friends. They met at Presbyterian Bible School when they were 13 or about in 1935. They roomed together for a week. My father needed Bible School much more so than Boo, but they became life long loyal dedicated friends. My father was injured terribly in WW2 and Boo consistently corresponded with him while in was in hospital in England for 2 years. When he finally got back to Mississippi, Boo was there to see him. My father said that in the early 60's Boo had one of the first air conditioned cars in Mississippi. Daddy thought that was the best thing he had ever witnessed. When my father was dying with Alzheimer's Disease in 2008, Boo consistently called to check in with me and get an update on my father. He called my sweet step mother weekly to just give support and friendship. He was a competitor, a devoted Presbyterian Christian gentleman, a loyal, loving, kind man, and best of all, to me, my father's devoted friend for over seventy years. He will be missed.

Anonymous said...

Just in case the people reading about Coach Ferris get the impression that he was like most college coaches in that he only really was interested in players who were good at their sport I want you to know he also cared about players who played at my level.

I live in the Houston area and following Hurricane Ike my neighborhood was without power for several days. Although I had not spoken with Coach Ferris in several years the first telephone call I got after our power was restored was from Coach Ferris. He just wanted to know if we were alright.

That is the Coach Ferris I will always remember.

Anonymous said...

An honorable man of extreme humility and grace. Hope some of it rubbed off on Rick.

Anonymous said...

Is there a reason someone always has a negative comment about Mr. Cleveland?

Anonymous said...

Maybe because Cleveland wears his egotism on his sleeve? Just guessing.

Anonymous said...

Right, 10:18. Rick could take humility lessons from someone like Kingfish.

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