Friday, March 23, 2012

Mel Parnell, 89, Dies; Dominated Yanks

                                                                        Associated Press
Mel Parnell, flanked by Ted Williams, left,
and Johnny Pesky after a victory in 1949.
By Bruce Weber,
New York Times
March 21, 2012
Mel Parnell, who won more games for the Boston Red Sox than any other left-handed pitcher and who especially endeared himself to Sox fans as a Yankee killer, died on Tuesday in New Orleans. He was 89.
The cause was pneumonia, his son, Dr. Mel Parnell Jr., said, adding that his father had a history of lymphoma.
Parnell spent his entire 10-year career with the Red Sox, from 1947 to 1956, achieving remarkable success in Fenway Park, whose odd configuration — notably the massive left-field wall, known as the Green Monster, which is so close to home plate that it turns routine fly balls into doubles — makes it a troublesome place for lefties to pitch.
Parnell, however, employing a hard-breaking slider that kept the ball in on the hands of right-handed hitters, was 71-30 in his home ballpark, including a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox in his final season.
Associated Press
Mel Parnell
"You have to keep the hitters' elbows close to their body and cut down on their power," he explained. His main complaint with Fenway was not the Green Monster, he often said; it was that because there was so little foul territory, foul flies rarely turned into outs.
Over all, his record was 123-75, with an earned run average of 3.50. Only Cy Young (192), Roger Clemens (192) and Tim Wakefield (186), all right-handers, won more games in a Red Sox uniform.
He had several outstanding seasons, winning at least 15 games five times and more than 20 twice. His best season, 1949, was extraordinary: he won 25 and lost only 7, with an E.R.A. of 2.77. The starter for the American League in the All-Star Game that year, he ended up leading the league in wins, complete games (27) and innings pitched (2951/3).
Parnell's Red Sox, especially in his first years, were a formidable team, winning more than 90 games a year from 1948 to 1950, with a lineup of hitters that included Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Vern Stephens. But they never won a pennant. Mostly their problem was the Yankees, who were then embarking on perhaps the most dominant stretch in their history.
The Yanks won five straight World Series from 1949-53, but they posed considerably less of a problem for Parnell than for almost any other pitcher. Parnell beat them 15 times during that five-year stretch (though in the two final games of the 1949 season that decided the pennant, he pitched poorly as the Sox lost). In 1953, Parnell was 5-0 against the Yankees, giving up just three earned runs in 42 innings. Remarkably, four of the wins were shutouts.
He was so good against them "that I was given the nickname Yank," his son, born in Boston in 1950, said in an interview on Wednesday. "I was also the first Yankee in the family."
Melvin Lloyd Parnell was born in New Orleans on June 13, 1922. His father, Patrick, was a mechanic on the Illinois Central Panama Limited, a passenger train that ran between New Orleans and Chicago.
Young Mel played first base for his high school team.
"He didn't want to pitch because he wanted to play every day," his son said. Nonetheless, his coach often asked him to pitch batting practice before the team was about to face a lefty, and he earned the nickname Dusty because he kept the ball low. A Red Sox scout was in the stands on the day young Mel was asked, to his surprise, to pitch a crucial game; he threw a shutout, striking out 17, and the scout signed him to a contract.
He pitched for two years in the minor leagues before serving stateside in the Army Air Forces during World War II, with a third season in the minors afterward. He pitched his first game for Boston on April 20, 1947.
After his playing career was cut short by an elbow injury, he managed in the minor leagues and was a Red Sox broadcaster. He was behind the microphone when the Sox defeated the Minnesota Twins and won the American League pennant in 1967. He was credited with popularizing the name "the Pesky pole," for Fenway's right-field foul pole, around which Pesky was said to have curled several home runs.
In addition to his son, an orthopedic surgeon, Parnell is survived by his wife of 64 years, the former Velma Buras; three daughters, Barbara Parnell, Sheryl Boraski and Patti Parnell; and three grandchildren.
"He liked pitching against the Yankees," his son said. "He always enjoyed beating the best."
Frank Litsky contributed reporting.

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