Mel Parnell Was a Red Sox Hero


There aren’t many left from the old days of the Boston Red Sox, when Ted Williams was still playing, and when the team couldn’t find its way to the World Series because the Yankees always got there first and there were no playoffs. The death of Mel Parnell earlier this week at 89 is a reminder of all that.

Parnell has long retained the status as the greatest Sox left-hander of all and in my years growing up in Boston and as a baseball fan since I can never recall a discouraging word being said about him. For a couple of decades in the 1940s through the 1960s the Red Sox had few pitchers to boast about, and Parnell stood out as the one to be relied on, the one guy who always came through. His record was 123-75 overall, but he was even better in Fenway Park, with a lifetime record of 70-30 in the old green palace.

Parnell died of cancer in New Orleans, but he was always remembered fondly in New England. If not for elbow problems cutting short his years in the majors, Parnell likely would have won a lot more in Boston. He broke in with the Sox in 1947, was a 15-game winner in his second season, and a star in his third.

Highlights of Parnell’s pitching include going 25-7 in 1949. That season he led the American League in wins, innings pitched and with 27 complete games. His earned run average was 2.77. Parnell was not only an All-Star that summer, he started the All-Star game. In 1951, a season with 18 wins, Parnell was chosen for the All-Star team again. In 1953, Parnell went 21-8, his second 20-game season. And in 1956, the southpaw threw a no-hitter against the White Sox.

However, by then, even though he was just 34, Parnell’s left arm could no longer be trusted. He retired after just 10 Major League seasons. In four of them he won at least 18 games, but he didn’t win more than seven in a season his last three years. The power was gone from his fastball. Parnell became a Red Sox broadcaster in the 1960s and that kept his name and personality in front of the passionate fans and he was always closely identified with the Sox.

In a statement issued after his father’s death, Mel Parnell Jr. reiterated his dad’s strong feelings for his old team, saying that left-hander Jon Lester (one of the few southpaws who could approach Parnell’s achievements in Sox history) was his favorite player. Parnell still kept up with the team and watched their games on TV and seemed to have the Red Sox in his blood.

“He loved the Red Sox,” his son said. “They were a big part of his life as well as for our whole family. When he was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame that was one of the great thrills for our family.”

Being chosen for the Red Sox Hall of Fame was a no-brainer. Fans of later generations in other cities may not recall Parnell’s achievements so clearly, but he was never forgotten in Boston.

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