Rick Cleveland

Mississippi always won out with baseball great Boo Ferriss

Former Delta State coach Boo Ferriss recently had a statue erected in his honor at the school. He died last week at the age of 94.
Former Delta State coach Boo Ferriss recently had a statue erected in his honor at the school. He died last week at the age of 94.

The late and immeasurably great Boo Ferriss, 94, 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 diamond 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 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 batting practice to Ted Williams. At Delta State, he was teaching volunteers 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, Minnesota Twins and University of Texas to stay at Delta State College?

One: David Meadow “Boo” Ferriss, who died on Thanksgiving and 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.