I’ll go ahead and state it here – Mel Parnell is one of the most underrated Red Sox pitchers. The winningest left handed pitcher in the team’s history, he was also a key player in the 1949 team that almost won the pennant. However, his career began to be derailed by injuries after a 21 win 1953 season. His injury woes began in May 1954 in a game against the Washington Senators. He was struck by a pitch during an at-bat and sustained a fractured left forearm. He never fully recovered and would win only 3 games that season. He was injured yet again during spring training 1955, where he slipped off the mound and injured his left knee. He would later suffer a severe sprain of his left ankle during a May game against the Detroit Tigers, also derailing his 1955 season.
In 1954 and 1955, Parnell’s lack of success and time on the field would earn him the derision of fans and even failed attempts by the Sox to trade him. Parnell entered July 14, 1956 on the opposite end of his career as Jon Lester (who we profiled on Tuesday). He was in his 10th season with the Sox and was already 34 years old. He was also on the decline and would be on the way out after the 1956 season.
July 14, 1956 would be one of the days that would define Parnell’s career. On that day, Parnell took the mound against the Chicago White Sox and became the first Sox pitcher since September 1923 to pitch a no-hitter. On that day, Howard Emhke pitched a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Athletics at Shibe Park. Parnell also pitched the first Sox no-hitter at Fenway Park since June 1917 when Ernie Shore and Babe Ruth combined to accomplish the feat. The Shore/Ruth no-hitter is a story in itself, Shore retired 27 batters after the Bambino was evicted from the game after arguing a lead off walk. Parnell also became the first Red Sox left hander to ever pitch a no-hitter.
On July 14, 1956, 14,542 fans packed into Fenway Park to watch Mel Parnell take on Jim McDonald. I’ve snipped the Boston Globe‘s ad for that game and placed it to the right so you can get an idea of how
much the fans paid to attend the game. The day began under a cloud of uncertainty, it looked like the game may not even be played at all. Rain showers delayed the start of the game by an hour and eight minutes. Once the game got underway, Parnell made swift work of the White Sox, with the first 8 innings being 3 up and 3 down affairs. In the 2nd, he faced a close call after walking Larry Doby but he was bailed out of the inning when the next batter, Sherm Lollar, hit a ground ball to shortstop Don Buddin and he turned a double play to get Parnell out of the inning. Another batter reached base in the third when Sammy Esposito reached on an error. Parnell would get out of the inning after striking out opposing pitcher McDonald on a pitch where Esposito ran and was gunned down by catcher Sammy White. Parnell would not let another man on base until the 9th inning (when Parnell would walk another batter). In fact, both Parnell and McDonald were carrying no hitters into the 4th inning. The Red Sox would reach base for the first time in the bottom of the 4th when Billy Klaus hit a double to center field. The next batter, Ted Williams, moved Klaus to third with a single to right field. Mickey Vernon would later bring Klaus home (and Williams would later score in the inning). The Red Sox had a lead that they would never surrender again.
Parnell was helped through his no-hitter by superb fielding by his teammates, he only recorded 4 strikeouts on the day. He walked two batters with his walk in the 9th setting up an easy force out at 2nd that saved the no-hitter. The Red Sox would defeat the White Sox, 4-0. In their recap of the game, The Boston Globe made mention of the fact that, in adherence to baseball superstition, television announcers Curt Gowdy and Bob Murphy avoided mention of Parnell’s no hitter.
Owner Tom Yawkey was so ecstatic about Parnell’s no-hitter that gave his pitcher an impromptu $500 bonus for his efforts. The fans at Fenway Park even gave Parnell a standing ovation. However, the glory of this day would be short-lived. 1956 would be Parnell’s final season at a major league pitcher and he would be forced to retire at season’s end because of an elbow injury.
As bonus content, I am providing the original scorecard from that fateful game, courtesy of the Boston Globe.