The dean of Mississippi baseball is no longer with us.
Dave “Boo” Ferriss died Thursday morning, Nov. 24, at the age of 94, leaving behind an unimpeachable legacy as one of the game’s great champions in the state before, during and after his legendary career as Delta State’s baseball coach.
He spent 46 years in college and pro baseball and won 639 games as the Statesmen’s head coach. They went to the NCAA Division II World Series three times under Ferriss, made the playoffs in eight of his last 12 years and won four conference championships. Before his retirement in 1988 Ferriss had produced 49 all-conference players, 20 All-Americans and 23 that went on to professional careers. He won 46 games his first two years in the majors and is a part of the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame.
But to distill Ferriss’ career down to just the numbers seems unjust.
Born in Shaw on Dec. 5, 1921, Ferriss earned his nickname because that’s how as a young boy the word “brother” came out. He quickly became a standout athlete, so much so that Ferriss was the first player in Mississippi State baseball history to earn a full scholarship to the school.
He was a right-handed pitcher and left-handed first baseman for the Bulldogs in 1941 and 1942 before signing with the Boston Red Sox and spending some time in the military during World War II.
Expecting to spend some time in the minor leagues, Ferriss was instead rushed up to the majors and quickly made the Red Sox’s decision look very good. In 1945, Ferriss won 21 games with a 2.96 ERA, throwing 26 complete games and five shutouts in 35 starts. He finished fourth in the MVP voting.
The next year was even better — Ferriss won 26 games, was named an All-Star and threw a six-hit shutout in Game 3 of the 1946 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I had to pinch myself before the game,” Ferriss said in 2004. “I had grown up a Cardinals fan and here I was pitching against them in the World Series. You talk about living a dream. Man, I really was.”
He got the ball in Game 7 as well, pitching a no-decision in the Red Sox’s eventual loss. Ferriss was one of the brightest young stars in all of baseball when on a chilly, damp night in Cleveland, Ohio, that next July he faced the bases loaded and a full count in a scoreless game. Ferriss’ curve ball struck out the batter, but Ferriss felt a snap in shoulder and was never the same. The same injury today would be cured with a surgery and a few months of rehabilitation. Then? “They rubbed me down with rubbing alcohol and told me to be sure to wear a coat,” Ferriss has said.
He gritted through it, keeping his spot in the rotation. But Ferriss was never the same, going 12-11 in 1947 and pitching parts of the next three seasons before retiring as a player.
After several years as the Red Sox’s pitching coach, Ferriss came to Delta State where he literally had to carve the baseball field out of a bean field.
The Statesmen were never the same and not just because the program developed into one that the state’s Division I powers avoided out of fear they’d get beat. Ninety-five percent of Ferriss’ ball players ended up graduating college, and as they left Delta State and went out into the world they continued to receive handwritten letters from their old coach. He’d ask them about their wives, daughters and sons, and eventually their grandchildren.
When Delta State finally won its first national championship in 2004, its coach, Mike Kinnison, climbed up into the stands and handed it to Ferriss.
“He’s Delta State baseball,” Kinnison, a former player for Ferriss and the team’s head coach since 1997, said then. “He’s the guy who laid the foundation.”
Every college baseball coach to this day can tell you something they learned from Ferriss, and it was only natural when the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum — which inducted Ferriss in 1961 — decided to name the award for the top collegiate player in his honor.
After all, who else could it have been? There was never anyone quite like Ferriss, and no one has made the same impact on the game in Mississippi.
Ferriss is survived by his wife, Miriam, two children, David and Margaret, two grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Visitation will be on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at Covenant Presbyterian Church from 4-8 p.m. A memorial service will be held at Covenant Presbyterian Church at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 30 with Rev. Tim Starnes officiating. For those who have not visited with the family a short visitation will follow the service in the fellowship hall. Burial will be private.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Delta State baseball program, P.O. Box 361-DSU, Cleveland, MS 38733; Fellowship of Christian Athletes, P. O. Box 449, Ridgeland, MS 39158; Covenant Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 896, Cleveland, MS 38732; or the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, 1152 Lakeland Drive, Jackson, MS 39216.