Minor League Baseball is known for its rich history dating back more than 100 years. While much has been written about the best teams and top players who have graced the Minors, there remain many stories either untold or largely forgotten. Each week, MiLB.com will attempt to fill that gap and explore these historical oddities in our feature, "Cracked Bats." Know of any stories to be considered for this feature in the future? Send an email and let us know.
Don Ferrarese felt he didn't belong in the Texas League in the summer of '55. So he set about proving his point in the best way possible -- by dominating the Double-A circuit like few before him had and like no one has since.
The diminutive left-hander was brilliant that summer for San Antonio, going 9-0 in 11 starts. What stands out most from that run, however, are the four consecutive August
shutouts he tossed, equaling a league mark that still stands.
Ferrarese joined Harry "The Cat" Brecheen (Houston, 1939) and Jim Blackburn (Tulsa, 1950) as the only pitchers to throw four straight Texas League shutouts. He put together a 37-scoreless inning streak, which is five innings shy of the league mark set by Beaumont's Tom Gordon in 1951.
"That was a pretty good time," recalled Ferrarese, 77. "I went 9-0 in five weeks down there. Baltimore had sent me down from (Triple-A) Oakland because San Antonio was
fighting for the pennant and Ryne Duren got hurt. That was a pretty good time, but I wish I could have done it in the big leagues."
After winning 18 games and helping Oakland to the Pacific Coast League title in 1954, Ferrarese made his Major League debut with Baltimore in April '55. He went on to spend parts of the next seven years in the big leagues. But a lack of opportunities and injuries cut his career short, and he was forced to retire after the 1962 season because of a torn rotator cuff.
Still, his exploits in the Lone Star State remain vivid and his name continues to hold a prominent place in Texas League record books.
"I lasted the first month of the season with Baltimore that year, but they sent me down to Oakland," Ferrarese said. "And when I was told I was being sent to San Antonio, it was like being demoted from the Majors to Double-A. I didn't deserve to be there. I only went there because I wanted to help them win the pennant.
"I had better stuff than anyone in the league. And I made some comments in the paper that angered some of my teammates because they thought I was belittling the league,
but I wasn't."
Ferrarese certainly wasn't mocking his Texas League competition. But it was clear from the outset, despite the 3-7 record he had in Oakland, that he was a notch better
than everyone else. In addition to going 9-0, he had a save and posted a 1.48 ERA in 79 innings for the Missions. He struck out 99 and allowed only 43 hits. And for 14 days on the road that August he was nearly untouchable.
Ferrarese began the streak on Aug. 10, pitching a two-hitter at Tulsa. He fanned 11 Oilers to improve to 3-0 with San Antonio, then followed that with an 18-strikeout effort on Aug. 14 in the second game of a doubleheader in Oklahoma City. The 18 strikeouts represent the fifth-highest total in league history, with only four pitchers reaching that total since Ferrarese turned the trick.
Shutout No. 3 came on Aug. 18 in Beaumont as Ferrarese blanked the Exporters, 7-0. He fanned 11, but his wildness almost cost him in the eighth. He allowed a single and
walked a pair of batters to load the bases before Bob Montag popped out to end the threat.
The final shutout came on Aug. 24, a 13-0 victory at Houston. Ferrarese fanned nine, walked five and allowed four singles. Overall, he struck out 49 in those four games
and held opponents to a .111 (14-for-126) batting average.
"I was 25 years old during that streak and I pitched my butt off," Ferrarese said. "I had to leave my wife and my family, but it was only for five weeks. I joined the team in Houston in August and when they opened the door of the plane, I couldn't breathe because of the humidity. I couldn't even breathe, but I had to pitch that night.
"I was like a fighter in the ring. They had to keep pushing me back out there to the mound for my first start. It was the most physically demanding thing I ever did. And we didn't count pitches back then, we just threw. I was only 5-foor-9, but I was strong and could throw a lot of innings."
Ferrarese narrowly missed a chance to grab sole possession of the record in his next start, despite tossing a seven-inning no-hitter against Beaumont. In a 3-1 victory, he walked four batters in the first inning to force in the Shippers' lone run to end the shutout streak. Ferrarese also walked three men in the fifth inning but pitched out of that jam.
"I would have had five in a row if not for that," he lamented.
Despite Ferrarese's efforts, the Missions couldn't catch first-place Dallas, finishing a half-game back in the standings before losing to Shreveport in the opening round of the playoffs. Ferrarese lost the deciding sixth game. Though the Orioles wanted to bring him back for the final two weeks of the season, he elected to head home to California to be with his family.
Ferrarese went 4-10 in his 1956 return to Baltimore, where his pitching coach was Brecheen. But he spent much of 1957 back in the Pacific Coast League with Vancouver, where he developed a cut fastball -- a pitch that ultimately led to his demise.
"That cutter led to my bad arm with Cleveland in 1959," Ferrarese said. "I was 5-2 on May 9 in 1959 and was tied with Whitey Ford for the league lead in strikeouts. I got
hurt, though, and from that point on, I only pitched three innings. We lost to the White Sox by 2 1/2 games, but our manager, Joe Gordon, said if I was healthy we would have won the pennant."
Ferrarese did equal another unusual record before getting hurt in 1959. He hit three consecutive doubles in a game at Comiskey Park, equaling the American League record for pitchers shared by Babe Ruth and Walter Johnson.
Ferrarese was traded to the White Sox in 1960 before closing out his career with stops in Philadelphia and St. Louis.
"[Former Red Sox outfielder] Pumpsie Green told me my curveball was better than Koufax's," Ferrarese said. "But after I hurt my arm, I was never the same. It still hurts. I can't comb my hair too well with my left arm.
"I played 15 years of pro ball, though, and that's not bad. And there was nothing bad about the Texas League. Everything is good when you're winning."