MSU honors Ferriss; SEC tabs Alan Johnson

Some pretty fair pitchers took the mound over the weekend, May 2-4, as Mississippi State and LSU met in a key three-game series at Dudy Noble Field, Polk-DeMent Stadium, a magnificent showcase for baseball.<P> Two of them pitched Saturday for Mississippi State - both righthanders - one just a first-year hurler busy making a name for himself, while the senior among the duo has been in the limelight for decades.

Former Mississippi State great and Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame inductee, Dave "Boo" Ferriss preceded SEC Pitcher of the Week Alan Johnson to the hill for an emotional, heart-warming pre-game ceremony.

A member of the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Ferriss was honored before the second contest of the series between SEC-leading LSU and home-standing MSU, which shaved a game off the Tigers' lead to stay in close contention for postseason honors.

A charter inductee into the Mississippi State University Sports Hall of Fame in 1970, Ferriss threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the start of the feature SEC game of the week that was televised by FOX Sports Net.

The second-largest crowd of the season (7,162) enjoyed the festivities not the mention one of the "best-pitched" games of the season by the Bulldogs' sophomore righthander from Pleasant Grove, Ala.

However, going to the mound first was the legendary "Boo" Ferriss who has faced some of the games' greatest hitters, including Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees.

"Joe's one of the greatest hitters I ever pitched against, but I had a lot of success against him," said Ferriss, selected American League Rookie of the Year after going 21-10 with a 2.96 ERA his first year in "Bean Town."

Ferriss, with his Mississippi State Maroon hat fitted firmly, took the mound one more time in Starkville. The Delta native had no trouble throwing a strike to MSU catcher J.B. Tucker to the delight of the huge crowd, the players and coaches alike from both teams.

Mississippi State Athletic Director Larry Templeton and the Diamond Dogs' Ron Polk presented Ferriss with a framed replica of his No. 3 MSU jersey and he now joins other Bulldog greats on the Dudy Noble Field outfield wall of fame.

"I have some great memories of my years at Mississippi State," said Ferriss, who holds the distinction of being the first athlete to earn a full baseball scholarship at MSU.

"I enjoyed all the time that I was here," added Ferriss, one of the greatest all-time ambassadors for baseball at all levels. "This is a great place.

"I've just always been thankful for Coach Dudy (Noble) giving me the opportunity, being a small-town boy, to come over here and achieve the dream of playing professional baseball. He gave me that opportunity.

"I appreciate the full scholarship, too, because those were the depression years and my father was a cotton farmer. I almost went to Alabama. They offered me a scholarship.

"My father told me to call Coach Dudy and tell him 'you'll be there,'" recalled Ferriss, who joined some baseball greats when he was inducted into the Boston Hall, All-Stars like Ted Williams, the last major leaguer to hit .400.

"We had some great coaches here at Mississippi State, Coach Dudy and Doc Patty," said Ferriss as he reminisced a little during the renewal of the LSU-MSU series which the Diamond Dogs now lead 192-145-1 after winning the series 2-1. Templeton was instrumental in planning the special day for one of Mississippi State's all-time greats, a gentleman on and off the field.

Ferriss thought something was up several weeks ago when MSU's athletic director asked if his uniform number was "No. 3" during the 1941 and 1942 campaigns with MSU.

"They told me I needed to be at the game. I knew something was in the works, just what I didn't know," explained Ferriss, who pitched a 4-0 shutout in the 1946 World Series against St. Louis with Stan "The Man" Musial in the lineup.

"I didn't know about the outfield fence. I knew they had retired (Will) Clark, (Rafael) Palmeiro, (Jeff) Brantley and Coach (Paul) Gregory," added Ferriss. "I knew they were on the outfield fence, but I didn't know about all this.

"It's great. Those guys and Bobby Thigpen almost put me out of coaching. What a lineup?" said Ferriss, who turned Delta State University into a national power on the diamond, going 639-387-8 during 26 years as head coach of the Statesmen.

Ferriss congratulated the work MSU's Ron Polk has done at Mississippi State and for baseball in general.

In a sentimental greeting on the field, Templeton said Coach Ferris was talking about how much Mississippi State meant to him.

"I told him, 'Coach, you don't have any idea what an ambassador you've been to this university through the years,'" said Templeton.

"To have a guy that has represented, not only our university, but college baseball, and to see the thrill and excitement in his eyes when he turned around and saw his name and his number on the outfield fence, that's very special. He even remarked to me 'you even found one of the old replica jerseys' and I assured him that wasn't easy this day and time.

"He's a great guy and he's a person that's loved by the entire Mississippi State family and that's what this university is all about saying "Thank You" to people who have served us so well," added Templeton.

Mississippi State senior shortstop Maniscalco said its was a special day with the appearance of "Boo" Ferriss and the retiring of his jersey.

"Coach Ferriss spoke at the First Pitch Banquet on campus a couple of years ago. That was great and so was today. He gave us a little pre-game pep talk. It was awesome."

For the third time this season, Johnson was named SEC Pitcher of the Week. The league office made the announcement Monday in Birmingham, Ala.

A transfer from Jefferson State (AL) Community College, Johnson pitched a four-hit masterpiece against LSU, blanking the Bengals 5-0.

"Alan (Johnson) had the breaking ball working and he changed speeds well," said Polk, who has maintained all along the 6-1, 170-pounder who did not walk a batter is a "strike-thrower."

Johnson (5-2, 3.70) got off to a super start, twice nabbing SEC Pitcher of the Week honors before perhaps hitting a mild mid-season meltdown, although Polk said the Dogs' first-year player hasn't pitched badly.

After taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning against East Tennessee State on March 3, he earned SEC Pitcher of the Week and NCBWA national honors in his second career appearance for the Bulldogs.

On March 29 Johnson pitched his first career complete-game shutout at Ole Miss, blanking the Rebels, 7-0, on a two-hitter. The win over LSU was Johnson's second career complete-game shutout.

"He had the crowd behind him and he threw a nice game against a fine LSU team," said Polk. "The defense played well behind him, too."

Johnson's the first to applaud the Dogs' stellar infield and outfield, stating after the series-clinching shutout win:

"Give the defense the credit it deserves," said Johnson, referring to all the guys in the infield, Steve Gendron (3B), Matthew Maniscalco (SS), Thomas Berkery (2B), Matthew Brinson (1B) and catchers Craig Tatum and J.B. Tucker, and the outfield Jon Mungle, Jeff Butts, and Brad Corley.

"I thought I had great stuff," added Johnson of the shutout against LSU, the top-hitting team in SEC games.

It was the Tigers first time to be be blanked this season and their fewest hits in a game.

"I had everything working for me," said Johnson. "The 3-spot we got (sixth inning) was huge for us and for me. The defense was great behind me, too."

Johnson becomes the first Bulldog player and second SEC athlete overall to earn SEC Pitcher of the Week honors three times in a season. FloridaÕs Johnny Wiggs was a three-time recipient of the weekly award in 1988. MSU All-American and former Major League pitcher Jeff Brantley is MSUÕs only other two-time winner of the SEC Pitcher of the Week honor.

Thank you Coach Ferriss for the many memories, and for all you've given baseball, on and off the field. It's exciting and refreshing to see, that in Alan Johnson, there soon may be another Bulldog on the way to stardom on the hill.

Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer who is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, writes a weekly article for Gene's Page. He can be reached by email at

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