Wes and Rick Ferrell grew up on a North Carolina farm playing baseball and pushing each other to do better. While practicing their hitting in a field, they’d take note of a particularly long ball and put a stick in the ground to mark where it landed. When one of them would hit a ball farther, he’d shout “Stick a stick up on that one.”
That childhood game would come to life again on a major league playing field on July 19, 1933 when the two brothers played against each other in Fenway Park. Wes, by then, pitched for the Cleveland Indians. Rick was the Boston Red Sox’ new hot-shot catcher acquired from St. Louis.
The brothers would both play for the Red Sox as battery mates starting in 1934, bringing their sibling drama to the old ball park. Though both have passed away, they still inspire controversy.
Wes and Rick Ferrell Go Yard
As that game in July 1933 entered the fourth inning, the Indians had managed a 5-0 lead. Wes was pitching comfortably. But Rick dug in purposefully in the batter’s box. Perhaps drawing on some insider knowledge about how his brother’s mind worked, he took him deep. Wes kicked at the dirt, and his brother called out to him as he trotted around the bases: “Hey Wes, stick a stick up on that one.”
Rick shouldn’t have gloated. Wes was one of the best hitting pitchers in baseball. When he came to bat later in the game, he punched a home run of his own. And as he crossed home plate, he said to his brother: “Hey Rick, looks like you’re going to have to go move the stick.”
It took 13 innings to resolve that game, which Cleveland won, 8-7. The papers the next day recorded the oddity of two brothers hitting a home run in the same game. It was a first. It was also a last. The Ferrells would never again play against each other.
As battery mates for the 1934 Red Sox, Rick caught Wes for 25 wins. By this point, Wes’s arm started to deteriorate. But with Rick catching, the two managed to outsmart opposing hitters with Wes’ “nuttin’ ball” – so named because he could put nothing on the pitch.
Manager Joe Cronin found Wes a challenge. He was always temperamental, but the more he struggled with an injured shoulder the more unpredictable he became. On occasion he would refuse to leave games when a reliever came in. Other times he’d walk off the field in disgust when he felt teammates made unreasonable errors.
He argued with umpires over bad calls and criticized team owners as well as teammates. But he was just as hard on himself. In one incident, after being pulled from the game he punched himself in the face. He then began beating his head against the dugout wall until teammates restrained him.
Team owner Tom Yawkey finally gave up on the Ferrell brothers in 1937. Perhaps an incident involving an umpire the previous year that got them both suspended was the final straw. A couple of months into the 1937 season, Yawkey traded them both to Washington.
Wes and Rick Ferrell, Both Hall of Famers?
The two would stay together for five seasons in total. Rick would caught 140 of his brothers 321 games. Though he barely pitched after the 1938 season, Wes officially ended his 15-year career in 1941 with a record of 193 and 128.
Rick, meanwhile, continued as a catcher. He was as calm as his brother was tempestuous. Given the nickname the “Big Brain” by his teammates, he became known as an astute game-caller and especially gifted at handling knuckleballers. He took a one-year break to manage in 1946, but returned behind the plate in 1947 to end his career 18 years after he started it.
His record for most games caught in the American League, 1,806, would stand for 40 years until Carlton Fisk finally broke it in 1988. When it fell, Rick was in the stands to congratulate the new record holder.
Rick continued his career as a valued scout and executive with the Tigers organization until finally retiring in 1992 at age 86. It put the cap on a 66-year career. The Baseball Hall of Fame veterans committee inducted him into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.
But there is an argument to be made that Wes was a better ballplayer than his brother and deserves a place in Cooperstown. He won 20 games six times and led the American League in complete games four times and once in wins. He also batted .280 and hit 38 homeruns — more than his brother.
This story updated in 2022.