On Jan. 9, 1918, Ferrell Anderson was born. A career .261 average in fewer than 100 games belies the incredible achievement of Anderson reaching the major leagues.
Author’s note: This article is based loosely on a much smaller piece I wrote for my original blog. Todd Anderson, a son of this week’s subject, found that piece and forwarded me a wealth of information about his father. This article could not have been written without his help, so I am incredibly grateful.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone else, but it is sometimes easy to forgot just how good those people in the major leagues are at playing baseball. The worst OPS+ of any batting title qualifier was by Jim Levey, a shortstop for the Browns in 1924.
Despite having arguably the worst offensive season in baseball history, Levey still reached base nearly 24 percent of the time, had more than 100 hits and even managed two home runs. Compared to the rest of the world’s population in 1924, Levey was in the 99th percentile of baseball talent.
I mention this not to just to highlight Levey’s ineptitude but to point out just how high the standards are to be in the majors, and the physical skill required to make it there. Keep that in mind as you read on.
Ferrell Anderson—Ferrell is a traditional Irish name meaning brave, if you were wondering—was a catcher who played two seasons in the major leagues, 1946 (for the Dodgers) and 1953 (for the Cardinals). For his career, he put together an ordinary .261/.324/.338 line, somewhat mitigated by his playing catcher.
The story of why Anderson is notable starts when he was a child. While he was standing on the back of a horse in an attempt to reach apples in a tree, the horse ran off and he fell. (The horse was perhaps displeased at being used as an equine stepstool.) Anderson hit his head and damaged his vision.
For the rest of his life, one of his eyes saw distance while the other recognized objects up close. Contemporary reports generally refer to the damaged eye as the left one, although I’m not entirely clear on why that was the case.
Before his baseball career, Anderson played guard for the University of Kansas football team. During his time at college, surgery to correct the problem worked briefly. An unfortunately timed sneeze shortly after the operation, however, damaged the work and Anderson was left with his imperfect vision.
Luckily for Anderson’s athletic dreams, he could “solve” the problem by cocking his head to the right, which combined the two images to give Anderson an accurate picture. While he was behind the plate, this required Anderson to first cock his head to the right when the pitcher was in the windup, then turn it back straight to use his “good” eye to catch the pitch.
Naturally, this gave him an unusual appearance behind the plate. Opposing bench jockeys took advantage, labeling him “turkey neck” and “cross-eyed catcher.”
Anderson could be good natured about the ribbing—once explaining after his career that the crooked neck came from catching too many curveballs—but also had a temper. The “turkey neck” jibes, for example, came from Anderson’s future Dodger teammates during a spring training game. In a firm voice, Anderson informed his soon-to-be colleagues that the next person who made a similar joke would receive a blow to the nose.
His time with the Dodgers in 1946 was short but did feature some highlights. In Brooklyn, Anderson hit the only two home runs of his career and stole his only base. He also appeared in his own league leaders’ column, ranking sixth in the league with four HBP, possibly owing to his trouble seeing certain pitches.
Anderson’s vision problems also led to some defensive shortcomings: He allowed 10 during his career despite catching fewer than 90 games. That is not to say that Anderson was wholly flawed as a receiver.
In April of 1946 Ed Head (great name), a former solider making his first start in the majors since the 1944 season, faced the Boston Braves with Anderson behind the dish. Nine innings later, Head would return to the clubhouse having thrown a no-hitter, successfully guided by his catcher.
After the Dodgers declined to keep him in 1947, it appeared Anderson’s time at baseball’s highest level had passed. He had a reputation as a solid clubhouse presence, nose-whacking threats aside, so he was hired to help mentor Dick Schofield (grandfather of current Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth), who signed with the Cardinals as an 18-year old in 1953.
Circumstances intervened and when the Cardinals found themselves needing a catcher, their coach was a logical candidate to be activated. Although Anderson played only a handful games for the Redbirds, he did manage a rare accomplishment, tagging out Jackie Robinson on a play at the plate.
Anderson’s hitting predictably suffered after his coaching layoff but he managed a .286 average, albeit with no walks and less power than even in his Dodger days. That was his last big league action, but Anderson could take the experience knowing that he “could get over this handicap” as he put it in an interview.
As I said, it is no small feat to reach the major leagues and perform—even at a “low-level”—once you get there. For anyone, reaching that stage is a fantastic accomplishment. For Anderson, whose vision required the extreme measure of tilting his head to perform simple tasks like driving, let alone catching and hitting major league pitches, it was an astounding feat.