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Pete Runnels

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James Edward Runnels
born James Edward Runnells

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[edit] Biographical Information

Pete Runnels was an infielder, playing all four infield positions for 17 years (1948-1964), one in semipro/independent ball (1948); three in the minors (1949-1951); and 14 in the Majors (1951-1964). Runnels was born on January 28, 1928, in Lufkin, TX. He graduated from the local high school in the waning days of World War II at age 17, served in the Marines (1945-1948) (BN) and then was at Rice Institute (now Rice University) for a semester in 1948.

He had played semi pro baseball and also played in the service and began in Organized Baseball at age 21 in 1949 with Chickasha, OK in the Class D Sooner State League. He married Betty Ruth Hinton on October 20, 1949. He was with Texarkana, TX in the Class B Big State League the following year. Scouted by Horace Milan and Joe Cambria, he was purchased by the Washington Senators from Texarkana for $12,500 and optioned to the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern Association for the first half of the 1951 season.

Called up to the parent club, Runnels was 23 years old when he broke into the big leagues on July 1, 1951, with the Senators. He played for Washington from 1951 to 1957 until traded to the Boston Red Sox for Albie Pearson and Norm Zauchin on January 23, 1958. He played for Boston from 1958 to 1962.

On August 30, 1960, Runnels collected six hits in the first game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers, including the game-winning double in the 15th inning. In the second game of the twinbill, Runnels banged out three more hits, tying a major league record for hits (nine) in a doubleheader. He hit a pinch home run in the 3rd inning of the All-Star Game on July 30, 1962

On November 26, 1962, he was traded by the Red Sox to the Houston Colt .45's for Roman Mejias, where he played his final MLB game on May 14, 1964 at age 36. On May 19th that season, he was unconditionally released by Houston.

He returned to Boston as a coach for the Red Sox two years (1965-1966), and on September 8th of the second year the Red Sox fired manager Billy Herman, who was 64-82, and named Runnels as interim pilot. He managed them for the last 16 games of the year, ending his baseball career at age 40 on September 30th.

His grandson, Jonathan Runnels, was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 29th round of the 2007 amateur draft.

[edit] Summary of career

A bright light on otherwise dismal teams, although his seven seasons in Washington's spacious Griffith Stadium masked the fact, Runnels was a fine hitter his whole career. When he got to the Red Sox in 1958, he was helped by advice from Ted Williams and others, who told him to just slap the ball into the holes. He learned how to slice line drives off the Green Monster in Fenway Park.

Runnels won two batting titles for the Red Sox and came close to a third. One of the few things for Red Sox Nation to cheer for in the early 1960s, sweet-swinging Pete lost the 1958 American League Batting Crown to Williams on the final day of the season when he went hitless against the Senators while Williams went 2-for-4.

Runnels later won the 1960 and 1962 titles, capping a great run with Boston, for whom he hit .320 in five seasons. Runnels began his career as a shortstop with the Senators in 1951, but the batting titles he later won made people forget that he had a fine glove. A versatile player, Runnels played more than 400 games at first base, second base and shortstop.

A master at handling the bat, he was a notorious singles hitter who had one of the best eyes in the game, compiling an outstanding 1.35 walk-to-strikeout ratio (844-to-627). Altogether he batted over .300 six times, once with the Senators, five with the Red Sox. In five seasons with Boston, Runnels never hit less than .314.

A true sportsman and gentleman, he won the Comeback Player of the Year award in 1958 when his batting average went from .230 to .322, but never received a single vote for the Hall of Fame.

He played in three All-Star Games for the American League (1959, 1960 and 1962) and was 1 for 7 with a home run. Billy Goodman is a very good comparison in many ways: he also won a batting title, he didn't play one position for that long and he played for the Red Sox. But Runnels was a far better defensive player than Goodman ever was, at least for his first few years, but his range deteriorated severely. Also, Gregg Jefferies was eerily similar. Like Jefferies, Runnels was a great bat who couldn't find a spot to play defensively. His teams tried to hide him here and there, anything to get his stick in the lineup. Runnels was inducted to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in November 2004.

In 1962, his best year in the majors (not a lot better than his 1958 or 1960 seasons, but better), he had 183 hits, 80 runs, 33 doubles, 5 triples, 10 home runs, 60 RBI and 3 stolen bases at (.326/.408/.456) in 152 games. In 1949, his first and best year in the minors, he had 188 hits, 111 runs, 44 doubles, 8 triples, 6 home runs and 92 RBI at (.372B/O/S) in 130 games.

In 1,799 major league games, Runnels had a (.291/.375/.378) line on 1,854 hits, including 282 doubles, 64 triples, 49 home runs and stole 37 bases out of 88 attempts. He scored 876 runs and drove in 630. He played all over the place: first base (644), second base (642), shortstop (463), third base (49). Overall in the minors, he had 479 hits, 298 runs, 100 doubles, 23 triples, 19 home runs, and 226 RBI at (.351/~.430/.500) in 318 games.

He owned and operated a sporting goods store in Pasadena, TX. He later founded Highland Lakes Athletic Association and operated Camp Champions, a coed summer camp in Marble Falls, TX. He had blond hair and green eyes, his ancestry was Scotch-Irish and his principal hobbies were hunting and fishing. He died at age 64 at Bayshore Hospital in Houston, TX from a heart attack on May 20, 1991, having suffered from a stroke three days before, and is buried at Forest Park East Cemetery in Houston.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 3-time AL All-Star (1959, 1960 & 1962)
  • 2-time AL Batting Average Leader (1960 & 1962)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (1958)


Preceded by
Billy Herman
Boston Red Sox Manager
1966
Succeeded by
Dick Williams

[edit] Records Held

  • Most caught stealing with no stolen bases to show for it (10), 1952.
  • Tied American League record by starting three double plays in a game at third base, June 23, 1957
  • August 14, 1959: walked twice in one inning to tie an MLB record.
  • Most hits, double header (9), August 30, 1960 (tied)

[edit] Career Highlights

  • On August 30, 1960, Runnels collected six hits in seven plate appearances
  • Hit a pinch hit home run in the third inning of the All-Star Game on July 30, 1962
  • Led American League batting average, 1960 (.320)
  • Led American League batting average, 1962 (.326)
  • Led Sooner State League in hits (188), doubles (44) and batting average (.372), 1947.
  • Led Sooner State League shortstops in putouts (271) and fielding average (.930) in 1947.
  • Led American League shortstops in putouts (319) in 1952.
  • Led American League second baseman in fielding average (.986) in 1960.
  • Led American League first baseman in fielding average (.993) in 1961.

[edit] Awards and honors

  • 1958: won the Comeback Player of Year award
  • 2004: inducted into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame

[edit] Quotes

  • "I enjoyed [Ted] Williams's 1958 catching me [for the batting crown] on the final day more than the later titles of 1960 and 1962 because of the great competition. Wasn't he capable!"
  • "I was the lightest champion since Billy Goodman eleven years before, and I must have been the sickest of all time. I had stomach ulcers and was on a strict diet the last month of the season."
  • "The people in Boston were just tremendous. Fenway was a great park to hit in and the Red Sox were a great organization, but I went to Yawkey and told him I'd like to be nearer home, and he said, 'I hate to see you go, but I'll help you.', and he did. He was just the finest man."

[edit] Sources

Principal sources for Pete Runnels include newspaper obituaries (OB), government Veteran records (VA,CM,CW), Stars & Stripes (S&S), Sporting Life (SL), The Sporting News (TSN), The Sports Encyclopedia:Baseball 2006 by David Neft & Richard Cohen (N&C), old Who's Who in Baseballs (1952-1964) (WW), old Baseball Registers (1952-1966) (BR) , old Daguerreotypes by TSN (none) (DAG), Stars&Stripes (S&S), The Baseball Necrology by Bill Lee (BN), Pat Doyle's Professional Ballplayer DataBase (PD), The Baseball Library (BL), Baseball in World War II Europe by Gary Bedingfield (GB) and Baseball:The Biographical Encyclopedia by the Editors of Total Baseball; A Biographical Dictionary of Major League Baseball Managers by John C. Skipper; and The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961 by Marshall D. Wright and independent research by Walter Kephart (WK) and Frank Russo (FR) and others.

[edit] Further Reading

  • Hugh Poland: "Pete Runnels", in Mark Armour and Bill Nowlin, eds.: Red Sox Baseball in the Days of Ike and Elvis: The Red Sox of the 1950s, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2012, pp. 205-210. ISBN 978-1933599243

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