In my last blog, I identified Mickey Vernon as one of my choices for Baseball Past and Present’s Second Annual “Fifty Best Players Not in the Hall of Fame” voting.
While I was researching Vernon, I realized that his Washington Senators’ teammate from 1951 to 1955, Pete Runnels, was a solid if not spectacular player, too. And since Runnels never received even a single vote for the Hall, I’m including him just because.
There’s not a team in the Major Leagues that would not jump at the chance to sign a Runnels-type player. One of the most consistent hitters from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, Runnels won two batting titles for the Boston Red Sox (1960 and 1962) who acquired him in a trade from the Senators for Albie Pearson and Norm Zauchin. During Runnels’ 1960 batting title season (.320), he knocked in only 35 runs—hard to do given that his 169 hits included 33 for extra bases. Runnels barely missed out on a third title (1958) when on the season’s final day in Washington against his old Senators, he went 0-4 while the eventual winner, Ted Williams, got two hits.
Always the gentleman, Runnels later said:
I enjoyed Ted’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?
Still, Runnels was quick to attribute his success as a Red Sox to Williams who taught him to slap the balls into infield holes and slice line drives off Fenway Park’s Green Monster. In five Red Sox seasons, Runnels averaged .320 and never hit less than .314. A master at bat control, he was a notorious singles hitter who had one of the game’s best eyes and compiled an outstanding 1.35 walk-to-strikeout ratio (844-to-627). Altogether Runnels batted over .300 six times, once with the Senators, five with the Red Sox.
Runnels, who played all four infield positions with above average skill and appeared in three All Star games, finished his career with a .291 average. After his last two seasons with the HoustonColt .45s, Runnels returned to coach the Red Sox (1965-1966). Then when Boston fired manager Billy Herman, Runnels was tapped as the Red Sox new pilot to manage the last 16 games. Retired from baseball, Runnels returned to his Pasadena, Texas home to open a sporting goods store.Runnels attended Rice Institute (now Rice University) and served in the U.S. Marines (1945-1948). In 1991, at age 63, Runnels died from a heart attack he suffered in Houston. The Boston Red Sox induced Runnels into its Hall of Fame in 2004.