Parent, Fred (1969)
Was 93 when inducted in the inaugural year of 1969, and at the time the only living member of the 1903 Red Sox club that beat Pittsburgh Pirates to become the first world series champions. PPH January 1969
From The Society for American Baseball Research
This article was written by Dan Desrochers
Sparkplug shortstop Freddy Parent, the “Flying Frenchman,” led the Boston Americans with MVP-type seasons to the first modern World Series championship in 1903 and the American League pennant in 1904. An early American League star, Parent (along with teammate Buck Freeman) was its first ironman, playing in 413 consecutive games from the April 26, 1901, opener to September 25, 1903, surprising considering his aggressive playing style. Beset by injuries, including multiple beanings that hampered his play later in his career, Parent nevertheless ranked among the all-time American League leaders in several categories after its first decade, including second in games played and at-bats, fourth in hits and sacrifice hits, and sixth in total bases.
Alfred L. Parent was born on November 25, 1875, in Biddeford, a predominantly textile community in southern Maine. He was the oldest of ten children of Alfred, a fireman, and Celina (Paul) Parent, both French-Canadian immigrants. Freddy quit school at the age of 14 to labor in Biddeford’s Laconia Mill harness shop for 65 cents a day. When not working, he enjoyed playing scrub ball on the city’s back lots, captain of a team he helped organize. When he was 16 Parent moved to Sanford, Maine, where he worked in the Goodall Worsted Company’s weave room and played amateur ball.
Parent married the former Fidelia LaFlamme in 1896 and they had one child, Fred Jr. His “proposal” to the 16 year-old Fidelia included a conditional baseball provision: “I want to marry you, but I do not want to work in the mill. Okay?” The young Fidelia, aware of his baseball desire and potential, replied “yes.” Thus began a 67-year relationship.
The 5-foot-5, 148-pound (some sources say 5-foot-7) Parent’s introduction to league play was a secondary role on the Sanford town team. “Everybody pretty nearly told me I was too small to play baseball and that I would never make a player anyhow.” Once given the opportunity to start at shortstop for the town’s first team, he developed into a strong infielder. Parent stretched his playing time by playing on teams in Maine and New Hampshire over the next two years.
Parent’s first professional season came in 1898 with New Haven in the Connecticut League. Boasting one of the league’s top batting averages at .326, he helped New Haven to a second-place finish. In July 1899 the shorthanded St. Louis Perfectos of the National League recruited him from New Haven while they played the New York Giants. The Brooklyn Superbas had expressed an interest in Parent to replace the injured Hughie Jennings, and maintained the initial rights to him after paying New Haven $1,000 for his release. But the team changed its plans, and the Perfectos got Parent on a trial basis for the same offer.
Parent started at second base for two games, contributing to a Perfectos victory in the first game and getting two hits overall. But he suffered a sprained ankle and the Perfectos subsequently released him, stating that he needed more experience in the minors. Parent returned to New Haven and helped the team win the 1899 Connecticut League championship. He finished second in the league in batting (.349) and third in runs scored (76).
In 1900 Parent played shortstop for the champion Providence Grays in the more advanced Eastern League, batting .287 with 23 stolen bases, 21 doubles, six triples, and four home runs. In March 1901, Parent signed with the Boston Americans, where the sturdy little shortstop’s solid hitting, fielding, base stealing, and hustle endeared him to the Boston fans.
A right-handed batter, Parent was a dependable hitter. He was a wrist hitter, slapping balls to all fields. He hovered over the plate with an exaggerated piece of lumber, a wagon-tongue bat of suspicious weight. Known as an excellent bunter, Parent also showed some power. In 1901 he augmented a .306 batting average with 36 extra-base hits. The following year his average dipped to .275, but he also cranked a career-best 31 doubles. Crowding the plate enhanced his bunting and opposite-field hitting, but it also exposed him to being hit by pitches. He ranked sixth in the American League in times hit by pitch in the league’s first decade, including multiple blows to the head.
Parent was also a snappy infielder. An unassuming player with great range, he was a “little general” on the field. He compensated for his size with keen instincts, quickness, and dexterity covering the ground. In 1902 he led the American League with 492 assists, and also set an American League record by fielding 20 chances without an error in a 17-inning match-up against the Athletics. Recognized for his superior fielding skills, Parent at times ranked low in fielding percentages, possibly attributable to his ability to get to balls and being a risk-taker. The Washington Post affirmed this view when reporting the 1904 fielding statistics: “But fielding averages really do not demonstrate the value of any player, for there is Fred Parent, probably the foremost shortstop in the country occupying a position next to last.”
With second baseman Hobe Ferris and first baseman Candy LaChance, Parent was part of the early Boston Americans’ dynamic double-play combination. Like the famous National League keystone duo of Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker, Parent and Ferris went years without speaking to each other. While they demonstrated spontaneous and effective teamwork on the field, off-field their association was one of unspoken enmity. Fortunately, the proud and quiet Parent and the hotheaded Ferris’s baseball instincts outweighed their lack of verbal discourse, and this translated into defensive brilliance.
Parent enjoyed his best seasons as a professional in 1903 and 1904, when Boston won back-to-back American League pennants. In 1903 he posted a .304 batting average, and registered career highs in triples (17, tied for fourth best in the league) and RBIs (80, eighth best in the circuit). In the first modern World Series, in 1903, Parent outshined the legendary Honus Wagner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, outplaying him in the field and notching a batting average nearly 60 points greater than Wagner’s for the Series. A “two-way standout Parent made several sparkling plays – cutting off a half-dozen hits with great plays,” and ended the eight-game series with 28 assists. He established a record for most runs scored with eight (broken by Babe Ruth 25 years later). The newborn American Leaguers, considered “soft touches” for the senior circuit stars, came back from a three-to-one deficit to win the best-of-nine series.
The next year Parent again enjoyed an outstanding season, batting .291 with 85 runs scored and six home runs, tied for fourth best in the league. But he was simply a passive observer in his most famous at-bat of the season, when 41-game-winner Jack Chesbro of the New York Highlanders unleashed a wild pitch in the ninth inning on the last day of the season to bring in the run that won the pennant for the Americans. Forgotten to most, Parent followed this most famous wild pitch with a base hit that would have scored the run anyway. In 1914 Baltimore owner Jack Dunn signed 19-year-old Babe Ruth, regarded as a great pitching prospect, but one who required guidance and mentoring. Parent was proud of his work with Ruth. “I coached Babe more than anybody else at the time,” he later recalled. “I remember he was pitching in the late innings of a close game and there were two outs and the bases loaded and a dangerous left-handed hitter was up. He got two strikes on him, and I ran out and told him to waste a pitch. The next pitch he threw right up the middle. Oh, gee, a triple. Babe comes in and I said, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘I threw one waist high, didn’t I?’ ” Parent later noted, “I used to see him later, after he was a big star, and I’d ask him how his ‘waist pitch’ was. He did not like it much.”