Young, inexperienced major league baseball players often get sent down to the minors to hone their technique. Once away from the pressure of the majors, they benefit from a more structured coaching environment.
This skill refinement system has landed some incredible ball talent in Delaware. For example, future baseball Hall of Famer Charles “Big Red” Ruffing once played on the Diamond State’s soil. He was on the mound for the Eastern Shore League’s Dover Senators during the 1924 season.
Charles Herbert “Red” Ruffing was born in Nokomis, IL on May 3, 1904. He hailed from a family of Central Illinois coal miners. In 1920, tragedy struck the family when four members met disaster in a frightful slate fall. Charley lost four toes.
Early Years and Unexpected Turn
The accident brings his mining involvement to a halt, but amidst his family’s calamity, the 16-year-old forges a new path. Having grown up playing sandlot baseball, usually, as a first baseman or outfielder, Ruffing pivots to prioritize a future career in professional baseball.
Consequently, he will be forced to abandon his former field positions, given his limited foot agility. He believes switching to pitching will be the role most likely open to him.
Ruffing becomes so proficient that the minor league Danville Three-I club [Illinois-Indiana-Iowa] picks him up. They soon trade him to the Boston Red Sox. The team owners, Boston Americans, acquire the 19-year-old in August 1923 for $4,000.
The Red Sox report for spring training camp in March 1924 to San Antonio, TX. “Charles Ruffing, big blond hurler, draws favorable comments … because of his fastball and curve,” an Associated Press item states.
Ruffing plays 8 games in Boston in the first 3 months of his 1924 rookie season. On July 25, team secretary James Prices announces that the Sox have sent Ruffing to the Dover Senators. “We can recall him on 48 hours’ notice,” Prices quickly adds.
Ruffing pitches his first game for Dover the following day and “halts the losing streak of the Eastern Shore League leaders. The former Red Sox hurler defeats Parksley, 6-3, and helps win his own game with a home run drive,” reports the Wilmington’s ‘News-Journal.’
During his time in Dover, Ruffing hurls 94 innings over 15 games, with a lackluster 4-7 record. Nevertheless, the Red Sox recall him, glimpsing something in his pitching style. He never returns to the minors.
The Path to Yankee Stardom
Ruffing struggles through five mediocre seasons with the Red Sox, who finally trade him to the New York Yankees in 1930.
Charles “Red” Ruffing goes on to pitch in seven World Series with the New York Yankees: 1932, 1936-39, 1941, and 1942. He is considered one of the most successful postseason pitchers in baseball history, boasting a World Series record of 7 wins and 2 losses.
Decades later, in the twilight of his stellar career, Ruffing receives a 1967 phone call from sports editor Al Cartwright. After being congratulated on his Hall of Fame induction, Ruffing muses about his most vivid Delaware recollection.
“Peaches. We hopped around the league on buses, and I can still see us stopping along a road to help ourselves whenever we came to an orchard. That used to break up the monotony of the trips — the peaches, and riding on top of the bus.”