Tom Seaver has some company now. And so does Al Ferrara.
Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola tied Seaver’s 51-year-old Major League record on June 25 by striking out 10 consecutive Mets in the opening game of a doubleheader at Citi Field. He did so just a few hundred yards away from where Seaver set the mark on the Shea Stadium mound that is now a parking lot for the current stadium.
Michael Conforto played the role of Ferrara, whiffing to get the streak started and closing it out as Nola’s 10th victim. Ferrara suffered the same fate against Seaver on April 22, 1970 when he was the first batter Seaver struck out in the streak and the last. Ferrara’s second whiff was also Seaver’s 19th strikeout, making him the first pitcher to strikeout out 19 and win the game.
Ferrara, a Brooklyn native who played on three World Series teams with the Los Angeles Dodgers, was elated by the fact that he now has someone with whom he can share the experience.
“I couldn’t be better,” said Ferrara, 81, following Nola’s magnificent effort. “They tied Seaver and my record and all I can say is that it lasted a long time. Congratulations to Nola, that is a fabulous feat. He’s a fine pitcher and of course Tommy Seaver was one of the greatest of all time. It’s a great feat and I am proud that I am involved with it.
“I have had more fun with this [being part of the record] than just about anything. Tell Conforto to have some fun with it, too. Look, he was there. He has the opportunity to be a big leaguer and even be in this position. And us Italians, we keep it going. We gotta keep it in the family. Talk about a tough record. That record was around for a long time. Seaver was one of the toughest pitchers I ever faced and I faced all the great ones in the 1960s.”
“When you’re hitting the ball well it looks like a watermelon but when a pitcher gets into a groove like that, it’s an aspirin tablet.”
FERRARA GOES COAST TO COAST
Ferrara was your typical Brooklyn kid growing up. He loved playing baseball and he loved the Dodgers. While he experienced the sting of the Dodgers moving to Los Angeles, that blow was softened when he signed with Los Angeles in 1959.
That he even made it that far was somewhat surprising. Ferrara didn’t exactly light it up his senior year at Lafayette High School – the same school that produced Sandy Koufax, the Aspromonte brothers and John Franco – hitting .083 [4-for-48].
“I was going no place,” Ferrara said. “I was working [after the season ended] the first day of my life on an assembly line and the kid next to me says the Dodgers are having a tryout the next day at Ebbetts Field. I said that beats anything we have going on here [in the factory]. The next day I’m at Ebbetts Field shagging flies and they told me to take five swings. For some reason, the first three I hit went out for homers and I caught everyone’s eye.
“They said come back tomorrow and play again and I did and went 0-for-4. But that night they called me and said we want you to play for the Dodger rookies. They were affiliated with the Dodgers and the scouts ran it. You didn’t get paid, just meal money but we traveled up and down the East Coast and played against city teams. That was some good competition and I got my at-bats. They took kids that were not elite prospects and they worked with them.”
Ferrara played with the Dodger rookies for two seasons, 1957 and 1958. The Dodgers also arranged a scholarship for him at Long Island University. His father wanted him to take the scholarship and go to school but Ferrara wanted to play and he signed with the now Los Angeles Dodgers, who sent him to Orlando of the then Class- D Florida State League in 1959.
That summer proved to be a microcosm of Ferrara’s career. He got steady playing time and he produced, hitting .271 with eight homers and 80 RBIs. He had a .338 on-base percentage and stole 18 bases.
“We had a $1 a day meal money and were riding buses in Florida with no air conditioning,” Ferrara said. “And I loved every minute of it. They sent me to Reno [of the then Class-C California League] the next year as a fourth outfielder. C ball isn’t even around anymore. But a kid got sick in the second game and he [manager Tom Saffell] put me out there and I hit .350 and became a prospect.”
Ferrara actually hit .352 to finish in the top-10 in the league in hitting. He also led the league with 185 hits and tied for the league lead with 116 runs. He had 13 homers and 97 RBIs, showing the brass in Los Angeles that if he played, he would produce.
“Those two years with the Dodger rookies gave me the at-bats I needed,” Ferrara said. “I always knew that if I got the at-bats, I could hit a little. During the high school season in New York it’s raining all the time and you never get to play or take BP. But summer came, I went away and got some pro instruction.
“The pro scouts must have seen something to keep pursuing me. Four years later I’m in the big leagues. And I got lucky to be able to play on three World Series teams, two of which were World Champions.”
July 2016: Former Dodgers player Al Ferrara during the Dodgers Old-Timers Game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The big leagues and World Series teams would have to wait for a few more seasons, though. Ferrara spent 1961 in the Double-A Southern Association, which also happened to be the last year of that circuit’s existence. He continued to be a run producer, hitting 17 homers and driving in 100 for Atlanta though his batting average dipped to .267.
Ferrara split 1962 between Spokane of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and Omaha of the Triple-A American Association, combining to hit .232 with 13 homers and 68 RBIs. He spent much of 1963 in Spokane and once again was impressive, batting .321 to go along with 19 homers and 89 RBIs, which earned him a late July call-up to the big leagues.
He made his Major league debut on July 30 against the Mets, striking out looking as a pinch-hitter. Ferrara picked up his first big-league hit on Aug.7, a second-inning single against Chicago’s Dick Ellsworth at Wrigley Field. He spent most of the remainder of the season with the Dodgers, hitting .159 with a homer and an RBI in 44 at-bats. He did not play, however in LA’s World Series sweep of the Yankees.
Ferrara spent the majority of the next two seasons in Spokane but saw time in Los Angeles in 1965, hitting .210 with 10 RBIs in 81 at-bats. He had hit 37 homers and had driven in 130 over the course of the 1964 and ‘65 seasons at Spokane but couldn’t crack the Dodger lineup.
“We had five better outfielders who were in their prime,” Ferrara said. “We were that good. We had a helluva ball club. But when I got to play, the years I got my at-bats, I did alright.”
He spent 1966 with L.A. and saw the Dodgers go to the World Series for the third time in four years. While they got swept by Baltimore, Ferrara got to play and singled in his only at-bat in Game 4. He also got to see the end of Koufax’s career.
“Playing behind Koufax was great,” Ferrara said. “He was a great teammate and a great guy; the best pitcher I ever saw. The years I played with him, ’63 to ’66 he was completely dominant. You never thought he’d lose. You were shocked when he lost. You talk about his curve, forget it. We had to face him in batting practice and intra-squad games in spring training and you couldn’t hit it even when he told what was coming.
“He was so great with his pinpoint control. He was also a marvelous competitor. He wanted to strike everyone out. I watched him pitch a perfect game in ’65 and you knew he was going to get it, like Seaver. He was a delight and he came from the same high school as me, graduating four years before me.”
Batman (TV Series) Minerva, Mayhem and Millionaires with Zsa Zsa Gabor (1968) - Ferarra was in 3 episodes (2 in 1967 and this one, which is the final episode ever of the TV Series), he also appeared in Gilligan’s Island (1967), Baretta (1975) as Pasquale.
Ferrara would finally get his chance to play regularly in 1967 and he made the most of it. He hit .277 with a .345 on-base percentage in 347 at-bats. He hit 16 homers and drove in 50 runs and appeared to have a very promising future in Los Angeles. That future, however, was dashed in 1968 when he broke his ankle two games into the season.
“I’m batting cleanup for the Dodgers and I break my ankle and I never play for the Dodgers again,” Ferrara said. “They put me in the expansion draft and I was taken by the Padres. I’ll tell you what that feels like. You go from a first class organization to the Padres. On my first day with the Padres I go to take a shower after working out and I take a towel. I ask for another towel and they told me you’re only allowed one and that’s when I realized I was in for a lot of surprises there.”
He did get to play regularly in 1969, though, hitting .260 with 14 homers and 56 RBIs. While he was still in the Major Leagues, it wasn’t Chavez Ravine.
“You’re playing in front of 55,000 people with the Dodgers and you’re in a pennant race and then one day you’re playing a doubleheader against the Expos in San Diego and we have 700 people in the stands,” Ferrara said. “But I played as hard there as I would in Los Angeles or Cincinnati. It was baseball and baseball was my life. I was in the big leagues but it was a culture shock. We lost 106 games and got blasted every day.”
Jerry Grote (center), catcher for the New York Mets, catches the ball after a missed swing by Al Ferrara (right) of the San Diego Padres while umpire Harry Wendelstadt Sr. calls the strike out, New York, New York, April 22, 1970. The out marked the 19th strike out for Mets pitcher Tom Seaver (unseen) in the game and his 10th consecutive one, tying the the league record. The Mets won the game, 2 - 1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)
JOINING SEAVER IN THE RECORD BOOKS
Ferrara would have his best season in 1970 but got off to a slow start in April and was hitting .207 when he took the field on the afternoon of April 22 against the Mets at Shea Stadium. While he is best remembered for beginning and ending Seaver’s streak few people remember that he hit a homer off Seaver in the second inning to tie the score at 1-1. The Mets would score a run in the third and go on to the 2-1 victory.
Ferrara, however, struck out looking to end the sixth to begin Seaver’s streak. Seaver would fan Nate Colbert, Dave Campbell and Jerry Morales in the seventh and Bob Barton, Ramon Webster and Ivan Murrell in the eighth.
“Seaver was throwing aspirin tablets,” Ferrara said. “He was just rearing back and throwing. I always said that the great ones like him, they get to smelling something and they go after it. We couldn’t see the scoreboard from the bullpen but the fans must have known because they were going nuts. I didn’t know much about it. All I knew was that it was a 2-1 game in the ninth inning.”
Seaver got Van Kelly swinging and Cito Gaston looking to begin the ninth, leaving Ferrara as the only thing between him and 10 consecutive strikeouts.
“I’m thinking I’m going for the pump [a HR]; I’m going to tie this game,” Ferrara said. “It was going to be either he gets the strikeout or I get the home run and he won. One of the things I remember is that I had a pretty good idea of the strike zone. He threw a 1-1 pitch and [umpire] Harry Wendelstedt called it a strike and I didn’t think it was a strike. I’m thinking I’m not going to let Harry punch me out on a called strike so I’m going for it on whatever pitch he throws.
“He fired it in there and he got me. I wasn’t going to let the umpire make that call. I didn’t think he could see the ball [because of the shadows]. [Catcher Jerry] Grote said he could hardly see it. It was three or four in the afternoon and I want to make this clear, he would have gotten the record – shadows or not. When you’re hitting the ball well it looks like a watermelon but when a pitcher gets into a groove like that, it’s an aspirin tablet.”
That game was the low point of the season for Ferrara, who would go on to hit .277 with 13 homers, 51 RBIs and a career-high 103 hits. He appeared in 17 games for the Padres in 1971 and was hitting .118 when he was traded to the Reds for Angel Bravo and $40,000. He didn’t fare much better in Cincinnati, hitting .182 in 33 at-bats to close out his career.
“They traded me for Angel Bravo and $40,000 because they couldn’t make payroll,” Ferrara said. “They were in trouble financially. Every time we got a good pitcher he was gone in a week because we needed the money. Joe Niekro, Pat Dobson, these were 20-game winners and we got rid of them because they needed the money and they were afraid that if they won 20 for them they would have to pay them.
“C. Arnholdt Smith [the owner] was supposed to have all this money but he wound up going to the joint because of some kind of fraud. He didn’t have the money he said he had.”
Ferrara could not get a Major League job in 1972 and was out of baseball.
“Nobody wanted me in ’72,” he said. “Baseball is a funny game. I was terrible in Cincinnati but I only played a little. They were looking for a pinch-hitter and that wasn’t my game. I had a terrible year and they wanted me out. That was okay with me.
“By the time they released me the relationship between the players and the owners was bad. Marvin Miller was getting the whole free agent thing going and they were looking to get rid of veterans.”
Ferrara, who lives in California, worked as a maître d on the Sunset Strip for four years following his exit from baseball. He also appeared in three episodes of Batman, an episode of Gilligan’s Island, then worked in sales and eventually formed a small construction company. He retired when he was 65 but has spent the last 13 years working for the Dodgers.
“I work in the community for them,” he said. “The Dodgers assign me to go to schools, veteran’s hospitals and mingle with them. The last 12 years have probably been the most rewarding thing in my life.”
And, he always has his place in baseball history, at least until someone strikes out 11 in a row. He loves talking about the Seaver game and remains thrilled that he was able to be part of such a special moment.
“I bring it up all the time,” Ferrara said. “I love it. What’s not to love about it? I’ve already gotten four calls today when it happened [in New York]. I still have a lot of friends from Brooklyn and they have fun with it. Every year on the anniversary I get calls from writers and radio people in New York. It was quite an experience and nothing to be ashamed of.”