SABR

Bill Marshall

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Billy Marshall’s career with the Boston Red Sox was about as brief as could be. The fans at Fenway Park never saw him play. The Red Sox were on the road, playing at Navin Field in Detroit, on Saturday afternoon, June 20, 1931. Vic Sorrell started for the Tigers against Boston’s Big Ed Morris. The Red Sox were 20-13 for the season and in fifth place, heady heights for them in those days. They were one game ahead of the Tigers in the standings. They’d just left home to start a 24-game road trip, and had lost the first game of the trip, on June 19, 7-6.

On the 20th, the Red Sox took a 2-0 lead in the second inning and added another run in the top of the sixth. Morris was driven from the box in the bottom of the sixth, and the score was tied, 3-3. Detroit took a 4-3 lead in the seventh off Wilcy Moore. The Red Sox entered the top of the ninth down by the one run. Catcher Charlie Berry got on base for Boston. Tom Winsett batted for Moore and advanced him to second. Manager Shano Collins told Marshall to go in and run for Berry. Marshall wore No.7 on his jersey. (1931 was the first year in which the Sox wore numbers.) On a drive to left field, Marshall ran around and scored – but only because the Tigers’ catcher, Ray Hayworth, dropped the throw from left fielder John Stone. The Red Sox had tied the game.

The elation on the Boston bench didn’t last long. Reliever Jack Russell faced five batters and got two outs – but not the third one, and Detroit won in a 5-4 walk-off. It was Marshall’s only moment of major-league action for more than three years. He never had an at-bat, he never played in the field, and he never drew another pinch-running assignment.

But he was only 20 years old. He had every reason to think he could have a bright future.

William Henry Marshall had been born on Valentine’s Day, 1911 (on his Hall of Fame questionnaire, he said it was 1912), in Dorchester, a neighborhood of the city of Boston. He was one of fewer than 20 Red Sox players born in Boston. His father, Frank, was a tailor born in Italy, perhaps with an Anglicized surname but also perhaps of Irish ancestry. His mother, Ellen (Noble) Marshall, was of Irish heritage, born in the Emerald Isle. On Marshall’s Hall of Fame player questionnaire, he gave his ancestry as Irish American. He had an older sister, Loretta, and a younger one, Ellen, plus four older brothers, Carl, Leo, Frank, Jr., and John. At the time of the 1920 Census, father Frank was a jobber in men’s clothing and four of his children worked at a variety of positions – music teacher, electrician, rivet heater in a shipyard, and chauffeur doing retail delivery.  

Bill grew up in the area, attending Mary Hemenway School, Dorchester High School, and then Bridgton Academy in Maine, a prep school known in those days for having a strong baseball program.

At 18, he played for Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1929 and Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1931 and was noticed enough that he was welcome to come to spring training with the Boston Red Sox. He was 5-feet-9 and weighed 160 pounds. He batted and threw right-handed.

Billy Marshall (as he was known during his playing days and as he signed the 1959 questionnaire he mailed in to the National Baseball Hall of Fame) signed his contract with the Red Sox in March 1931 and trained with the team in Pensacola that spring. Later in March, he was assigned to Nashville on option, dubbed “one of the team’s most talented youngsters … too good a prospect to be cut off without strings attached.” [The Sporting News, March 26, 1931] He hit .265 in 35 games for the Volunteers, a Southern Association Class A team. In June he was brought back to the big-league club. After he ran the 180 feet from second base to home on June 20, he stuck with the Red Sox, working out so he could be prepared if called upon – but there was no further call for his services. After four weeks of that, rather than see him sit around idle during games, the Red Sox sent him on option to the Scranton Miners of the New York-Penn League, a Class B league, to be able to play more regularly and gain useful experience. [Christian Science Monitor, July 16, 1931]

With Scranton, Marshall appeared in 67 games, playing second base, and batting at a .245 average despite being a level below Nashville. For some reason, the option was canceled in August 1931 and Marshall became Scranton’s property, not Boston’s. Scranton released him in May 1932.

In 1933, Marshall was back in the Southern Association playing for the Chattanooga Lookouts, a team affiliated with the Washington Senators. He got into 38 games and hit .252. The following year, 1934, he played in the East Dixie League for the Baton Rouge Red Sticks, which became the Clarksdale Ginners when the team moved to Clarksdale on June 11. Josh Billings was the manager throughout. Marshall doesn’t seem to have been fazed by the move. He hit .303 in 117 games. That average caught the eye of the Cincinnati Reds, who gave him his second stint in the majors beginning on September 2.

This time Marshall got an at-bat, in that very first game. The Reds were at home, at Crosley Field, losing to the Pirates, 11-4. Pinch-hitting for relief pitcher Lee Grissom in the bottom of the ninth, Marshall singled, but was left stranded. It was his only major-league hit. In fact, after pinch-running on September 5, Marshall never even reached base again. He did appear in six games for Cincinnati and had seven more at-bats, but he never got another hit, never walked, and wasn’t even hit by a pitch. The only game he started was in Boston, against the Braves, and he was 0-for-4.

In 1935 Marshall spent the year in the Three-I League playing for the Decatur Commodores. It was Class B ball and he hit .263 in 110 games.

He was out of baseball for all of 1936, and was slated to play for the Macon Peaches but was declared a free agent by Commissioner Kenesaw M. Landis in February 1937 and signed with Scranton, a Braves farm team now. He hit .265. Scranton placed him on its reserve list for 1938, but in mid-January released him.

Marshall played for two teams in 1939, first the Cincinnati-affiliated Albany Senators in the Eastern League but only for 11 games (.167), and was released on May 11. Then he was presented with an opportunity to go to Nova Scotia and become the player-manager of the Sydney Mines Ramblers in the Class C Cape Breton Colliery League. He played shortstop throughout the season, and became the fourth of four managers the team went through that year. Sydney Mines placed him on its reserve list, but he elected to retire instead. [The Sporting News, July 20, 1939, and May 2, 1940]

Despite retiring, Marshall did play again in 1940, appearing in 99 games in the Cotton States League with both the El Dorado Lions and the unaffiliated Clarksdale Red Sox. He hit .236 in 368 at-bats. With 2,436 minor-league at-bats, he hit for an overall .264 average. His mark in the major leagues was .125.

During World War II Marshall served in the US Navy. In 1945, he married Phyllis Marie Henrich.

Taking up work as a scout for the Boston Braves in 1948, Marshall worked for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves as their West Coast scout from 1948 through 1962, in the course of which he also ran several baseball schools for prospects, one of which attracted Gil McDougald – who signed elsewhere. Marshall is credited with signing Gene Conley and Bob Roselli. In the case of the former, “Marshall took one look at Conley, and dropped everything else to go after the tall youngster.” [The Sporting News, April 23, 1952] By later in the 1950s, his territory was seven Northwest states and Canada. He and Phyllis lived in Los Altos, California in 1959.

Marshall scouted for the San Francisco Giants in 1964 and 1965, and for the Seattle Pilots/Milwaukee Brewers in 1969 and 1970. He died in Sacramento on July 5, 1977, of cirrhosis with anasarca. He was divorced at the time, and was buried in the Veterans Cemetery in Sacramento.

Sources

Thanks to Rod Nelson and to Maurice Bouchard for assistance with information regarding scouting and genealogy. In addition to the sources cited above, the author relied upon the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

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