Buster Ross

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

The 1924 Red Sox were entering “doubleheader season” with seven of them scheduled in the couple of weeks following June 20 (because of postponements, they actually played 10 in 21 days). Manager Lee Fohl said his team was playing better ball but still not winning. He was pleased that George Murray was starting to pitch well, and added, “I also am going to see just how good the Buster is, and of course I mean Chester Ross. He looked very good in Detroit as a finish-up man and I believe that he has the stuff.”1

The Buster was Chester Franklin Ross, a 21-year-old Kentuckian, a left-hander who had debuted with two solid relief appearances against the Tigers on June 15 (two innings, one run) and June 18 (two innings, no runs).

Ross was born in the small city of Kuttawa in southwestern Kentucky (Lyon County) on March 11, 1903. As he grew up he lived in Mayfield, about 45 miles to the southwest. His father, James R. Ross, had a blacksmith shop there. James and his wife, Ida (Lambert) Ross, had two children, Myrtle and – 10 years later – Chester.

Ross attended high school for three years in Mayfield.

He was 18 years old when he and Florence Weaver married on November 19, 1921.2

Ross pitched in the KITTY League in 1922 for the Cairo Egyptians and then for the Mayfield, Kentucky, Pantsmakers.

He pitched for Mayfield in 1923 as well, and on September 1, 1923, the Red Sox purchased Ross’s contract from the Mayfield club. He was to report in the spring of 1924. He did, with only Oscar Fuhr and himself as the two lefties among the nine pitchers the Red Sox took to spring training in San Antonio. Ross made the team under new skipper Fohl, though perhaps just barely. And as noted at the start, he got into his first game in June.

Even with Ross, Fohl’s 1924 Red Sox couldn’t seem to get the knack of winning. In every one of Ross’s first 13 appearances, the Red Sox lost the game. Only one of them was a start, a game in which he gave up three runs to the Yankees in seven innings but still lost. It wasn’t until July 22, in his 14th appearance, that the Red Sox won a game he was in (and he earned the win, throwing four innings of two-hit relief against Cleveland on July 22, in a 4-3 win.) The Red Sox were in seventh place by that time. Ross finished the 1924 season with a record of 4-3 and a solid 3.47 earned-run average. He had appeared in 30 games (two starts) and finished 21 of them.

Ross didn’t get to bat much, but had five hits (including two doubles) in 25 at-bats.

More than once the Boston Herald called him “Little Chester Lefty Ross” and “little left-hander”3 and yet he is listed at 6-feet-1 and 195 pounds.

In 1925 Ross was 3-8 with a much-worse 6.20 ERA. One of the wins he was awarded would not count as a win today, as he started and was removed after 4 2/3 innings on August 12. Even in his other victorious start, he only pitched 5⅔ innings.

Ross was back in 1926, but hurt his finger in a car door during spring training and was in only one game for the Red Sox – facing 18 batters in the May 13 game. Red Ruffing started but was removed before recording an out. He was charged with one run. Joe Kiefer pitched through the sixth inning, getting credit for all six, and giving up four runs (though only one of them was earned). The score was 6-2 Tigers after the top of the sixth. Boston scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth to make it a close game. Fohl asked Ross to keep it close. He pitched a scoreless seventh and the Sox tied it up.

In the top of the eighth, Ross gave up three runs, though, and four more in the top of the ninth. He was taken out of the game and Jack Russell got the final out (on a safely-hit ball). His teammates scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth, but they came up short. Detroit won, 13-10, and Ross bore the loss.

On May 26 Ross and Kiefer were both traded to the Wichita Falls Spudders (along with outfielder Tom Jenkins), all to acquire outfielder Howie Fitzgerald. Ross was 4-4 (5.02) for the Spudders.

It was the Piedmont League in 1927, pitching for the Wilson (North Carolina) Bugs. We do not show a won-lost record for that season. Incomplete records show an “F. Ross” with a 6-10 record for two teams, Portsmouth and Wilson. We find a 15-7 (2.72) record in 1928, when he pitched in the New York-Penn League for Wilkes-Barre. His contract had been purchased from the Wilson team for cash on February 8, 1928.4

In 1929 Ross pitched in the International League for the Newark Bears. On July 7 he reported to the Eastern League’s Springfield (Massachusetts) team, having been secured from Newark in some fashion.5 Records, perhaps incomplete, show Ross as 0-2 for Newark and also 0-2 for Springfield. The July 23 Springfield Republican reported that he had been returned to Newark.

Ross’s 1930 season started in independent ball, because he had a better offer there “with a good job attached” but on June 25 it was announced that he had been enticed to sign a Canton Terriers contract.6 He is shown with a 10-4 season for the Central League’s Canton Terriers.

And Ross’s last year, 1931, saw him start the year with the Texas League’s Shreveport Sports in 1931, but in early May he joined the Springfield Senators of the Three-I League (Illinois-Indiana-Iowa). Bill Wambsganss, who’d been a teammate with the Red Sox in 1924 and 1925, managed the Springfield team. Ross was 6-4 when released, to get under the player limit, on July 26.7 He caught on with the Three-I’s Quincy Indians. That was his final team in Organized Baseball.

At the time of the 1930 census, Chester and his wife lived in Mayfield with Chester’s parents. James was still a blacksmith. Ida worked as a seamstress in a clothing factory. Florence and Chester had three children, James, Betty Jane, and Ann.

Ten years later, after his career in baseball had ended, Ross worked as a truck driver for the state, the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He and Florence had added three more children – Chester, Myrtle, and William.

In 1968, responding to a questionnaire he returned to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, he reported that his current occupation was “trying to scout for young (sic) ball players.” The questionnaire asked, “If you had it all to do over, would you play professional baseball”? His response: “O you bet i wood.”8

Ross died in Mayfield, and is buried there. Death came on April 24, 1982.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Ross’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 Boston Herald, June 20, 1924.

2 Player questionnaire, National Baseball Hall of Fame.

3 Boston Herald, July 9, 1924, and July 18, 1925.

4 Greensboro (North Carolina) Record, February 6, 1928.

5 Springfield Republican, July 7, 1929.

6 The Repository (Canton, Ohio), June 25, 1930.

7 Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), July 27, 1931.  

8 Player questionnaire, National Baseball Hall of Fame. The spelling was as rendered.