Ballplayer Profiles: Roy Parnell

Roy “Red” Parnell had himself a rookie season in 1927. In 87 games (360 plate appearances) he slashed .422-.464-.653, leading the league in batting and onbase as well as hits (141). In roughly a half-season of work he had 24 doubles, 10 triples, 11 home runs, 75 runs batted in, 86 runs scored, 25 walks and 19 stolen bases.

Playing for the Birmingham Black Barons, he was clearly the second-best player in the league behind Willie Wells. He would have finished second in the MVP voting while easily winning rookie of the year award.

He wasn’t a one-year wonder; he wound up playing 596 games in the Negro Leagues and went to the plate 2,459 times. He led the 1932 Negro Southern League in doubles (12 in 49 games), triples (11), runs batted in (50) and slugging (.556). He played through 1943 and slashed .329-.390-.486 for his career, a listed ops+ of 137.

His major league stats don’t include the 1929-1931 seasons when Parnell played and managed the Houston team in a high-level minor league that included teams in Oklahoma and Louisiana. The team won the league in 1929 and 1930 and played in several “World Series” with teams from larger leagues, all of which they apparently lost.

Reading between the lines, it sounds like these series were like wrestling events where some sort of title was always said to be on the line and somebody was handed a belt at the end, but for all intents they were just exhibition games.

Parnell also spent 1933 in the minor leagues, with a team in New Orleans that won the Dixie championship over Nashville, a team in the NeL majors. He returned to the majors in 1934 and played the next ten years there, the last eight of them with Philadelphia. He played in the United States Leagues (Branch Rickey’s project) in 1945 and 1946 and managed a team in Houston in 1949 and 1950.

I should mention one more thing … the only reason I stumbled onto Parnell’s story was that I was Stathead-searching for the lowest career era by number of innings. Parnell, who had a league-leading 0.83 era in 1932 for Monroe, holds the all-time record for lowest career era in 50+ innings (1.61 in 72.2 innings). Emmanual Clase’s career era is lower right now (1.55) but he’s still pitching.

Parnell’s .422 in 1927 lands him on some other exclusive lists:

• He is one of eight players in history with at least 350 plate appearances and a .420 batting average
• He is one of 14 players with at least 300 plate appearances and a .420 batting average
• He is one of 25 players who qualified for a batting title and hit at least .420
• He is one of 10 players with 300 atbats and a .420 batting average

His career batting average of .329 ranks 47th, right behind his ephemeral nemesis Willie Wells, Bill Lange and Heinie Manush (all .330).

Parnell was known to be a heavy drinker and he died young. How young is hard to say because his birth and death dates change according to the source. He was born between 1903 and 1905 and died in early 1954. Notwithstanding the drinking, he was a solid player, a durable player and a respected player. It’s just a guess, but I suspect the drinking didn’t get bad until late in his life, sort of like Al Simmons.

Physically he was slightly above average for his era, slightly smaller than Henry Aaron or Stan Musial, who came along a bit later, or Ty Cobb, who came along a generation earlier. Listed at 5-11 and 170 or 180 pounds, he was not a big power hitter in the majors but he often put up .800 slugging percentages in the high minors.

He wasn’t a burner but he was known as a quick, smart baserunner, maybe in the Chase Utley mode. As a fielder he was considered decent, average range but (obviously) with a good arm.

We frame everything in Hall of Fame terms, so …. No. Parnell was more of a Pete Runnels or a Fats Fothergill … I’m not sure. A full-season major league equivalent of his career would show around seven thousand atbats and maybe a .290-.350-.450 slash line. He won a batting title and an era title, so if you can figure out that list you have a nice little trivia question.

Most of my information is culled from this nice informational piece from the Center for Negro League Research, written by Dr. Layton Revel. Revel’s piece was written in 2018 and the BB-Ref stats are more up to date, so all of my statistical information comes from Bubba.


Author: ventboys

Supreme Overlord and dishwasher

Leave a Reply