Introducing… Pete Runnels

A high average hitter with no position, Runnels got into over 600 games at first and second base and also saw over 400 games at shortstop.  The skinny Texan was a solid slap-hitter who didn’t have the power of the big first basemen of his time–men like Kluszewski and Norm Cash.  Nevertheless, Runnels was always a batting champion threat.  He won two batting titles and missed out on a third when teammate Ted Williams edged him out on the final day of the 1958 season.  A decent hitter for the Senators before he joined the Red Sox, Runnels became a hitting sensation at Fenway thanks to slashing liners off the Green Monster.

Runnels was initially signed by the Senators after WWII.  The Senators groomed Pete as a shortstop and called him up to take over the post in 1951.  After a decent rookie showing that year, Runnels enjoyed his breakout season in 1952.  He hit .285 with a solid .363 on-base percentage but his slugging average was a meager .333.  The slight Texan spent his home games playing in the spacious Griffith Stadium and since he didn’t have the muscle to hit the ball over the outfielder’s heads, they played him accordingly.  His numbers fell off in 1953 but he legged out fifteen triples in ’54–which placed second in the league.  But by this time Runnels’ less-than-stellar glove necessitated a move from shortstop.

Shifted to second base for the 1955 season, Pete hiked his batting average above .280 again.  Always a sensational batsman, Runnels posted more walks than strikeouts that year.  Over the course of his career he only played one season in which he fanned more than he walked.  A good hitter, Runnels joined the elite batters in ’56 when he seemed to put it all together.  He hit .310 with a career high 76 RBI.  Runnels knocked out 179 hits as he rotated between first base and second during the season.  The positional carousal was more erratic in ’57 when Pete started a number of games at first, second and third base.  His offensive numbers suffered and the Senators soured on him.  Traded to the Red Sox for Albie Pearson and Norm Zauchin, Runnels became an instant star at Fenway.

Given his less-than-imposing stature, new teammate Ted Williams convinced Runnels to slap the ball the other way and take full advantage of the short porch at Boston.  Runnels responded in kind and elevated his batting average to .322 his first year in Boston.  He and Williams were neck-and-neck in the batting race that season when Ted passed him by the final game of the season.  Defensively, Boston used Pete exclusively on the right side of the infield but couldn’t decide on first or second base.  They knew one thing for certain: he was a fine hitter.

Named to his first All-Star team in 1959, Pete hit .314 with an exceptional .415 OBP.  Playing with Williams paid off as Pete posted an OBP above .400 each season they were teammates while he never reached those heights before they played together.  With Ted at the end of his rope in 1960, Runnels captured his first batting title with a .320 mark.  An All-Star again, Pete was the top hitter in Boston but the Red Sox had little else.  Despite the fact that he seemed to always be slashing out safeties, Pete only drove in 35 runs on a poor Boston team.  He hit .317 in the offensive explosion that was 1961 baseball and then captured his second batting title with a .326 mark in 1962.  An All-Star for the third time, Runnels reached double digits in homeruns the only time in his career that season.

With the expansion Houston Colt .45s in operation, Runnels asked Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey to deal him to his home state and the Hall of Fame owner obliged.  But the return trip to Texas didn’t help.  A batting champ in ’62, Pete’s batting average fell off the table and he hit a weak .253 his first year playing in his home state.  After a poor start to the 1964 season, Runnels decided to hang them up.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,799/R 876/H 1,854/2B 282/3B 64/HR 49/RBI 630/SB 37/BB 844/SO 627/BA .291/OBP .375/SA .378

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1 comment
  1. Pete was a great hitter and a classy gentleman. He would do anything to help the team, including playing all four infield positions. If he had won that 3d batting championship in 1958, he would have been in a very small and outstanding class.
    As it was, Pete was one of the finest singles hitters of his era, along with Nellie Fox, who he was often compared to. Pete and Ted Williams made a fine combination in the 2 and 3 spots in the Red Sox batting order.

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