It was Ira Flagstead’s misfortune to have played for the Red Sox in the ‘20s. He played parts of seven seasons for the Sox; in that time, they finished last six times, next-to-last once, and trailed the pennant winners in those seasons by an average of nearly 44 games. But Flagstead’s play in center field was one of the few reasons for fans to go to Fenway in those bleak years, and the reason he is being inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
Even with memories of the great Tris Speaker in a Sox uniform still fresh, Flagstead was hailed for his outstanding defense in center field. One of his most remarkable achievements came on Patriots Day, 1926, when Flagstead started three double plays from center field, the only time that’s ever been done by an American League outfielder and tied for the big-league record.
Playing against the mighty Philadelphia Athletics, who had runners on second and third with one out in the second, Flagstead “caught the ball while on the dead run and made a wonderfully quick and accurate throw to the plate.’’ [Boston Daily Globe, April 20, 1926).
In the next inning, Flagstead threw to third on a base hit by Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane, who tried to take second on the play. Cochrane was gunned down, and so was the runner at third, Hall of Famer Al Simmons, as he attempted to score.
Then, in the eighth, Flagstead caught a flyball by Cochrane and threw out Bill Lamar attempting to score.
Flagstead’s defense saved a 2-1 Red Sox win; in the morning game, he had tripled off Hall of Famer Lefty Grove and scored the only run in a 3-1 loss.
“A good day for Flagstead, and the fans cheered him all the way to the bench.” [Daily Globe]
Born in Montague, Mich., in 1893, Flagstead launched his baseball career relatively late, dabbling in boxing while working in Washington state at various jobs, including in a lumber yard and as a steamfitter at the Marlin Hardware Company in Olympia, Wash. A catcher on his foundry team, he signed his first professional contract at age 24 with a Class B team in Tacoma and two months later was in the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers, appearing in four games in 1917. He was returned to Tacoma, where he finished the season playing the outfield, advanced to Chattanooga the following year, and after a brief stint in the military (World War I ended before he was sent overseas), returned to the Tigers in 1919.
Detroit traded him in 1923 for outfielder Ed Goebel, and hit a home run in his Sox debut on May 10, and led the AL in outfield assists with 31.
In all, he played seven seasons for the Sox, batting .300 or better in his first three, and finished with a .295/.374/.411/.785 slash line while with the Sox. In 1928, Sox fans held a day for Flagstead, presenting him with a car and $1,000 in gold.
A feature story that appeared in the Washingon Post noted that Flagstead did not read during the summer because it might affect his batting eye. He loved to sightsee, however, making trips to the Smithsonian and the Bronx Zoo when the team was on the road, and also enjoyed fishing and raising game roosters and call ducks.
Flagstead died of an illness in 1939 at the age of 46. In a 1930 article comparing him favorably to Hall of Famer Speaker as a defender, Gene Mack wrote in the Daily Globe: “Playing for all that was in him for a last-place team, making sensational catches and throws, hitting around the .300 mark and giving his best years without a protest, Flaggy deserves a high spot in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.’’
He has one now.