Friday, February 23, 2007

100 Greatest Red Sox >> #66 Carl Mays

Carl Mays, SP (1915-1919)

72 Wins, 51 Losses, 112 GS, 2.21 ERA, 399 K, 290 BB

Carl Mays has two unfortunate blots on his legacy. 1) It was he, on August 16, 1920, who threw the pitch that fatally struck Cleveland’s Ray Chapman in the head — to this day the major leagues’ only fatality. 2) He played for the New York Yankees.

But we won’t hold either of those against him. Because for the three full seasons Mays pitched for the Olde Towne Team before being traded to the Bronx in 1919, he was a scintillating pitcher: dominant, fierce, and absolutely fearless. (He was every bit as good, if not better, than another hurler traded to the Bronx, named George Herman Ruth.)

Born November 12, 1891 in Liberty, Kentucky, Mays was a lethal submariner who was also, shall we say, very “resourceful” on the mound. He made great use of the spitball, which was legal in the first few years of his career — and was, in fact, until Chapman’s death led to it being outlawed. (Even though, as Bill James argued in his Historical Baseball Abstract, the pitch Mays threw was “probably not a spitball.”)

No question, Mays — who notched a 2.60 ERA, going 6-5 with 7 saves in 38 games as a starter and reliever his first (1915) season — had a reputation. He threw hard, and he was not at all afraid to compose a little chin music. “If you got to knock somebody down to win a ball game, do it,” he said. “It’s your bread and butter.”

In 1916, his first full season with the Sox, he hit nine batters. The next two seasons, he hit 14 (leading the American League) and 18 respecitvely. But it was the other numbers that told the full story: 18-13, 2.39 in 1916; 22-9, 1.74 in 1917; 21-13, 2.21 in 1917. He wasn’t a big strikeout guy (114 was his career best in 1918), but his knew how to win games: primarily by scaring the living daylights out of batters with that screaming underhand pitch.

“Carl Mays wasn’t very popular, but when nobody else could win, he could,” said left fielder Duffy Lewis. “Whatever criticism you may make about Mays,” said Sox shortstop Everett Scott, “he has more guts than any pitcher I ever saw.”

In three full and two partial seasons with the Red Sox, Mays won three World Series with the team: 1915, 1916, and 1918 — in the last of which he went 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA. It was also in 1918 that he lead the league in complete games (30) and shutouts (8).

But the good times couldn’t last. Despite enjoying his best season with the Yankees in 1921, leading the AL in wins (27), innings pitched (336.2), games pitched (49), and winning percentage (.750), he was accused later that season of throwing the Bombers’ World Series against the Giants. The charges were never proven, but two years after the Black Sox scandal in Chicago, the mere insinuation was enough to permanently marr his legacy.

It was that, and, of course, the sad Chapman incident for which Mays would be remembered most — far more, alas, than for his greatest achievements on the mound. If it weren’t for these smudges on his record, he might have made it to Cooperstown. Instead, he retired at 37 and lived out the rest of his life quietly, dying in El Cajon, California, at age 79, in 1971.

Biography written by Mike Millard of the Phoenix's SoxBlog.


Anonymous said...

You can read a fictionalized, "alternate history" account of the Mays-Chapman incident in the novel, The Curse of Carl Mays. The book is primarily about the Red Sox, and was described by one reviewer as "a national treasure for Red Sox Nation."

Here's an amazon link:
The Curse of Carl Mays

Anonymous said...

I should have included these, too.

Here's an enthusiastic review of the book from our friends at Sawx Blog

Here's another barn-burner from Fenway Nation

Finally, another strong one -- call it a 4-star -- from our friends over at Keep Your Sox On In Brooklyn,

Enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

Carl Mays belongs only in the hall of Shame...he should have been pete rosed from baseball. He was disliked in his time and he deserved it.

Anonymous said...

i met carl mays when he was an old man living in Mt. vernon Oregon i talked to him many times and he never said a word about Chapman. he did tell me what a dirty player Ty Cobb was . this was in 1966. hall of fame should be ashamed for not voting him in, it was a rare pleasure to have known him.

Anonymous said...

My brother and I were at Fenway on August 9, 1969 when Ray Culp hit the only home run of his career. We would go to see the Red Sox every summer when we visited my grandparents. This was the last game we were able to attend, until we reached adulthood as we had buried my grandmother just 2 days earlier. That game was an exciting, uplifting memory for a 10 year old girl, one that I've cherished for many, many years.