Any player/Any era: Carl Mays

What he did: More than 80 years after his last game, Carl Mays remains one of baseball’s most notorious figures. Mays threw the pitch that resulted in the only death of a player in baseball history. He also might have intentionally lost games in the 1921 and 1922 World Series, and he wore out his welcome in New York shortly thereafter. Yankee manager Miller Huggins told longtime sportswriter Fred Lieb, “Any ballplayers that played for me on either the Cardinals or Yankees could come to me if he were in need and I would give him a helping hand. I made only two exceptions, Carl Mays and Joe Bush. If they were in the gutter, I’d kick them.”

It’s a strong statement, and it might be one of the reasons Mays never got serious consideration for the Hall of Fame despite boasting a 208-126 lifetime record and 2.92 ERA, not to mention five 20-win seasons and success in both the Deadball and Live Ball eras. Mays might have made some poor choices that curtailed an otherwise bright career and given him a sordid reputation almost a century later. That being said, pitching in the modern era, Mays might have 100 more wins and a whole different legacy.

Era: We’re sticking Mays in the majors of today, and since he won 20 games in two leagues, the idea here is that Mays would be fine in either current circuit. He did his best work with powerhouse franchises, the Boston Red Sox of the 1910s and the Yankees of the early ’20s, so it’s conceivable he could thrive on a large stage once more. And the issues that hampered his career wouldn’t exist today.

Why: A lot’s changed in baseball in nine decades. Perhaps most importantly for Mays’ sake, batters wear helmets and salaries are exponentially higher. Mays might have the same penchant for throwing the kind of inside pitch that killed Ray Chapman, the same greed to sell out his teammates for a quick payoff, but it’s unlikely the harm would be as great. There simply wouldn’t be the same opportunity.

Would Mays be a saint in the modern big leagues? Maybe not, though that’s never been a requirement f0r baseball stardom. It’d definitely be interesting to see if Mays could stick with one team. Upon waiving Mays out to Cincinnati in 1923, Huggins wrote to Reds president Garry Herrmann, “I may be sending you the best pitcher I have, but I warn you that Carl is a troublemaker and always will be a hard man to sign.” Perhaps in the modern era with free agency, Mays could have a better chance to pick the right organization for himself. He’d also have more incentive to behave. Whatever the case, it seems unlikely he’d wind up as much a pariah.

Lieb wrote, “Mays felt he never lived down the Chapman incident. Late in his life I heard him say, ‘I won over two hundred big league games, but no one remembers that. When they think of me, I’m the guy who killed Chapman with a fastball.'” The modern era could offer Mays so much more.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies, Barry Bonds, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson, Charles Victory Faust, Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz MaiselGeorge Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr., Lefty O’Doul, Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rickey Henderson, Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Thompson, Sandy KoufaxShoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel BrothersTy Cobb, Wally Bunker, Willie Mays

4 Replies to “Any player/Any era: Carl Mays”

  1. From what I have read about Carl Mays is that he kind of slung the ball across his body. From all accounts, the ball was very hard to see coming out of his white uniform top. His fastball tended to break up and in to right handed batters and his curve actaully broke up and away from righties. And of course he threw a spitball. It probably helped him that the balls used up until that time weren’t replaced very often.Ray Chapman never saw the pitch that killed him. A very good book on this subject is “The Pitch That Killed” by Mike Sowell. There is a picture of Mays on the cover and you can see that he really dropped the arm angle down at times.

  2. Never saw Mays pitch. I have an old issue of Baseball Magazine somewhere(1918, can’t remember the month) that says Mays threw lower than sidearm, or almost straight up from his shoe tops and that he was known for pitching inside. Mays did change arm angles at times like many did and some said he threw like Walter Johnson, sometimes. If you have ever seen any film of the Big Train, he “slung the ball”.

  3. Mays was one of the few submarine pitchers, and one of the most successful. Here’s a list of submariners.

    A chronological List of Submarine/Underhand/Low-Sidearm Pitchers 1901-2002
    Cy Young – occasionally
    Joe McGinnity – alternated between overhand and underhand
    Rube Foster – occasionally
    Three Finger Brown – occasionally
    Ed Willett – limited use of underhand floater, many thought he should do it all the time
    Chief Bender – occasionally
    Jack Warhop
    By Speece
    Erskine Mayer – underhand and sidearm
    Guy Morton – occasionally
    Carl Mays – only true submariner between Warhop and Auker
    Art Nehf – occasionally
    Slim Harriss – low sidearm fastball
    Sheriff Blake – occasionally after 1928
    Satchel Paige – occasional
    Hod Lisenbee – occasionally
    Clint Brown – submarine screwball
    Ad Liska
    Chief Hogsett
    Bobo Newsom – may have been converted away from it early in career
    Pat Caraway – submarine knuckleball
    Tex Carleton – sidearm
    Elden Auker
    Sam Nahem
    Ken Raffensberger – experimented with arm angles
    Dizzy Trout – occasionally
    Murry Dickson – occasionally
    Russ Christopher
    Ted Wilks – occasionally late in career
    Bill Werle – occasionally underhand
    Ted Abernathy – after 1957
    Ken Johnson – occasionally
    Andy Hassler – occasionally
    Kent Tekulve – 1980’s revival starter
    Dan Quisenberry
    Bob Long
    Terry Leach
    Mark Eichhorn – after 1983 injury
    Steve Olin
    Steve Reed – low sidearm
    Brad Clontz
    Mike Myers
    Chad Bradford
    Byung-Hyun Kim
    Mike Venafro
    Kelly Wunsch
    Eddie Oropesa
    Bret Prinz
    — from the The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers

  4. In 1969 as an in-coming sophomore, I had the great privilege being in the dugout with the great Carl Mays while I played for the Hoover High Cardinals under Coach (40) Jerry Bartow. I wasn’t excited about sitting in the dugout but our team the year before won the San Diego City/County Championship and there were some great players ahead of me. Of course, I didn’t know Carl Mays in his younger years as a professional ball player, but personalities hardly change. I remember him as a great teacher of the game and patient with us young people. He would tell me stories while the other players were out in the field. He showed me where Ty Cobb came down on his leg while covering first. He also talked about his pitch that hit Ray Chapman. I’ll never forget about talking about. He was sorry that it happened but didn’t feel guilty about it. He said Chapman hugged the plate so close he was about in the strike zone. I’m sure you have to have a certain toughness to play in the majors those days, but to young men in the dugout it was teaching about baseball and life. Read the stories about him and you will find out he did a lot for kids through baseball. Thanks Carl.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *