November 12 – Happy Birthday Carl Mays
Five months before the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, they made a trade with Boston during the 1919 regular season for this right-handed starting pitcher. Mays went 9-3 for New York that year and then won 26 games for the 1920 Yankees, during Ruth’s first season in New York. He was also directly involved in one of baseball’s greatest tragedies in August of that same season. It was Mays who threw the pitch that hit and killed Indian shortstop, Roy Chapman.
At the time, Mays had become one of the least liked players in baseball history. There were good reasons why. In the minors, this native of Liberty, KY had converted his conventional pitching delivery to an extreme sidearm, almost underhand delivery. It was unorthodox to say the least which is why Mays was successful with it. One of the keys to becoming a good big league hitter is being able to pick up the ball while it is still in the pitchers hand. This is much easier to do when the guy on the mound throws overhand because at one point the ball is held high over his head, making it much easier to see. Instead of throwing from over his head, May’s pitches came hurling at opposing hitters from his shoe-tops. Back when he pitched, there were no lights in Major League stadiums and pitchers were permitted to rub up the baseball so vigorously that its whiteness was transformed into a hard-to-see rainbow of earth-tone colors. Everyone also smoked back then so there was a very visible, smog-like haze present in the air of every big league game caused by tens of thousands of fans exhaling their cigarette and cigar byproducts. Then there were the shadows, resulting from the fact that with no lights, every Major League game began in the early afternoon when the sun was high but ended in the shadows caused as it made its daily descent behind the tops of stadium walls, toward the western horizon.
This all explains why opposing hitters had a real difficult time seeing Mays’ pitches. Now add to that the fact that Mays was one mean and crazy dude. He had a ferocious temper and hated to lose. He fought just as much with his own teammates as he did with opposing players. His own Yankee Manager, Miller Huggins once said that if he came across Mays lying down in a gutter, he’d kick the guy! To top it all off, the guy was a self-avowed headhunter. He admitted throwing his already hard-to-see submarine fastball up and in under the chins of hitters as a way of intimidating them. That’s why so many players and sports pundits refused to believe Mays when he claimed the the pitch that killed Chapman was an accident.
Mays helped New York capture its first AL pennant the following season with a 27-9 regular season performance. He then lost two of three decisions in that year’s World Series defeat to the New York Giants and slumped to 12-14 the following year. Mays had pitched over 646 innings of baseball during his two twenty-win seasons in New York and the stress on his left arm must have been horrific. He was able to pitch just 81 innings for the Yankees in 1923 and was sold to Cincinnati. He rebounded with the Reds, winning 20 games in 1924. But his pitching arm was never again the same. He retired after the 1929 season with a 207-126 lifetime record.
Mays shares his November 12th birthday with this former Yankee speedster.