Introducing… Carl Mays

All it takes is one tragic occurrence – one moment of carelessness – to tarnish a name and ruin his credibility.  Mays was the man on the mound, the hurler who delivered the pitch, that struck and killed Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman during the 1920 season.  This is baseball’s most tragic event and Mays was caught in the center of it.  Although it would be foolish and crass to claim that Mays intended to kill Chapman, it wouldn’t be foolish – in fact it would be perfectly legit – to claim that Mays meant to hit Chapman; meant to bean him.  Mays was a notorious headhunter that teams complained about before the Chapman Tragedy.

Employing a unique submarine style delivery, Carl Mays was a star pitcher during The Deadball Era who continued to have success into The Lively Ball Era.  Originally a member of the Boston Red Sox, Mays was one of the first relief aces when he finished 27 games with a league best seven saves in 1915.  In The Deadball Era, relief pitchers were seldom employed because starters were expected to remain on the hill until the final out call was made, making Mays an anomaly.  That year remained an anomaly because he was mixed into the rotation in 1916.

Mays won 18 games in 1916, helping Boston to a World Series.  In the Fall Classic, Carl saved a victory as the Red Sox became World Champions.  By 1917 Mays had already earned the reputation of being a headhunter.  A team petitioned American League president Ban Johnson to investigate into the matter and all Johnson did was ask Red Sox owner Harry Frazee if his young submarine ace was a headhunter – to which Frazee responded with a resounding no.  Ban Johnson was no Sam Spade.

Using intimidation as a weapon, Mays won 22 games for Boston in 1917 while leading the league in batters plunked.  He had his highwater mark for earned run average with a nifty 1.74 ERA.  He carried the Red Sox to another World Series in 1918 when he tied for the league lead in both shutouts and complete games.  In the Fall Classic, Mays handled Chicago Cubs batters with ease, winning two complete games on a 1.00 ERA.

Struggling with a poor record in 1919 the Red Sox dealt Mays to the Yankees midseason and Carl flourished in the Big Apple.  In 13 starts with the Yankees, Mays fashioned a 9-3 record with a 1.65 ERA.  With the advent of the lively ball in 1920, Mays and his submarine style of pitching still held batters in check.  During the season in which he killed Ray Chapman, Mays led the junior circuit in shutouts and finished second with 26 wins.  Although the Indians lost their star shortstop in a tragic way, the incident pushed the Indians into October and they became World Champions while Carl Mays did not play in the postseason.

But the Yankees dynasty was beginning to blossom.  The ex-Red Sox had lifted the Yankees up out of the mud in the American League and made them contenders.  Led by Boston castoffs Babe Ruth, Wally Schang, Waite Hoyt and Mays, the Yankees became AL champs in 1921.  Mays led the mound crew, pacing the AL with 27 wins, a .750 winning percentage, 337 innings and seven saves.  Although the Yankees won the AL pennant, they found the Giants of John McGraw a formidable opponent and lost the series.  Mays was in fine form however, posting a 1.73 Fall Classic ERA.

Mays wasn’t as successful in 1922 but the Yankees won the AL pennant again.  He lost his only World Series start to the Giants and just like they did in 1921, McGraw’s Boys had the Yankees number and trounced them in the Fall Classic.  Mays struggled through a terrible 1923 campaign in which his usually low ERA ballooned up to 6.20.  Believing that Carl’s days in the sun were behind him, the Yankees sold him to the Cincinnati Reds where he resurrected his career.

A year after getting knocked around the American League, Mays changed leagues and became a 20-game winner for the fifth time in his career.  The submariner honed his accuracy with the Reds, issuing an average of just 0.159 walks per inning in ’24.  Hall of Famers Dazzy Vance (0.249), Burleigh Grimes (0.293), Eppa Rixey (0.197) and Jesse Haines (0.296) didn’t have the control that Mays owned that season.

A dead arm struck Mays in 1925 – limiting him to just 12 games – but he bounced back in 1926 to lead the NL with 24 complete games.  Mays fashioned a solid (great considering the era) ERA of 3.14 with 19 wins.  It would be Mays’ last great season.  He appeared in just 14 games apiece in both 1927 and 1928 but ended his Major League career on a high note with a .778 winning percentage in 1929.

THE NUMBERS

W 207/L 127/PCT .620/G 490/CG 228/IP 3,021/H 2,912/BB 734/SO 862/SHO 29/ERA 2.92

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2 comments
  1. brettkiser said:

    With an amazing career winning percentage and a tidy ERA in a hitter’s era, it seems foolish that Mays hasn’t received the honor of HOF induction. But Mays was widely regarded as a head-hunting sonuvabitch, even before he beaned and killed Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman. It’s clear that infamous incident is keeping Mays out of the HOF but Carl also had his Dennis Martinez-like mid-career struggles. He had a 6.20 ERA in 1923 before getting back on course. His HOF chances are average, but the Chapman Incident may keep him out of the HOF forever.

  2. blaine said:

    if he was purposely trying to hit players in the head in the days before batting helmets were mandatory, then he deserves to be kept out. Hard to respect a fellow like Mays – but I am surprised no one beaned him in response; maybe nobody had the stomach to do that when head protection was so primitive and there was a distinct possibility you could kill a man.

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