Clay Carroll, a stellar fireman for the Big Red Machine, was named to two All-Star squads during his career and was a go-to guy in October. In 22 career postseason games, Carroll had a cumulative ERA of 1.39 with a World Series ERA of 1.33 in 20 innings. One of the finest relief pitchers of the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s, Clay “Hawk” Carroll had the stuff that killed enemy rallies.
Carroll was originally signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1961 and made his Major League debut with the club in 1964. He showed promise that year by going 2-0 with a 1.77 ERA. The next year was a little more rocky for Hawk who was shuttled to AAA Atlanta. Carroll remained in Atlanta the following year, but the Triple-A Crackers were no more as the Braves relocated from Wisconsin to Georgia. Clay had his breakout year in the Braves first year playing in the South. He led the National League with 73 games pitched on a nifty 2.37 ERA.
Carroll regressed in 1967 and early in the ’68 season the Braves packaged him to Cincinnati for Milt Pappas and two other players. Clay got back on course with the Reds and never again lost his rudder. After the early season trade, Carroll flourished with the Reds, chalking up 17 saves on a 2.29 ERA. Not your typical one-inning gunslinger, Hawk racked up 151 innings in 1969 with a .667 winning percentage.
The Reds won their division in 1970 and Clay got his first taste of postseason action that October. During the regular season, he saved 16 games and didn’t surrender a single earned run in 10.1 postseason innings. He threw nine innings in the World Series against Baltimore, with eleven punchouts, but his Reds lost the contest to the Birds. The closer wasn’t a well-defined role in the 1970s and Sparky Anderson used what they call a closer-by-committee setup in 1971. Clay led the Reds with fifteen saves but Sparky also got eleven saves apiece from Wayne Granger and Joe Gibbon with a young Milt Wilcox also nailing down a game.
Carroll’s finest year came in 1972 when he made his second All-Star team. Hawk led the National League in games pitched and saves (37) while taking the Reds back to the postseason. He won the deciding game of the NLCS against the Pirates. In the Fall Classic, Hawk fared well against the A’s, but was again a member of the losing outfit. In 1973, Sparky Anderson gave his super fireman a few starts but knew that Hawk was best suited in the bullpen. Clay helped lead the Reds to the NLCS again in 1973 and was his usual Mr. October self, holding the Mets to one run over seven innings, but the New York boys won and went to the World Series.
Sharp as a tack in 1974, Hawk posted a 2.14 ERA and fashioned a tidy 12-5 record. For his fine work, Hawk brought in a few Cy Young Award votes but he was itching to get back to the Fall Classic. His itch was scratched in 1975 when the Reds rolled their way to the World Series. During the regular season, Carroll had a nice 2.62 ERA but he was almost perfect against the Pirates in the NLCS and did a nice job against the Scarlet Hose in the World Series. Clay won the deciding game of the World Series.
After recording the final out of the World Series, the Reds traded their aging fireman to the White Sox for Rich Hinton. Hawk’s ’76 season was cut short due to injury but he bounced back in 1977 with the St. Louis Cardinals. In his last full year at the Major League level, Carroll had a 2.75 ERA in 101 innings of work.
W 96/L 73/PCT .568/SV 143/G 731/IP 1,353/H 1,296/BB 442/SO 681/ERA 2.94