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Even Carl Mays has his backers

Aug 14, 2009, 10:55 AM EDT

Not a ton of people are familiar with the story of Carl Mays these days, but know this much: he threw a pitch that killed a guy once. It was the only time a Major Leaguer has been killed on the field. The whole story, as written at the time, can be read here. In an environment where beer-throwers inspire media firestorms, one can only wonder what would have happened to Mays if, instead of killing Ray Chapman in 1920, he had killed Grady Sizemore in 2009.

Not that Mays didn’t suffer scorn in his lifetime. He never truly lived it down, despite having an otherwise fine career. But time heals all wounds, and some folks are now trying their best to rehabilitate the guy:

Eighty-nine years later, a handful of people are trying to get him recognized for what was one of the best careers of his era, long overshadowed by baseball’s only lethal pitch. Their goal is to have Mays enshrined in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

“It’s time he got recognized for his accomplishments, not just for this one accident,” said Ann Duckworth of Mansfield, the tiny Ozarks town where Mays was raised and spent many offseasons.

I guess everyone needs a hobby, but Mays doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy you want to go to the mat for. In addition to the Ray Chapman incident, Mays was long-rumored to have been in on a plot to fix the 1921 World Series, though it was never proven. He was also an ornery cuss, who many people didn’t like separate and apart from the fact that he killed a guy many people did like.

The Veterans Committee of the Hall of Fame — the real one, not just the Missouri one — is still considering him. I don’t get the sense that there’s any traction behind his case, and that’s probably how it should be.

  1. Detroit Michael - Aug 14, 2009 at 11:46 AM

    There’s a 20-year-old book that is excellent about the Mays / Chapman incident called “The Pitch That Killed.” It’s still in print and I highly recommend it.
    The 1920 newspaper story seems odd from today’s perspective. Did they really have to provide all that detail about how Mrs. Chapman learned her husband had died suddenly? “She fainted.”

  2. jake - Aug 14, 2009 at 1:42 PM

    Mays was also at the heart of another incident in the late teens in which he, without telling anyone what he was doing or why, just dressed and left a game he was pitching in the second or third inning. Just not a good guy.

  3. Mike - Aug 14, 2009 at 2:46 PM

    I read a lot of baseball books – too many, probably – and this one is my favorite. Very well researched and written.

  4. Steveo - Aug 14, 2009 at 10:22 PM

    Let’s not forget Tony Conigliaro of the Red Sox. He did not die from being hit by a pitch but he might as well have as he never did come back to what was looking like a Hall of Fame career. He did wind up dying far too young as it was. Then there was the line drive that almost killed and did kill a career — the one from Gil MacDougal to the eye of Herb Score who at the time was probably the best and most unhittable pitcher of his era. Baseball is a dangerous game when the ball is misused. Gil did not misuse the ball but Carl Mays did and so did the pitcher who hit Tony. Anyone who is a headhunter is certainly not admirable in any way. Of course we all remember Sal Maglie, the barber….

  5. largebill - Aug 15, 2009 at 10:35 AM

    That pitch may have kept two people out of the Hall of Fame (Chapman was young and off to a a very good start to his career). However, it may have helped another player reach the HoF. Sewell could have spent several more years in the minors if Chapman had not gone down.

  6. JerseyJeff - Aug 15, 2009 at 6:04 PM

    I am too young to remember the Tony C beaning – though I do remember his last comeback attempt and I remember his younger brother Billy playing as well; I did also read a lot about his career.
    Tony’s style was to lean out over the plate – so while the pitcher I am sure was trying to come in on him, I doubt he was headhunting. It was more of an unfortunate and tragic incident.
    I’ve always felt that at least a dotted line, if not a solid line, could be drawn from Tony’s medical issues following the beaning to his early death, so I totally agree with you there.

  7. BOB - Aug 16, 2009 at 12:04 AM

    the beanings you are talking about were all tragic and certainly made some changes in the game of baseball, but let’s be realistic.the pitcher has the right to cover the entire plate and maybe just a few inches inside or outside. the batter has the right to the batters box and no right over the plate. i really believe in my heart that batters get thrown at but i don’t believe that when a pitcher releaswes a pitch with intent to hit the batter that he will throw at his head. a pitcher trying to scare a batter may come up aroun d the chest area or the knees but he does not want to hurt the batter, just get him off the plate a little and set him up for an outside corner pitch. the game of baseball is by far the most complicated game in sports, if you look at all the possibilities on each and every play. the players are all in the same catagory, they have all worked very hard to arrive at their present destination and they are all trying to make a living just like everyone else in this great country and i just don’t believe that one man would delibertly try to ruin another’s career and hospitalize or kill him.things happen in sports that we like very much and things happen in sports that we do not like at all, but anytime you throw a rock,can,baseball or anything else at the speed with which they throw baseballs today or yesterday bad things happen even when good things are intended . thank you

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