KINGFISHER, OKLAHOMA — Carl Mays was 12 years old when his family followed the wheat harvest to the town of Kingfisher.
Carl’s father, a minister, had died.
His cousin, John Long, taught Carl the game of baseball for the first time in the summer of 1903.
Historian Adam Lyn describes, “They’d go out in the pasture after working in the fields and use dried up cow chips.”
Lynn ran across Mays in the dusty attics of ‘Dead Ball Era’ statistics.
Mays was a pitcher (and better than average hitter) who first played pro ball in Kingfisher, then nearby Hennessey, then at minor league stops like Boise, Idaho and Providence, Rhode Island.
One of his battery mates and room mates in Providence happened to be another pitcher and pretty good hitter named George Herman Ruth.
They both pitched for the Boston Red Sox.
There is even a picture of the two of them waiting to tee off at a golf course, but Lynn says they were never true friends.
“Mays didn’t go out carousing. He didn’t drink or anything,” says Lynn.
Another famous side-arm pitcher from Oklahoma, Joe McGinnity showed Carl his pitching motion.
Carl won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 1918 (Mays won two games and Ruth won two games).
He played for the New York Giants and became one of the best pitchers in the game.
Mays was a quiet, reserved man, but tough. He was known to throw inside strikes and known for hitting batsmen who crowded home plate.
In August of 1920 he threw an inside pitch that Cleveland Indians player Ray Chapman never saw.
It hit him in the head. Chapman died the next day, the only major league player ever to die from an on-field injury.
Lynn says, “Mays is a tragic figure. One of the reasons he’s not in the Baseball Hall of Fame is because he killed a man on the field.”
Carl Mays pitched a total of 15 seasons in ‘the show’.
He won 27 games in 1921.
He once pitched both ends of a double-header, winning both games.
Mays is credited with more than 200 wins in his career, but that one pitch haunted him.
Carl retired quietly in Oregon and died in 1971, the answer to a tragic trivia question instead of a Hall of Fame candidate.
Lynn says, “He pitched until 1929.
He had a distinguished career even after the ‘Dead Ball Era’. That’s what a lot of people don’t realize.”
The Chisholm Trail Museum in Kingfisher dedicated a big exhibit to a forgotten son who started his big league career 100 seasons ago.
The pictures and memorabilia offer some perspective and make an argument that, perhaps, one mistake should not define anyone.
The Carl Mays exhibit will be up the rest of the summer.
For more information go to www.ctokmuseum.org