Mays' feats marred by one fatal pitch
Submariner responsible for only on-field death of a player
It was Carl Mays' belief that one pitch kept him from achieving induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This year, the Veterans Committee will have the opportunity to review the hurler's candidacy for Cooperstown.
One of the game's top right-handed pitchers from 1915 through 1929, Mays used a submarine-style delivery to post a 208-126 record with a 2.92 ERA for the Boston Red Sox (1915-19), the New York Yankees (1919-23), the Cincinnati Reds (1924-28) and the New York Giants (1929).
But his career is marked by a tragic incident on Aug. 16, 1920, when Mays -- pitching for the Yankees at the Polo Grounds -- struck Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians in the head with a fastball. Decades before the advent of batting helmets, the pitch cost Chapman his life; the only such on-field casualty involving a player in Major League history.
"It's not on my conscience," Mays said 50 years later, just before his death in 1971. "It wasn't my fault."
Mays died the same year that Rube Marquard, a pitcher for the Giants during the same era, was elected to the Hall of Fame.
Mays reacted by saying, "I think I belong. I know I earned it. They took in Marquard in this year, and that's fine with me. But I deserve it, too. I won seven more games than him. What's wrong with me?"
Mays won 20 or more games five times during his 15-year career, also winning 19 and 18 games once each. His best season was the 1921 campaign, when he was 27-9 with a 3.05 ERA, leading the American League in wins, winning percentage, games and innings pitched. He ranked third in complete games and ERA.
A competitor for six pennant-winning clubs and in four World Series, Mays won two rings, both with the Red Sox. He was also durable -- on July 14, 1916, Mays pitched the first 15 innings in Boston's 17-inning scoreless tie with the St. Louis Browns.
In 1919, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Mays to the Yankees for $40,000 -- the sale of Babe Ruth may be the transaction most remember, but giving Mays to New York didn't help.
Mays was 26-11 with a 3.06 ERA in 1920, the year that he hit Chapman with the fatal pitch. He followed that up by helping the Yankees to their first pennant in 1921. The right-hander was 1-2 with a 1.73 ERA and three complete games in the World Series against the New York Giants, tossing a five-hit shutout in Game 1. Hall of Fame pitcher Eddie Plank called it the greatest exhibition of control he had ever seen.
Said Yankees shortstop Everett Scott: "Whatever criticism you may make about Mays, he has more guts than any pitcher I ever saw."
Mays will be considered for the Class of 2009 at the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. Any player receiving at least 75 percent of the vote from the Veterans Committee, which consists of the 64 living Hall of Famers, will be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Results from the Veterans Committee vote will be revealed at 1 p.m. ET on MLB.com on Monday from baseball's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
The other members of the pre-1943 Veterans Committee final ballot are Bill Dahlen, Wes Ferrell, Joe Gordon, Sherry Magee, Allie Reynolds, Vern Stephens, Mickey Vernon, Bucky Walters and Deacon White.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.