Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veterans Day: Carlos May

Today is Veterans Day.

There are many great examples of famous baseball players serving in the Unites States Armed Forces. More than 500 Major League players served during World War II including some Hall of Famers like Ted Williams and Bob Feller.

San Diego Padres announcer Jerry Coleman postponed his baseball career to serve as a Marine Corps aviator. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross for his service in World War II. After the war he joined the Yankees and was voted Rookie of the Year. In May 1953 his baseball career was disrupted again. He was recalled to service in the Korean War, where he earned a second Distinguished Flying Cross.

However, the one major league military vet I most remember vividly as a kid was former While Sox slugger Carlos May.

He was Lee May's little brother and was selected in the first round of the 1966 amateur draft. He spent most of his career with the Sox, where he played with Dick Allen for three seasons. He was selected for two American League All Star games (in 1969 he made the AL team and his brother Lee made the NL team). Traded for Ken Brett, he played in the 1976 World Sereis as a member of the New York Yankees. He also had a brief stint as a California Angel before heading to Japan, where he played for 4 seasons.

In August 1969, while training with his Marine Reserve unit Carlos blew off part of his thumb in a mortar accident. You can see his hand with the missing thumb portion on this August 1973 cover of Baseball Digest. The web site White Sox Interactive* posted an interview with Carlos May:

“I was with a mortar detail. The company was all supposed to fire a one round volley, there were six of us (mortars). Sometimes it’s hard to tell when they all go off, who fired. The spotters didn’t say anything and I was told to clean the piece. That’s was my job as a gunner. I had an iron rod with a swab on the end and I pushed it down into the barrel. Our mortar didn’t go off and I pushed the shell that was still in there, down to the contact point and it fired. What took part of my thumb off was the iron rod being blown back up. I couldn’t get my hand out of the way.”

In a strange baseball connected twist, it was a fellow major league ballplayer Bob Watson (he served in the same unit) that found the part of his thumb on the range. But it was to late to try to reattach it.

Amazingly, Carlos May quickly rehabbed and was able to return to the White Sox the next season. With the help of a custom made batting glove, he played in 150 games and was named the AL Comeback Player of the Year. He has to be the first and only player to make the "all rookie" team one season and be awarded the "comeback player" the next.

Rusty Staub is credited as the first player to wear batting gloves regularly, but the Expos images I have seen of him in 1969, he is bear handed. I'm not sure how to research this, but I am going to credit Carlos as the first player to wear a batting glove full time when he hit.

A couple of fun facts about Carlos May. On opening day 1971 (in the first inning of the second game of a scheduled doubleheader) he was called out after failing to touch home following a home run. Later that same year, he hit an inside the park grand slam (to left field) at Comiskey Park. And finally, born on May 17th Carlos wore number #17 for most of his career. He is the only player in major league history to wear his birthday on his jersey -- "May 17".

* You should read the whole interview, it is quite fascinating. Some great observations about the time he spent playing with Dick Allen -- including a quote from Carlos calling DA "the best player that I ever saw."


Johngy said...

Excellent post.

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