Ray Caldwell, the Hard Luck Pitcher
The Premier Twirler of the New York Yankees and His Checkered Career
By John J. Ward
BASEBALL MAGAZINE September 1916
Ray Caldwell is one of the greatest pitchers in the American League. This is the almost unanimous vote of the players in that league. And what is more unusual Caldwell is equally great as a batter and fielder. But with all his grand gifts the Yankee twirler has not won the success he deserves largely through the failure of his team mates to support his fine work.
"He has one of the best curves in the business, and his fast ball is a peach. His control is great and, above all, he has a head on his shoulders. He is a natural ball player if there ever was one and he might be the best all?round pitcher in the American League." This statement was made by a man who is universally recognized as one of the greatest pitchers on the diamond and it was directed at a lanky hurler who for years has been the mainstay of the Yankee pitching staff, Ray Caldwell.
It isn't always what a man does that gives him his greatest reputation. It is rather the impression he gives of what he might have done. Caldwell, like many other players of extraordinary ability, hasn't always made the best possible use of his large gifts. He himself will be the first to admit this. But no doubt the faults which he possesses were gravely exaggerated by his misunderstandings with Frank Chance and his subsequent alignment with the Federal .League. These incidents are a closed chapter. They are mentioned here the better to be consigned to oblivion. Ray Caldwell was not the only pitcher who found it difficult to get along with the Peerless leader. Years of success followed by years of unexpected failure did not serve to soften the autocratic temper of the old Cub manager. Caldwell was naturally of a somewhat independent frame of mind. And friction resulted. How much this friction may have interfered with the normal course of Caldwell's career isn't easy to determine, but at any rate it has not been able to obscure the latter's large abilities or his recognized worth as one of the ablest twirlers of his league.
Ray Caldwell was born at Corydon, Pennsylvania, twenty?eight years ago. His family removed, however, to New York, where most of the Slim one's career has been spent. In his youth he was athletically inclined and took a natural interest in baseball. While somewhat lanky he was tough, wiry and strong. Above all, he had the athlete's inborn talent. And he probably should have begun his baseball career even earlier than he did.
But Caldwell, like most of mankind, was duly impressed with the need of making money and, having mastered the art of the telegrapher, he worked at the task of recording dots and dashes for no less than seven seasons. Not all his time to be sure was given up to this avocation, as he sandwiched a considerable amount of his telegraphing experience in with his baseball playing. But he certainly worked at the trade long enough to rank with Cactus Cravath and whatever other ball players have also taken up the trade which Thomas Edison made famous.
Caldwell played in not more than one or two semi?professional games for money when he joined a small club in a small league, namely, the Butler team, at Bath, Pennsylvania. This was in the season of 1909. The balance of the season he was stationed at Kane, Pennsylvania.
In 1910 Caldwell started at McKeesport, but went to the New York Highlanders later in the season for a reported sale price of $1,500.
He virtually started his major league career in 1911 when he got an even break as a pitcher, winning 14 and losing 14 games. His best season, however, was in 1914 when he started in brilliant form, winning 17 games and losing 8. He became dissatisfied with conditions, however, and left the club, later signing a contract with the Buffalo Federal League team. Caldwell was one of the really great pitchers of that season, in view of the indifferent support frequently accorded him by a losing club. It is unfortunate that he could not have finished the season in the same form and have demonstrated once for all just what he could do when things were breaking right.
Caldwell did not participate in any games with the Federal League, as he was prevented from doing so by his contract with organized baseball. In the meantime an effort was made by the New York club to regain their rebellious pitcher and these efforts were crowned with success, Caldwell returning to the fold in 1915, where he did valiant service for his new employers, Messrs. Ruppert and Huston.
Even then, however, Caldwell was robbed of the just fruits of his labors by a succession of misfortunes enough to take the winning spirit out of any pitcher. He won 19 games while losing 16, a very good record considering the class of the team behind him. But his work was marred by some of the most miserable support ever given a pitcher. At one time Caldwell pitched for fifty-two consecutive innings wherein his teammates failed to score a single run for him. Thus, for nearly six games Caldwell was given not the slightest opportunity to win, for it is obvious that no pitcher who ever lived can pull a game out of the fire when his teammates fail to score. Nor was this his only experience of the kind. Most of his defeats were by a one?run margin and, all in all, he was usually given the narrowest kind of leeway and had to pitch his head off to stand any show of success whatever.
This season Caldwell has been pursued by much the same fate. He has pitched masterly ball throughout most of the season but he has not been a winning pitcher. The Yanks with Caldwell in the box have much the same appearance that Brooklyn used to show when Nap Rucker was on the slab. The great southpaw might struggle along inning after inning, pitching grand ball, only to have his teammates boot the game away at the finish. In Caldwell's case the criticism hasn't been so much a lack of fielding support as it has of run scoring and general offensive. But the one defect is certainly as serious as the other.
The last two games he has pitched Caldwell has lost. One of them was a typical exhibition against Detroit wherein he held the slugging Tigers to one run. But the best his teammates could do was to hang up a dreary succession of goose eggs on the score board.
The other game he also lost by a one-run margin. In fact, Caldwell might well be named the hard?luck pitcher of the league. His best work has almost invariably been marred by defective support to a degree far beyond that to which a pitcher should be liable.
Throughout the circuit there is a unanimous opinion among American League players that Caldwell is a great pitcher. He possesses remarkable speed, a fine curve, good control and a keen, active baseball brain. He is at all times a wise, as well as an able pitcher, and these qualifications are rarely so evenly balanced. In addition, Caldwell, unlike most pitchers, is a great all?round player as well as a brilliant twirler. He flas a natural batting eye and is a clever fielder. So it happens that Caldwell, a pitcher, is the pinch hitter of his club, a role which he shares with Babe Ruth alone among modern twirlers.
When Caldwell was in the minors he was very nearly if not quite a three hunIred hitter. He believes lie could approach this mark now if he were played regularly, but finds it moderately hard under present conditions.
"I used to play the outfield once in a while," he says, "as well as pitch, but in my mind it is unwise for a twirler to try such things. There is a great difference between the throw from the outfield and the throw from the pitcher's box. And again, playing the outfield will interfere with a pitcher's control. The two positions don't mix, that's all. On the other hand the pitcher isn't the weakest hitter on the team because he has the poorest ability but because he has the least experience. You can't go into one game in four and hit as well as when you're getting your regular turn at the bat.
"When a pitcher begins to grow old he needs the hot weather to get the old soup bone into shape. A young pitcher can get in there every day and use up speed. But the veteran can't do it any more. To be sure he has learned to save his strength but he hasn't as much energy to use up as he once had. I don't mind the hot weather if it isn't too hot. Sometimes in St. Louis the climate makes you wilt. But ordinarily the steamy day is the day for the ball player.
"I think the best game I ever pitched was against the Athletics when they were in their prime. I held them to two hits which was little enough for that slugging crew. We were playing a double header and, after winning the first game, I was sent into the second to finish up. I had a pretty fair day's work of it, all in all.
"I consider that Veach, of Detroit, is about the most dangerous batter I face year in and year out. Sam Crawford was a harder slugger but Veach always seemed to have something on me. I had rather see Ty Cobb or any of them at the bat than Veach."
"Caldwell has had a good deal of hard luck this season as he usually does," said Manager Donovan, of the Yankees, "but he is still our leading pitcher, even if the records don't show it. The mainstay pitcher of a club has a harder road to hoe than the rest for a number of reasons. On the whole, he has stronger opposition to face and that works both ways. It means he has more dangerous sluggers to keep from hitting and it also means that his teammates find it more difficult to score runs for him. Caldwell since he is our leading pitcher has been handicapped a good deal on this account."
Caldwell is generally known as "Slim." He is of a lanky build, though by no means lacking strength. In fact, his six feet two and his 190 pounds of bone and muscle comprise about as wiry a frame as one will find.
Caldwell's winter home is in Salamanca, New York, where he hunts most of the time. He is married and has a son six years of age who will some day be a pitcher, no doubt, like his father. If so, it is to be hoped that he escapes some of the handicaps that have beset Ray's pitching path to date, but it is entirely unlikely that he will excel in ability the man who is the mainstay of the Yankees' pennant hopes.