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A Conversation With Carlos May...


  • A Conversation With Carlos May...

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    By Mark Liptak
    White Sox Historian

    He was a very good player for the White Sox during the first half of the 1970’s. Carlos May was overshadowed at times by guys like Dick Allen, Bill Melton and Wilbur Wood but he could play the game, combining surprising speed for a man of his size with good power. He made the All-Star team in 1969 and 1972 which was probably his finest season.

    But to know the story of Carlos you have to know what he went through to even get back to the Major Leagues after a horrible accident while with the Marine Reserves cost him his thumb and put his playing future in grave danger.

    When I talked with Carlos in 2004 he went into detail about the accident, how it impacted him and how White Sox fans responded to his situation. This is the interview with him for your enjoyment.

    Also, May is the only player in MLB history (that I know of) that has his uniform reflect not only his last name “May” but also his actual birthday, “May 17!”


    When you think about it, the career of Carlos May and the history of the White Sox franchise seem to coincide quite a bit. May was a tremendous prospect and when he came up for good to the Sox in 1969 he was one of the better players on a team that didn’t have many of them, a lot like the career of Luke Appling in the 40's, Chet Lemon in the late 70's, Ozzie Guillen in the late 80's and Frank Thomas in the late 90's. May suffered what could have been a potentially career ending injury, like ill-fated Sox players “Monty” Stratton, Paul Edmondson and Johnny Mostil, only to come back and have a solid career. He finally got his chance at post season play but naturally, it had to come with a team other than the White Sox, like countless others.

    While May was on the South Side, he showed he could pound a baseball, hit for average and surprisingly to some, steal bases... a lot of them, for a man his size.

    Carlos spoke with me from his suburban Chicago home. He talked about signing with the White Sox, the accident while in the Marine Corps reserve that could have ended his promising career, Sox personalities like Chuck Tanner and Roland Hemond, his inside the park grand slam in 1971 and of course what it was like having Dick Allen as a teammate, including the two occasions when Allen ‘lost his cool,’ and let Pat Kelly and Ron Santo know about it.
    ML: Carlos you were born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. Alabama is “Bear” Bryant football country, how did you get so involved in baseball?

    CM: “I had played baseball all my life from about the time I was four or five years old. My dad played it, my mom played it with us and she was really good, and of course my brother Lee played it. (Author’s Note: Lee played in the Major Leagues from 1965-1982 with the Reds, Astros, Orioles and Royals. He was a three time All-Star.)

    ML: Did you play football at all?

    CM: “Oh yea. I played in youth leagues all the way up through high school. I was a running back and a punter and had received a scholarship offer from Southern University (Author’s Note: Located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana). I saw the size of some of those guys; 270-280 pounds and thought baseball would be a lot healthier for me.” (laughing)

    ML: You were a first round draft pick of the White Sox in 1966. Can you tell us a little bit about how you were scouted by the Sox, who recommended you and why did you sign with them?

    CM: “I was looked at by folks from New York, and the Kansas City A’s were interested because my high school coach played in their minor league system at one time and he knew all of their people. Sam Hairston (Author’s Note: Father of Sox pinch hitter deluxe Jerry Hairston) of the Sox came around a lot as well as Walt Whitmeyer. Sam signed me when the Sox offered $21,000 dollars which was a lot of money at the time. My high school coach, the one who wanted me to sign with the A’s wasn’t around then, I think he was away at military camp, and he didn’t even know I signed with the Sox until he came back home.”

    ML: You made the big leagues as a 20-year-old coming up to the Sox in September 1968. What do you remember from your first game?

    CM: “I don’t remember a lot about the game itself except I was facing Dave McNally, and he jammed me a few times. I know I didn’t get a hit that day, in fact I don’t think I got my first hit until we got back to Chicago. (Author’s Note: Carlos’ first game in the big leagues was on September 6, 1968 at Baltimore. He went 0-4 although the Sox won the game 3-1 in 11 innings.) From Baltimore the Sox went to Yankee Stadium and I was in awe just being there. I remember that the guys like Luis Aparicio, Ed Herrmann, Tommy John, Gary Peters and Joe Horlen just made me feel at home. They were great people.”

    ML: What did you think was the biggest difference for you between the minor leagues and the Major Leagues?

    CM: “It was the pitching. I actually was told when I came up by Tommy McCraw that it would be easier to hit in the Major Leagues. I told him “Get out of here,” but he was right. The pitchers threw harder and they worked you better but they also were always around the plate. You’d get better pitches to hit then in the minor leagues where guys were wild and you might not get a pitch within two or three feet of the plate.”

    ML: 1969 was a pivotal year for you in your career; you got off to a tremendous start and were one of the few bright spots in a dismal Sox team. You played in the All-Star Game in Washington D.C. Tell us how that experience felt?

    CM: “That was great, Lee was on the National League team and we had dinner the night before. He took me around and introduced me to guys like Frank Robinson and Willie Mays. I didn’t feel like a rookie. It was a great atmosphere and I had a lot of fun.”

    ML: And do you remember the at bat you had?

    CM: “Sure do. I faced Phil Niekro with that knuckleball and he struck me out. Lee was at first base and he had his glove over his mouth he was laughing so hard at me. I’d never seen a knuckleball before; I didn’t know how to hit the thing! (Author’s Note: May ended the game, as a pinch hitter for the Twins John Roseboro. The National League won the contest 9-3.)

    ML: On August 11, 1969 your career almost tragically ended with an accident while with the U.S. Marine Reserves in Camp Pendleton, California. Tell us what happened that day.

    CM: “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 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.”

    ML: As you lay in a hospital bed, how scared were you?

    CM: “I thought it was all over. When it happened, I saw my hand with the thumb missing and a corpsman immediately grabbed me so I wouldn’t go into shock. I was scared. It turned out that Bob Watson found the part of my thumb on the range but it was too late to try to reattach it. (Author’s Note: Bob also played in the Major Leagues from 1966 to 1984 with the Astros, Yankees and Braves. He also became General Manager for the Yankees.) I was depressed.”

    ML: What did the doctors tell you Carlos when you asked them if you’d be able to continue your baseball career?

    CM: “They couldn’t tell me anything. They didn’t know. It wasn’t just the injury itself but there was a chance for infection to set in. They never saw a baseball player missing a part of his thumb before so no one knew.”
    ML: How long were you in the hospital?

    CM: I was there from August through January 1970. I wasn’t in the hospital all the time but I remained in the area working with a hand specialist. The Sox were very good to me continuing to give me a salary allowance and they set my first wife and me up with an apartment and I was able to go there on weekends.”

    ML: What kind of reaction did you get from Sox fans while you were recuperating? Did you get cards or letters from them?

    CM: “I was bombarded with mail. Sox fans were sending cards and letters to me at the ballpark and the Sox would then send them on to me in California. I read them all and it helped me a lot.”

    ML: Despite the accident The Sporting News named you American League Rookie of the Year for 1969. That had to be a source of pride for you because you only played 100 games.

    CM: “I was in awe when I found out about it. Like you said I only played 100 games. It helped me when I was rehabbing.” (Author’s Note: May’s numbers for the 1969 season showed him in 100 games, with 367 at bats, 62 runs, 103 hits, 18 doubles, two triples, 18 home runs, 62 RBI’s and a .281 batting average.)

    ML: What was your rehab work like during the winter of 1969-1970?

    CM: “I had a lot of massage to try to get a range of motion back in the area. Dr. Stark of the White Sox checked on me a lot. After about three weeks I felt that I’d be able to come back and play. I started playing catch after the end of the thumb got tougher. The problem was that at first the skin would crack and bleed like a blister, the skin had to toughen up and I started taping the end every day. Charlie Saad, the Sox trainer, would do that for me when I came back to the team. I couldn’t swing a bat at first; the doctors would just let me hold one to try to get the area used to it. The Wilson Sporting Goods company also made me a custom hitting glove for that hand and that really helped.”

    ML: Did losing part of the thumb change the way you had to hold the bat or throw the ball?

    CM: “It made me choke up on the bat a few inches for better control. I tried it down at the end but that didn’t feel right so I moved my hands up a little bit. The accident might have made me a better hitter because I starting using all fields. I was only able to softly long toss a ball but after Charlie started taping my thumb, I was able to throw fine.”

    ML: In 1970 you came back and played well with a .285 average, 12 home runs, 68 RBI’s and was named the Comeback Player of the Year, but I wanted to talk about how difficult it was playing on the teams in 69’ and 70’. Ed Herrmann told me the general attitude was ‘How are we going to lose tonight?’ That had to be very, very tough.

    CM: “It was... but remember I was happy just to be back in the Major Leagues playing. It didn’t matter to me if there were 50,000 people in the stands or 500. Sure, it was bad baseball, we didn’t have the pitching, but it was in the big leagues. It was a no-brainer considering I almost never played again. I had fun.”

    ML: How about that first at bat in 1970 after the injury?

    CM: “We were in Chicago against the Twins, Jim Perry was pitching and I got a standing ovation from Sox fans. I broke down for a moment in the batter’s box. The fan support was unbelievable.”

    ML: In 1971 it all changed for the Sox. Chuck Tanner and Roland Hemond arrived, they brought in capable players like Jay Johnstone, Mike Andrews, Rick Reichardt, Tom Bradley and Tom Egan...suddenly the Sox weren’t garbage anymore. Talk to me about those two gentlemen. What were they like to be around?

    CM: “They were great, they both brought life back to the team. When I came up Al Lopez was the manager and he didn’t say much, Don Gutteridge didn’t say much but Chuck would always talk to you. He would do anything that he could to get guys going and Chuck knew baseball. Roland was always around too either down on the field or in the clubhouse. When they weren’t around the guys would talk to each other trying to help, things like ‘You’re not keeping your hands back,’ or ‘Watch your stride,’ just little things. It was a good group of guys.

    ML: For you, 1971 saw a .294 average, 70 RBI’s and 16 stolen bases. That’s pretty good for a guy known as “Mr. Tank.” I didn’t know you could run that well.

    CM: “I wasn’t the fastest guy but I was smart. Dick (Allen) taught me a lot about base running. He’d talk to me a lot about picking up signs from the pitcher, getting a good lead… things like that. I never saw him make a mistake on the bases. Chuck told us that we were on our own about running. I was careful when I ran, I didn’t want to run us out of an inning but if I thought I could take the base, I’d go.”

    ML: Now what happened on opening day 1971? You know what I’m talking about! How did you miss touching home plate on a home run? (Author’s Note: Opening Day 1971 saw the Sox in Oakland playing the A’s in the first regularly scheduled opening day double header. The Sox won games, 6-5 and 12-4, hitting five home runs in the process. Tommy John and Bart Johnson got the wins.)

    CM: “I think it was a grand slam. As I was rounding third base the bench was empty. I mean nobody was in the dugout; they were all at home plate. As I got towards home, they mobbed me and I guess I never touched the plate. I don’t know how Gene Tenace (Author’s Note: The A’s catcher) saw that I missed it with everybody around. I was in the dugout when Tenace got a new ball, came over and tagged me and the umpire said I was out. I was embarrassed!” (laughing) (Author’s Note: May was officially credited with a triple and two RBI’s as Mike Andrews and Bill Melton scored on the play.)

    ML: On September 18, 1971 I was sitting in the center field bleachers when the Sox played California. And you pulled off one of the rarest plays in baseball, an inside the park grand slam. Tell us about that! (Author’s Note:May’s grand slam came in the first inning off Tom Murphy as the Sox won 5-1 with Tom Bradley getting the win)

    CM: “Murphy always threw curve balls to me and that’s what I was looking for. It was an outside pitch and I sliced it down the left field line. As I was rounding first base, I saw the ball heading towards the wall. Ken Berry (Author’s Note: The former Sox All-Star outfielder who was playing left field that day for California) slammed his head on the ground trying to make a diving catch. I guess it knocked him out. I kept telling myself to ‘Stay down’ as I was running. When I hit third base Joe Lonnett our coach, gave me the sign to keep going so I did.”

    ML: 1972 saw the arrival of Dick Allen and a magical season took place. Let’s start by asking what Dick was like as a player and a teammate?

    CM: “We knew each other from spring training and from my brother. He was the best player that I ever saw. I tried to emulate him the way he set pitchers up, the way he ran the bases. He’d be out at the park at 6AM in spring training hitting. He knew the game and he was a leader... guys didn’t sluff off when he was around. In the years that I played with him I saw him get angry twice and they were both because of things that he thought weren’t right as far as playing the game.”

    “The first time I think we were in Cleveland, and Pat Kelly was having a bad day. He struck out three times. The next time up he hit a foul pop that the third baseman was chasing and Pat was yelling, ‘Catch it, catch it...’ He was mad and he didn’t want to strike out a fourth time. When he got back to the dugout Dick let him have it. He called him a lot of things and I remember him saying that what Pat did, was not professional.”

    “The other time was when we got Ron Santo. He was our DH that year. (Author’s Note: 1974) We were in Chicago and it was cold and wet. Dick was hitting third, Bill (Melton) fourth and Santo fifth. Ron was back in the clubhouse; I don’t know if he was getting loose or doing something but Dick made an out and went back to the dugout.”

    “As Dick was sitting down, Ron came out of the tunnel and asked him what the pitcher was throwing. Dick exploded and basically said if he wanted to know what the pitcher was throwing, he should have his ass on the bench watching with the rest of us. Dick was very big when it came to the team and that everyone should be doing everything, they can to win games.”

    ML: At what point in the season Carlos did the guys actually start to think that they could win the division? How quickly did the realization set in that this was a very good team?

    CM: “From opening day. We saw that we had a good team and that we were together. Just a good group of guys. We were tight. After a game we’d go up to a room, usually Dick’s, and just talk baseball. I remember many times we’d have guys talking baseball till five, six in the morning after a night game. We had a loose clubhouse what with Jay Johnstone always pulling pranks. It was a lot of fun.”

    ML: How about a few personal recollections of your highlights that season? May 21, 1972, you came up in the last of the ninth inning with two outs and belted a three run game winning home run off the Angels Alan Foster. The Sox won 9-8 and they also went into first place that day. Any remembrances of that shot? (Author’s Note: In 1972 Carlos had his finest season having played in 148 games, scoring 83 runs, with 161 hits. He had 26 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs, 68 RBI’s, 23 steals, and a .308 average)

    CM: “I knew Foster from spring training because he was with the Dodgers for a few years. One time in the spring he jammed me with a pitch and broke my bat. Then he said to me ‘Did you get all of that?’ I didn’t say anything to him but swore that I’d get him some day. After I hit the home run as I was rounding the bases, I just glared at him and maybe told him a word or two. He just looked at me and said ‘What did I do?’ He didn’t remember what happened that time during spring training.”

    ML: Twice is nice I guess because on July 23, 1972 you did it again, this time the game winning home run was off Ed Farmer (Author’s Note: That’s the same Ed Farmer who pitched for the Sox and worked on the White Sox radio broadcasts) and the Indians as the Sox won 4-3, sweeping a double header. In fact, you had two home runs in that game. How about that one?

    CM: “Ed was the type of pitcher who’d like to challenge you. He’d like to throw a fast ball on the first pitch. He’d try to throw it by you. I took the first pitch I think, but I knew he’d come back with another one. I was looking for it and hit it out. Ed always talked to me about that at bat.”

    ML: It almost seemed like destiny for the club that year. You had game winning home runs, Dick had some incredible moments like the pinch-hit game winning home run, the two inside the park home runs in a single game and his home run into the center field bleachers, but the Sox just came up short. Why did that happen? Was it Bill Melton’s injury?

    CM: “That certainly hurt us, but you had to go on. (Author’s Note: Sox third baseman Bill Melton, the American League home run champion from 1971 was lost for the season in June with a disc problem in his back. The injury took place when he fell off his garage roof after his son somehow climbed up on to it that winter in California) We missed him that’s for sure. The other thing was that our bench wasn’t as strong as Oakland’s and we had to play a lot of games. I know that by August I was starting to get tired. So much so that I stopped taking batting practice. I’d get to the park about 6:30 or seven and just change into my uniform.”

    ML: You had another fine year in 1973 with 20 home runs, 96 RBI’s and a .268 average but that year turned out to be such a disappointment. After leading the division by four games or so in late May the wheels came off. Injuries were a big part but also this was a disgruntled clubhouse, wasn’t it? With a lot of anger directed towards G.M. Stu Holcomb.

    CM: “Yes it was. I know that I had problems with him. Dick (Allen) went so far as to tell the Sox that they should give some of the money they were paying him to me, which I appreciated. I came to play every day but I know some of the guys were so upset they didn’t want to play. The Sox wanted to cut my salary again after 74’ by the way, we went to arbitration and I lost.”

    ML: 1974 and 1975 came and went and the team didn’t appear to be going anywhere. Bill Veeck got the club back in 1976 but in May you were traded to the Yankees for pitcher Ken Brett. How did you hear about the deal and how did you feel since you had spent 10 years in the White Sox organization?

    CM: “My birthday was the 17th and the day before I was at home because it was an off day when I got a call from Roland (Hemond.) He told me I was sent to the Yankees. The Sox needed pitching at that time. Roland said that the Yankees were in Cleveland and they wanted me to get there as soon as possible. I was upset and told Roland I’d get there when I was ready. But the Yankees were a nice bunch of guys, they took to me right away and we did get into the playoffs and World Series. (Author’s Note: May played in both the ALCS where the Yankees beat Kansas City and the World Series, where the Yankees were swept by Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine.”)

    ML: After leaving the Angels in 1977 what did you do?

    CM: “I played in Japan for four years from 1978 through 1981. It was different. I played with Bobby Tolan and Jim Tyrone. I actually had a chance to get back in the Major Leagues in 1978. Harry Dalton, the Angels G.M. called me and said California was interested in getting me back. He never called back though and nothing happened. I was actually claimed by the White Sox in 1978 when I passed waivers but I didn’t want to go back to Chicago at that time.”

    ML: So, when you left the game where did life take you?

    CM: “To the U.S. Postal Service. I’ve worked there for over 20 years. I was a mail carrier. I enjoyed it. Lots of times people came up and remembered me and we talk about baseball and the White Sox.”

    ML: Carlos I know that at times you represent the White Sox in some public relations/charitable activities. You get out and meet Sox fans a lot. This off season they have been very vocal with their dislike for the way the organization has been running the franchise. When you see or hear those complaints, how do you feel as a former Sox player?

    CM: “I’m disenchanted. It was discouraging the way the Sox let all those players get away. When you add up the minor leaguers that were traded, as well as the free agents, that’s 14 players. That’s a lot of people. I was at Sox Fantasy Camp when the folks had some heated discussions with Jerry Reinsdorf. They were upset because ticket prices were raised but they didn’t think the talent on the field was raised. I realize though that baseball is a business. The other thing and Bill (Melton) and I talked about this was Ozzie Guillen. We both agreed that you can’t just rip on your top gun (Frank Thomas.) Hopefully Ozzie can talk to the players and get everything settled before they have a backlash.”

    “I was also talking with Greg Walker, at the camp and he showed me the expected lineup. It’s not that bad offensively. They don’t know about the pitching though.”

    ML: Can you sum up your time spent playing ball for the Sox Carlos? Overall was it a good experience for you here in this town?

    CM: “I came to Chicago in 1968 and haven’t left. They have the greatest fans in baseball. I played with the Yankees and the Angels but the White Sox are me. I am a Sox die-hard fan. It hurts me when they don’t do well.”
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      Roland and I had spoken a lot over the years and as I explain later in this tribute to him, he was always a man of his word.

      The role of a general manager cannot be understated. He is the person directly responsible for acquiring and evaluating talent needed to win games at the big-league level. He also has to balance in his head the roles of economics, baseball rules, the player’s union, dealing with the media and thousands of other things on a daily basis. It is not a job for the faint of heart or for those who don’t have the experience of upper management.

      In my opinion Roland was the best G.M. in the history of the organization and I mean no disrespect to others who also deserve consideration for that title…men like Frank “Trader” Lane, Ed Short, Ron Schueler or Kenny Williams.
      When Hemond took over the organization the franchise was literally in shambles. He faced challenges no other individual who held the position of player personnel director/G.M. ever faced.

      The Sox were on their way to a franchise record 106 loss season in 1970. Comiskey Park was falling apart from disrepair. Fans were staying away in droves because the area was supposedly in a bad neighborhood. In 1969 for example the team drew, for the season, only 589,000... even that would fall to a paltry 495,000 in 1970. In 1968 and 1969, owner Art Allyn was playing a portion of his home games in Milwaukee trying the market to see if it would accept a move of the franchise from the South Side. The Sox would even lose their radio station and have to broadcast games starting in 1971 on two small outlets in LaGrange and Evanston, Illinois....
      12-13-2021, 09:21 PM