Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Carlton Willey joined the New York Mets when they purchased his contract from the Milwaukee Braves on March 22, 1963. So he was with the Mets a season prior to the move into their new home of Shea Stadium in 1964. The righthander was an ace of the starting rotation and set a then team record of four shutouts his first year in New York.

Willey suffered a severe injury during spring training for the 1964 campaign. While pitching against the Detroit Tigers he was struck by a line drive off the bat of Gates Brown. The blow broke his jaw and forced him to the disabled list until June. "The whole thing was a shame, because it was time for Carlton to blossom, and that finished his career." recalled teammate Jim Hickman. "Nobody realized that Carl was hurt that bad because he never showed the pain. He just stood there dazed after the ball hit him." The jaw had to be wired shut to allow healing. So understandably Carl had lost quite a bit of weight during his recovery. A hastened rehabilitation may have led to throwing injuries that limited the former workhorse to just 30 innings of work over the season. Still despite it all he registered a respectable 3.60 ERA.

Carl returned with the Mets in 1965. Now working almost exclusively from the bullpen. He was able to finish with a 1-2 record and 4.18 ERA in limited duty. "I finally walked into the office and told them I couldn't do it anymore." said Willey in a 1980 interview. "It was the hardest thing I think I've ever done." Carlton pitched his last professional baseball game on September 25, 1965. Willey threw a complete-game 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium that day. Proudly wearing his New York Mets uniform.

"Oh, God, I loved 'em. I liked the Mets. It was a great club to play for. I didn't want to be traded to New York. But now I'm glad I was, because it's the best place to play in the world." Carl was quoted. "The fans are great. The fans know baseball. We were all a good family."

After his retirement from pitching, Willey stayed involved in the game by working for the Philadelphia Phillies organization as a scout for several years. Never too far from his Maine hometown. "He loved Cherryfield." recalled Nancy Willey, his wife of 26 years. "He was always very happy after the season was over to get back home." There he worked as a probation officer, was a plant manager for Wyman's blueberry processing plant in Hancock, and he and his son, Richie, started a house painting business. "One of the nicest things that anyone ever said about him was that after he had been playing baseball, he still wore the same size hat," remembered the former Mrs. Willey.

Carlton, being the humble gentleman he was, never understood why people would ask for his autograph, he considered himself just another guy." His friend, Steve McClain reflected. "But he was always quick with a smile and a handshake whenever a fan approached. He always said he was flattered that anyone remembered him and that they would want his autograph. It would bother him to see another player turn down an autograph request or be unfriendly to a fan. As he said, he wouldn't have been there without them. So when you approached him, even just to say hello, he treated you as if he had known you all his life. He loved his fans as much as they loved him."

Carl passed away following complications from lung cancer on July 29, 2009. He was 78 years old. The man who may described as having "hard-luck" did not share that opinion. "I feel as though I was lucky to make it at all," said Willey. "There are a lot of kids who didn't. I guess I was just one of the lucky ones. It still seems more like a dream."

I created Carl Willey's card in the set from a page taken from a vintage autograph book that was given to me by my good friend, Jessie on August 12, 2011. The sheet as labeled "08/21/61".

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