by Frank Hyde
July 3, 1945
Part 2 of 7
Hooper Homered Off Caldwell's First Pitch
We skipped through the colorful and historical as well as trying period our national pastime was undergoing when Caldwell was up with the big show - the Black Sox scandal, the death of Ray Chapman, Caldwell's teammate, the coming of Babe Ruth and countless other epoch making events.
Now let's get to the beginning.
One summer afternoon in 1908, a skinny kid stood in line during a choose-up game in his hometown of Corydon, PA, and asked for a chance to play ball. A husky team captain looked him over and snorted, "You're too skinny to make a ballplayer, Beat it."
Ray Caldwell didn't beat it. He stayed to play ball and when his team's pitcher was knocked from the box in an early inning he went in and finished, unleashing a blazing fast ball that came as natural as eating, for a 6-4 victory.
However, fate had apparently decreed the Corydon boy was to become a railroad man. He was urged to take up telegraphy and soon found himself holding down a brass-pounding job and following baseball only through the scanty sport pages accounts of his day.
Launches Diamond Career
The call of the diamond proved too strong, though, so in 1909 Caldwell arose from his telegraph key and signed a contract with the Butler team of Bath, NY, a member club of a small semi-pro league then operating. He had previously played in two or three youngster games, so the move to Bath was a big event in the life of the Yankee to be. With the natural fundamentals and the physical assets for throwing a fast ball and gifted with remarkable control, Caldwell quickly made a local reputation in a day when control and speed were considered the prime requisites of a hurler.
When baseball time rolled around again in 1909 the skinny kid decided he wanted to see what foreign diamond looked like so he grabbed a handful of boxcars and landed in Bath, NY, where he picked up a hurling assignment, two of them in fact. One veterans are still talking about - beating the famed Pullmans of Buffalo in a doubleheader.
Two months later he was in Kane, PA where he was contracted to pitch against an all-star club from the Ohio-Pennsylvania League. Ray sat them down with three hits and immediately caught the eye of Duke Servatius of the McKeesport club.
Moves Toward Big Show
Caldwell still laughs when he tells of his first contract. "I don't remember the deal in dollar signs," he recalls. "In those days it was just kids begging for a chance to play ball."
Ray turned in a creditable season with McKeesport and in addition wound up with a .299 batting average. The old New York Highlanders were then laying the foundation of what was to become the great Yankee machine of other years, which is perhaps as good as explanation as any why the club's head office came through with an almost unheard of offer of $1,500 for the Corydon kid.
Howie Camnitz, later to become a star with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was Caldwell's teammate and the two youngsters went up to the main event during the same year.
Ray rolled into New York at a period when Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics were boasting their famed $100,000 infield of Collins, Barry, Baker and Davis was just beginning to click. The Athletics crushed Chicago four games to one for the pennant that year despite the fact that the Cubs were overwhelming favorites. Fans just couldn't see the A's then, in the playoff for the first time, but they saw plenty of them in later years.
Homer Off First Pitch
It will probably surprise many of the younger generation to learn George Stallings, later to become the Miracle Man of the immortal Boston Braves of 1914, was manager of the old Highlanders for a time. He remained at the helm for only two weeks, but he was the boss when Caldwell arrived.
Hal Chase succeeded Stallings, the first of many managers Caldwell was to see come and go through the eight years he was with the New York club, and it was Chase who gave the Pennsylvania youngster his first major league pitching assignment.
"And what a debut," Ray told us when we interviewed him, laughing as he recalled his first pitch. "We were playing the Boston Red Sox. They had Harry Hooper at leadoff. I had been told he was unusual for a leadoff man in that he would take a cut at the first pitch if you stuck it in there. Well, I wound up and served him a fastball and he promptly knocked my very first major league service right into the stands for a homer."
Ray settled down and won that first game, the first of many he was to win for the struggling Highlanders, who were being vastly overshadowed in New York by the great John McGraw developed Giants of the day.